How to keep the absentee, the frog and others from sinking your strategy.
A negative influence on your executive team can be disastrous—especially when it’s time to hold strategic planning meetings. Learn how to spot the eight worst behavioral archetypes who appear on executive teams—the Absentee, the Chief Executive Omniscience, the Consultant, the Frog, the Politician, the Provocateur, the Sectarian and the Theorist—how to keep them from sinking your strategy.
At the first two-day strategic planning meeting I facilitated for Bill’s federal agency, all eight of these negative behavioral archetypes showed up. Let’s look more closely at each one.
The Absentee is present physically but “somewhere else” mentally, whether reading emails or half-listening to the discussions. Manuel seemed to be mentally focused on things happening outside the meeting, staring into space and asking us to repeat the question whenever we asked his opinion.
He was an excellent tactical thinker, but Manuel was not invited to the next strategic planning meeting. You need strategic thinkers for these meetings.
The CEO is the leader acting in his “Chief Executive Omniscience” mode. Many agency heads can anticipate where a discussion is heading and tend to supply a conclusion to save everyone the time of figuring it out themselves. Bill acted just this way, which meant that team members saw decisions as Bill's rather than their own and expected him to handle implementation problems.
We made sure the CEO spoke last in discussions, enabling Bill to judge how well people had truly understood his viewpoints. When Bill did speak, everyone listened intently, since they understood he was offering new information. The CEO’s active participation in a planning meeting is essential. Active listening helps the CEO understand what team members want to accomplish and why, and makes him more supportive of the resulting strategic plan.
The Consultant never commits to a team-developed decision. Every time it looked like a decision was nearly made, Ed would say, “Let me play devil's advocate and outline how we could fail.” This would put him in a “winning” position no matter the ultimate outcome.
Short-circuit this lack of accountability by emphasizing that you can never have 100 percent information or certainty when you make a strategic decision, but it’s necessary to make a decision and commit to following through. Ed was forced to go on record as supporting the decision. A strategic plan is not a plan until the executive team leaves the meeting with consensus and commitment.
The Frog is so new to an organization that he and the team assume that he has nothing to contribute. However, new employees are a valuable asset. I call them “fresh frogs,” based on the theory that a frog dropped into boiling water will jump out, but a frog put into lukewarm water that is slowly heated up will become a cooked frog.
When you interact with fresh frogs, resist the urge to quickly explain things. Instead, ask them, “Why do you ask that question, what do you see that we don’t?”
The Politician tells everyone a different story behind closed doors, and avoids any meetings where those people would hear the same story from him. Jack attempted to skip the planning meeting, but Bill required him to attend, as strategy took priority.
Prod the Politician to respond with substance. If he couldn’t tell everyone a different story, Jack’s backup strategy was to issue meaningless platitudes. He couldn’t sustain his political behavior when he was constantly forced to go on record in front of everyone.
The Provocateur never considers a discussion concluded or a decision final, living to perpetuate a frenzy of uncertainty and inaction. On the meeting’s second day, the agency executive team began to write down the agreed-upon strategy. Julian tried to reopen each decision: “The strategy has us expanding too fast. The budget is too low.”
The chemistry of strategy formula is what we want the future to look like, why we want it, and how we change the status quo to achieve it. You can’t begin moving in a direction until you decide where you want to end up, and you will make adjustments along the way. Asking and answering how is what action planning is all about. This is the next step after providing answers to what and why. Eventually, Julian channeled his energy into making sure conflicting viewpoints were aired while accepting the team’s ultimate decisions.
The Sectarian sees her role as only representing the thoughts of her function, department and/or people. Caroline, the agency’s human resources director, saw her role solely as representing HR. Whenever the discussion turned to other areas she tuned out, not understanding that her experience and insights were valuable and required to shape the agency’s optimal strategy.
Require the Sectarian to comment on each issue discussed, which draws her into the overall strategy development. Caroline triggered one of the meeting’s “aha” moments when she offered her perspective on an interagency protocol issue.
The Theorist won’t be around to live with the consequences of the team's strategic decisions. Although Jill had recently tendered her resignation, planning to retire next year, she was invited to the planning meeting for her expertise. She kept pushing for radical operating policy changes that could dramatically affect the agency’s funding, but would have no impact on her once she retired.
Bill excused Jill from attending the second day, since she wouldn’t be accountable for implementation or suffer any consequences from a poor strategy. Don’t include lame ducks on your strategic planning team.
John W. Myrna is a management consultant and co-founder of Myrna Associates Inc. He is the author of The Chemistry of Strategy: Strategic Planning for the Not-Yet-Fortune 500.