Boardroom Rules II: A strongly voiced opinion is not a benchmark

Mar 4, 2011

So maybe you’ve noticed your team / management / board meetings are a little testy these days? Understandable, given the horrendous last couple of years, and in any case, managing rocky interactions is an important part of Predictable Success.However, there’s one type of interaction that rises like a kid’s lost balloon every time there’s a serious, complex issue to face, especially in team meetings: The strongly voiced opinion – one (vocal) person’s simplistic, dramatic, or counter-intuitive proposal for resolving a painful issue:

– “It’s vital that we slash our prices by 20%”
– “It’s vital that we raise our prices by 20%”
– “Our Palookaville office is losing a fortune – let’s shut it down”
– “We need a social media strategy”

You know the type of thing – you’ve seen it before, and next time you have a major business challenge, you’ll see it again – an SVO (strongly voiced opinion) thrown in to a tough discussion like an unexploded grenade.

The important thing to remember about SVO’s is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with them – it’s just that there’s nothing inherently right about them either.

A strongly voiced opinion is (in it’s first appearance) just that – someone’s strongly voiced opinion. It might be their mantra, a flight of fantasy, a genuine flash of insight (rarer than all those books would have us believe), something they read on some geezer’s blog over the weekend, or a revelation direct from God.

Often (though not always), they’re delivered by executives with CADD – Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder: people who find it really painful to grind through the detail involved in most decision making and who feel better when they can instead swing for the fences.

The problem for most teams is that unless it is outstandingly goofy, upon first declaration, they can’t tell which of these many version’s of a SVO this particular one is. Is it good? Is it valid? Who knows. So it gains traction, and before you know it, the SVO has become the benchmark for the entire discussion – should we do this thing or not, and if so, how do we make it work?

The Predictable Success rule for SVO’s is simple: don’t lob them into meetings without warning, like a hand grenade. If you have a serious proposal for resolving a painful issue, do us all the favor of thinking about it beforehand, and commit at least the bones of an outline to paper – just a bullet list of the pros and cons will give us a start.

And if you don’t feel like doing so, and instead insist in using your SVO as a club to hijack the discussion on the run, then we’ll table the item, excuse you to let you work on it for half an hour (while the rest of us sort through something equally pressing), then you can come back in and lead a thought-through, planned discussion of your idea.

And you know what? Two-thirds of the time in my experience, during that half-hour when you’re forced to think through your SVO in detail, you’ll realize just how half-assed it was to begin with.

Managing a business in times like these is in itself a serious business – it’s not helped by allowing highly vocal mavericks to short-circuit the process just because they can’t stand the pain of detail.