Minority Report

The full picture includes the messy conflicts.

Thumb DownWhen the U.S. Supreme Court justices cannot agree, the majority rules the day. Even so, the minority are still given a voice with a “dissenting opinion” – their public assessment of weaknesses in the majority position and their preference for an alternate ruling. Strangely, dissenting opinions are usually taboo in the corporate world.

Contrived Consensus

I am asking business leaders, “Are dissenting opinions presented to the CEO along with the proposed course of action?” There used to be an occasional “Yes,” but in the last three months, the consistent answer has been, “No.”

When I follow-up with “Why Not?” a few themes emerged:

  • Some pride strong team cohesion (unfortunately, this is a symptom of conflict avoidance and/or lack of diverse perspectives).
  • More say that consensus is a corporate value and teams simply do not move forward until unanimous.
  • There are even a few CEOs who tell teams to go back and “finish answering the question” if diverse opinions linger.

Regardless of the reason, we should acknowledge two truths: First, suppressing dissent or forcing consensus is hardly a recipe for best-in-class performance. These practices deny the CEO of critical information when called on to make decisions.

Does this additional complexity make the CEO’s job more difficult? Absolutely! But the pay-offs are better decisions (now that the CEO has the full picture) and enhanced performance.

Leadership Expectations Drive The Change

The second truth is that only the CEO can change these cultural norms and nurture transparency and authenticity:

  1. Make it known that you value and expect all opinions to receive fair airtime. Change process documentation and templates to reinforce this value.
  2. Publicly applaud team leaders and executive sponsors who are candid about contradictory perspectives. It takes genuine courage to expose these conflicts to the CEO.
  3. If no dissention is evident, ask about it! Ask about the runner-up options and who preferred any of them. Ask about individual reservations over the proposed course of action.

If you are not hearing dissenting opinions, don’t delude yourself into believing there are none. Our world is too wonderfully complex for your smart, experienced business people to hold identical convictions about the best course of action.  To suppress their voices is to deny yourself the full value of your smart, experienced people!

© Dave Wittenberg