If you’ve ever been in a meeting where a senior executive is being briefed on a project, you’re likely familiar with this scenario: After a minute or two of listening, the exec proposes an alternative strategy, suggests a next step, offers to make a call, recounts his experience with a “similar” project or asserts what the team should do next.
Without fail, someone immediately agrees with the boss. The owner of the project—a subject matter expert who has done all the homework, tested her theories, researched the audience and talked directly to the client—pales and cringes as her efforts are diminished and her findings tossed aside. As the subject matter expert starts to speak up and make her case, someone in the meeting (usually the CFO) pipes up loudly in support of the boss, silencing any opposition.
I’ve been the boss and I know how it feels when everyone agrees that I have a brilliant idea. But it can’t possibly be true that one person who has done almost no work on a topic is 100 percent right 100 percent of the time, can it?
“That’s a stupid idea,” rang through the halls of Marxent yesterday. Over the course of the morning I was told to bug off by four different project owners. Not a single team member told me I had a brilliant idea. Zip, zero, nada. Was I off my game? Didn’t they want my help or respect my experience? Then it hit me that I should be thrilled.
Allowing the “yes man” to have the loudest voice is a sign of complacency. It means that employees haven’t done the work to support their cases and while I always value executive insight, I don’t believe that it should drown out the voices of key stakeholders who have put a lot of work and effort into developing their position.
As Marxent’s CEO, I want our subject matter experts to feel like it’s worth it for them to spend the time, effort and research crafting solid positions and to feel confident that I trust them and their direction. Instead of pushing to be right, I want to push everyone at Marxent to be confident and to feel trusted when they are charged with owning a project. Trust leads to ownership and ultimately, it leads to a better work product.
I’m glad to be a part of a company culture where folks feel like they can be straight with me. As much as “no” hurts, it is exciting that Marxent has overcome the “yes man” in favor of empowering employees to make smart decisions.
Co-founder & CEO
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