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Not Everyone’s Opinion Matters

Last year I read a book (well, more than one, but this one was really good) that had a profound effect on my HR practice and how I advise my operational clients. I am a sucker for a good management/leadership/HR book (nerd alert, I know) as I am always looking for little nuggets to apply to my workplace. When you think about it, even if you pull one thing you can use out of a book, the $25 investment pays for itself.

Opinions quoteAnywho, the book I read that I absolutely loved was Reality Based Leadership by Cy Wakeman. I am not doing a book review on it because it would be a pretty short one. It would go something like this – “It was great, buy it and use the advice.” While the book itself was chock full of great workplace lessons, one of Cy’s points in particular really reverberated with me. To paraphrase a bit, Cy’s point was that organizations and their leaders lose their effectiveness by allowing everyone’s opinion on (key) matters to count.

Specifically, she was referring to leadership teams, managers and their departments trying to make real organizational progress, and as they try and move forward, these “leaders” continue to entertain the opinions of those who (can’t) add any value to the situation at hand. Organizational leaders, by allowing these non-value added opinions on every topic, impede progress and their overall leadership effectiveness. In the words of Wakeman, when referring to those that can’t/don’t add value, “their opinions are superfluous at best, counter-productive at worst.”

As my Jr. High school aged daughter would say, “Bam! What?” Those were my thoughts exactly after reading that line from Wakeman! What a powerful statement. When you think about, this happens ALL the freaking time in today’s workplace. We focus constantly on gaining widespread consensus in companies on every little matter. I am not sure if someone thinks this is how teams are built or they are afraid someone’s feelings are going to get hurt. Regardless, organizations allow people whose opinion can’t add any value continue to derail real progress. I have seen and heard of this with leadership teams throughout my career. Keep in mind the key word here is opinions (not real data or inputs).

What you typically see is that someone who has no experience, no expertise and often no real stake in a project or initiative allowed to weigh in on why something won’t work or needs to be different and they basically impede any progress with all of their objections. Organizations allow these individuals to be constantly placated thus, nothing happens – the organization stagnates, there is no progress and everyone gets frustrated and gives up. But hey, everyone got to share their opinion!

As a leader, I am trying to adopt a different approach in my HR practice and with the advice I give my operations partners. In fact, simply by sharing that quote with them has changed how they think and approach things in their own departments. Since I read Reality Based Leadership, I have adopted the mantra that not everyone’s opinion matters and it sure has helped me with my work progress!

I identify my key stakeholders, I engage them as appropriate and necessary, I communicate as much as possible and then I deliver a solution, project, etc. that addresses the problem or situation at hand. Basically, I focus on providing the 90% solution. Does it make everyone happy all the time? No. Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not! Could I improve and get better at recognizing when to do and not do this? You bet I can improve! However, does it mean I am able to move key HR initiatives ahead and satisfy the broad business needs of the organization I work for? I like to think it does. I have far fewer things die the death of a thousand cuts than I ever did before, once I realized that not everyone’s opinion matters.

hat I have learned is the key to success is to make sure I am providing a solution to a clearly defined problem and that I apply the right amount of rigor in identifying my stakeholders. After that, I move forward and refuse to allow a plethora of non-value added “opinions” to derail my projects, initiatives and operational solutions. I can tell you based on the feedback from my clients, someone is happy. Better yet, I advise my operational partners to utilize this same approach and they too have had similar success. We are all learning together and hopefully we are seeing a culture shift, one less opinion at a time.

As Wakeman advises, once you learn to use the response of, “that is good (information) to know” in response to the opinion’s that don’t matter, you will be that much farther ahead as a leader and hey, don’t we all want to be better leaders? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo credit zazzle.ca

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