Get the Why Right

Imagine you’re in a senior management meeting. Brenda, the CEO, starts by reviewing the current financial numbers then kicking off this discussion.

Brenda: “We are struggling to make a profit here. It’s getting serious. What should we do?”

Betty: “We have to do more marketing. No one knows who we are and every sale is a struggle.”

Bob: “No, what we really need is a better processes and execution. We can’t get out of our own way. We are wasting way too much of every dollar we earn on random acts of madness.”

Betty: “I disagree. Our inflow of new clients has slowed to a trickle. Let’s not focus on re-arranging the deck chairs.”

Bob: “With all due respect, Betty, we are way too inefficient at what we do. Any new investments in marketing or anything else will just dig us deeper into the hole.”

Betty: “Brenda, clearly you see my point. We can’t keep starving our sales this way.”

Brenda: “I think the real problem is…”

What do you think Brenda should say next? Here are four things she could say, from least to most effective.

“You’re right, Betty {or Bob}. Let’s focus on marketing {or processes and execution}.” Least Effective Brenda needs everyone’s help. Taking sides, even if she really believes one answer is better, will bring bad feelings, apathy, or a withdrawal of support and good ideas from the person with other idea.
“I don’t like to hear you fighting about this. Maybe we need a team-building session.” Somewhat Effective Brenda needs to lead the organization toward more success, including solving the financial current financial crunch. Team building, trust, openness, and good communication are essential. And a team-building exercise may make sense as part of a broader strategy to move the organization out of the hole it’s in.
“I think you’re both right. Let’s improve both marketing and our processes.” Effective with Hidden Risk Brenda, again, must focus on the bigger prize. Here she’s falling into the trap of creating win-win amongst her team member at the expense of greater win for all. She may be sub-optimizing. How do we know that improving “both marketing and our processes” is the best possible strategy?
“Thank you, both. These are good points. Let’s consider what we want right now as an organization and why.  What goal do both of your suggestions have in common? And what else might we need to do?” Most Effective Brenda knows the goal of leadership: inspiring people to a common, compelling goal. She sets aside her initial judgement about the right tactics in favor of building with the team a common cause.  From here, the team can brainstorm, plan, and act in concert towards success.

The ultimate success rule here is, “Let’s agree on why then we can agree on what.”

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