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Guts to be counted on

Are you taking personal responsibility for the product?

By Fred Engel

Westerly Consulting

Do you have the guts to go it alone?  Are you willing to stand up and admit that you were wrong?  Are you willing to drive hard for what you believe in but not laud it over everyone else so that the focus is on getting it right, not giving you credit?  If you answered yes, then maybe you can be a person who drives the product feature set.

In all organizations your decisions will find critics.  Some will be sniping at you while others will have legitimate differing views.  Do not go dark or duck. Force the discussions so the best decision can be made.  Be willing and able to represent your point of view in the face of criticism.  Deal with the issues and arguments.

How do you deal with these critics?

1.  Have a clear, agreed upon problem statement. No sense arguing about different solutions when you do not agree on the problem.

2.  If you can’t solve it verbally, get people to write down their positions. Writing things down in a complete way will enable a full analysis.  If it’s a good proposal, all benefit. If it’s a bad proposal, it will die a quick death.  If nothing is written, they have no standing.

3.  Force a presentation and a discussion of the entire solution. It may seem like giving them too much space, but if they are a thorn in your side, cutting them out will not work.

4.  Drive towards the data and arguments for the solution being proposed. Too many debates are about what people feel is good for the customer and do not involve real data.

Through all this you need to ask yourself if you, or the other side, are too emotionally vested?  Your winning or losing this issue makes no difference.  It is about the facts on the table and the solution for the customer.  If you are emotionally vested, you cannot be objective have a colleague chair the meetings to discuss the various options.

There are times when you need to move forward alone

Not all disagreements are the same. It really does not matter what decision you make if the cost of being wrong is low enough.  Do not fight over things that do not matter. If the various reviews and discussions have taken place and no consensus is coming into place, then make the best decision you can (and are empowered to make) and tell the world.

Some situations are wrong for moving ahead on your own. For example, if the other side has a lot of political power. Note that political power comes in many forms.  It can be someone with a big title or who is very influential. It can be sheer numbers or a whole department.  Your only choice in forcing the decision to be made is to kick it up to the next level.  This may be your boss, an oversight committee, or someone else with higher political power. Kicking it upstairs is not tattling on your brother or sister. It is what you are supposed to do. 

Let the other side know what you are doing and then write a note to state the situation.  It is good practice to write a summary note and distribute it widely. Summarize the various positions, their key arguments, and why you want to move in the direction you think is right.  “It is better to say you’re sorry than to ask for permission” works when used sparingly.

There are times when you need to re-think your position

1.  You are being political and emotional

2.  The other person is has a solid reputation and is usually thoughtful

3.  Your boss is the other person (you do not need to agree, just make sure you are listening)

4.  Your data is full of holes and people are pointing it out

5.  The cost of being wrong is very high

Have the guts to not be shy about it all

Win lose or draw you need to run a defensible process, not an easy thing to do. Driving decisions is putting yourself on the line.  While some succeed by always ducking, it is not usually a good way to grow a career. If you do your homework, are respectful of all that come, and really work hard to make sure things are handled well, people will recognize your contribution.

It is the person that causes the good decisions to be made that is the most valuable to the organization.

Send comments to: fred@westerlyconsulting.com