“I’m not sure why we’re even having this meeting. It seems to me like it’s a total waste of time. The value proposition we’re debating has already been decided by the CEO and he’s not looking for our vote!”
Fourteen smart people sat around the rectangular table in a conference room. All of the participants had agreed to be in this 3-hour working session. In pre-session interviews, they had passionately stated that clarifying the company’s value proposition was crucial to the future of the business and to each of their functional areas. They had also indicated their strong support for getting this group together.
And yet, with one comment, this team member had sent the meeting down a conflict rat-hole. Worse yet, he did so in the first 20 minutes of the meeting. What followed was as predictable as it was painful: a 2 ½ hour free for all that got bogged down in the definition of a value proposition.
“A value proposition is a simple catchphrase we can use to get a prospect’s attention,” a grizzled salesperson said with an I’d rather be at the golf course air.
“No, a value proposition is a unique selling proposition,” a marketing person said.
“A value proposition is a summary of our product’s benefits compared to competitors,” a product person chimed in.
Meanwhile, a financial analyst lost 103 neurons to a small intracranial explosion, and the CMO’s migraine got worse. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the light.
Eventually, the session started to dribble away to its unsatisfactory conclusion, after a lengthy analysis of whether or not there was already a value proposition in place. Three people left for a conflicting meeting. Another two took phone calls and dashed from the room. By the last half hour, the group was down to the four poor souls who couldn’t invent an excuse to escape the hostage crisis. Needless to say, not much got accomplished that day. No decision was made except to abort the project.
Most swirl in leadership teams comes down to making a decision that no one can precisely define.
In the meeting I described above, one team member probably thought the decision was about how the company positions its products with customers. Another may have thought it was about which customers they should be pursuing in the first place. Still, another may have believed it was about how salespeople differentiate from the competition when a customer raises a price objection.
And then there’s the guy who thought the most important decision was where the team was going for dinner that night. We love that guy.
In these situations, the team churns. And bogs down. Pretty soon, you’re fighting a migraine yourself, secretly wishing you could stick a fork in your eye.
Conflict is often decision-making in disguise. Conflict can make us all better, but only when we define the decision to be made as precisely as possible. Preferably in a sentence devoid of jargon and simple enough that it could be understood by a young child. Or a golden retriever.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”5Cp8f” via=”yes” nofollow=”yes”]Most swirl in leadership teams comes down to making a decision that no one can precisely define.[/ctt]
Clarifying the decision-to-be-made sounds super simple. It’s not.
Your team may need to spend a significant amount of time working on this task. It will force you to answer important questions that evade hurried brains. Questions like:
- What symptoms are we seeing in the business that tell us that a choice is coming our way? If you slow down for a second, you’ll usually see something happening—or not happening—in your organization that raises a flag about a problem or a gap or an ambiguity. In the case of the disastrous meeting above, you might see salespeople having difficulty differentiating solutions without resorting to discounting or hype. Or product development teams may have a tough time figuring out which features to include in the latest design.
- What factors contribute to those symptoms? Don’t just jump to treating symptoms. Look for root causes. Maybe salespeople in the organization above struggle because the company has failed to identify their ideal customers and what really matters to them. Perhaps there are enough different views on this key issue that it muddles their actions and confuses their organization. Or maybe they have not communicated the CEO’s strategy well enough to the organization to make it stick.
- What choice faces us? Before you engage in conflict, pause for a moment and summarize the decision before you. Make it simple. Write it down where everyone can see it. In the case above, perhaps the team could have summarized the choice this way: “We need to profile our ideal customers so that we can better organize our product development, sales, and marketing activities around delighting them.”
- Is making this choice worth it? As entertaining as decision conflict may be, make sure the benefit you gain by making a choice outweighs the pain you’ll experience for going through it.
By all means, pick good fights. Dive into decision-making. It has the potential to make all of us and everything better. Just be sure you start by setting up a clear decision-to-be-made, understood commonly by all, and valued by everyone who will have a part to play.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”_4IV7″ via=”no” nofollow=”yes”]Conflict is often decision-making in disguise. Conflict can make us all better, but only when we define the decision to be made as precisely as possible.[/ctt]