Fight for structure

"Suddenly, that simple question turned into an email thread with 30 responses and 20 participants. I felt ignored and challenged in what was supposed to be my responsibility, and the whole company was watching. I still thought I was right, but others had valid points too. Most of all, I didn't want to feel dumb, and I also didn't want to come across as an idiot. All I ever wanted was the best for the company."

Uncertainty spawns dissidence. In a startup environment, things move fast. Not only because the company is small and you have to gain traction in the market before others, but also because the path to success is unknown. The CEO keeps speaking about product-market fit because the company is still not in Auto-growth mode. This uncertainty brings multiple options to the table to every area: do we try flyers or door-to-door sales? Do we enhance a previous version of the product or start anew? Which are the best KPIs? Outsource or in-source? Trial a new business line or keep it all-in on the current idea? What stuff should we kill? Multiple ideas have different backers from Marketing, Ops, IT. Even investors, board members and customers will have different options. At any role, you will be asked about your ideas around a topic, and those will be discussed and evaluated by other departments and in other realms, and others will disagree on your views! Shocker!

Then, invalidation brings frustration. The more an idea gets discussed by different departments, the more diverse the arguments pro and con are likely to get, arguments of different natures as time, cost, focus and impact. People start discussing all these arguments and keep adding more to support their own idea or rebuff others. Because you've probably spent more time dedicating on what you think is right, you are naturally incentivized to add depth to how beautiful the future is if the company goes down your path. Everyone else does the same. Some people bring rationales, some bring outsider examples, some bring practical cases of your company. As one of the stakeholders you get frustrated, not only your idea is being questioned as also there are no signs that anyone's idea will ever be approved with consensus.

A way to solve it?

Start at the end: The best ideas should always win. Basic. So, if you recognize there are plenty of smart people around, you should focus on getting the best idea around on the table. Frequently it may not be yours. But you're also a key person in this decision, so you should make yourself useful with all the knowledge you have on the matter. So, instead of fighting for an idea, if you really care about outcome, what should you fight for?

Fight for structure.

  1. The best idea is measured by outcome. So, first, define what success looks like. What will you be able to improve in the company if the winning idea is correct?
  2. Then, how will you measure this success or not?
  3. Then you can define rules of what is possible and not (budget, prioritization of resources)..
  4. Finally, trickle down into the operational details like implementation, review and tracking.

After you have these few criteria written down, get approval from your manager or peers. The variables written on the structure (those 4 points) should somehow mimic how your manager decides himself (or should be deciding). Then you can populate some examples and send around.

I've taken part at restructuring KPIs within an operational area of my company, the area responsible for deliveries. While everyone presented their KPI suggestions, it became bigger and bigger the number of KPIs to track, and it became also clear many of them weren't actionable. Number of deliveries made, per day and per person were two KPIs suggested. While those seem nice numbers to track, they are not proper KPIs for an operation, as they don't measure performance, they measure output. An operation can be awesome even if the number of deliveries falls on day, it depends among other things on how much marketing you did and sales you got. You cannot blame a dispatcher for doing less deliveries if his deliveries are harder, or if you give him a thinner pipeline. Etc. After this problem was pointed and assimilated, we set the objective (increase performance of Ops in Delivery, among others), the condition for success (KPIs being actionable, trackable and fair - in a word, performance-based) and only then did we start to break it down in variables, etc. The rest of the process became fairly autonomous and simple.

When such structured discussions happen you have your team in synch. People will love you for including them and will value you showing your rationale. They will still argue but they will know you did a great job in helping them structure their own thoughts.

This will save you time and headaches. It also helps your team understand and improve how decision making works, and they will trust your future opinions a of more. Because you don't fight for your ideas, you fight for structure.