Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Art Of Managing "Yes"

Sometimes Agreement Can Turn Out To Be Bad

By David Miranda

The Yes man (or woman) has gotten a bad rap in business circles - and rightfully deserved. These bobble heads of assent, particularly when its viral, aid and abet in allowing a bad idea to be disguised as a good idea.

The higher a bad idea rises on an organizational hierarchry, the greater the potential damage. How does this happen? People in the enterprise not knowing how to manage "yes". We all know how to manage "no". We stop. We rethink. We revise. "Yes", however, gains momentum in the organization and, unless tested by constructive dissent, is like a snowball rolling down hill. It eventually becomes an unstoppable force. When a bad idea disguised as a good idea attains this kind of organization momentum, without constructive dissent, a disaster is waiting to happen.

Yes people whose little voice told them "this is a bad idea, but everyone else including the boss likes it, so I'll keep my opinions to myself" are accessories to the crime. These are the same people who comment after the disaster "I knew all along that that was a bad idea". It's like the old adage "success has many fathers (mothers), but failure is an orphan".

Bad ideas disguised as good ideas? There are many historic examples. Here's two.

Where were the voices within Coca-Cola during the creation of New Coke? Didn't somebody speak up in one of those many meetings and say "hey, what if we upset all those millions of people that like Coke just the way it is? Think any of them might care?" New Coke has too much momentum and senior management support of "yes".

How about IBM thinking it was a good idea to out-source the operating system for the IBM PC to an unknown firm called Microsoft? It's the hardware that's more important. Bad idea disguised as a good idea.

The moral of these story is that there is an art in managing "yes". Here are some guidelines

  1. The higher you are on the org chart the more weight your "yes" carries. Be careful and prudent on your influential vote. Other people are watching and listening.

  2. Trust your initial gut reaction. It's probably the most honest.

  3. Speak out and be vocal of your opinions particularly if dissenting. Silence translates into tacit approval.

  4. Don't dissent just to dissent or approve just to approve. Have good solid foundations for your opinion or you will just be considered just negative or a yes person.

  5. Collaborate, listen, create dialogue with others in your organization - not to build consensus but to build confidence in the process and the ultimate decision whether it is yes or no.

  6. Don't be afraid to expose a bad idea regardless of its maturity in the planning cycle. Saying its gone too far or its too late to stop is a cop out and implies corporate cowardice.

  7. If everyone is agreeing, there is a problem. No one agrees on everything.
Bottom line? Don't take yes for an answer.