Corporate Life: Stand up and be counted

I work with a lot of corporate clients and meet with individuals and teams on a daily basis. Companies hire their people because they are capable and they ultimately trust them to make the right decisions.

In the normal course of a day with a client team, I'll ask a question and given I always have "Vegas Rules" in my meetings (what happens in the room stays in the room), I'm surprised at the lack of candor (or if you're from Canada or the UK, candour).

The work I do with corporate clients ranges from partnering with individuals for performance-based coaching (to help people knock their performance out of the park), team-based facilitation, individual and team-based learning solutions (what might be traditionally called "training sessions") and designing and delivering energetic and engaging corporate events.

The topics I cover range far and wide and one of the key areas I find where people hold back is in the annual (or semi-annual) planning process.

One of my clients recently held their annual planning meeting, full of really capable leaders who are truly solid performers. I was invited along to understand how their process works and to provide some coaching in terms of the process, facilitation and holding them accountable for the expected outcomes.

During each of the breaks, I take time to have quick check-ins with attendees to see if they are getting what they want from the sessions.

First time round, everyone says it's going really well and they love the way the session is being run by the CEO.

By lunchtime, I've had the opportunity to watch the attendees for around three hours and in that time, I've heard lots of good ideas from the attendees but I've also seen a lot of shifts in body language that lead me to believe, based on my understanding of human behavior, that people are saying one thing but meaning something completely different.

And so, during the break, I reach out to people again and this time I challenge them to find suggestions for improvements to both the meeting and also to the outcomes of the session.

After a moment or two of silence, I then see what I like to call the "Hoover Dam" moment. People open up and say what they really think about the agenda, the process we're following in the room and the outcomes that they believe may be flawed.

Now, I'm used to people having different experiences of the same event, so I ask around and see if that is an isolated experience. And it's not.

After time to warm up and think about whether they truly like what they are hearing and seeing in the room, people start to share with me what isn't right about that meeting. And when they start, they don't stop until they've made every single point.

So with the feedback coming thick and fast, I get a great sense of the issues with the way the meeting is structured and how it's leading the attendees to specific outcomes like a bad lawyer leading a witness uncontested in a courtroom drama.

This makes me think about two things;

Firstly, the value of the session. It's costing the company a huge amount of money to have those people in that room for a full day and if the outcomes have already been determined, there's no value in having them there. It's not as if people are even buying into the outcomes; they know that they are a fait accompli and so there's no reason to have them there. In this case, if the outcomes have been decided, a carefully written email to the same people would suffice.

Secondly, knowing what these people think about the decisions that are being made, I wonder why they don't stand up, share their views on the process and outcomes and be counted. All of them disagree with at least one component (for good reasons) and many of them disagree with multiple points. They have their own valid perspectives of their business units and functions and they know them in more detail than the CEO.

This takes me back to the opening point; companies hire capable people and they trust these people to make the right decisions. But in this case, the right decisions are not being made because people are not communicating their thoughts.

Sure, I get it; it can be scary sometimes to stand up and be counted. But to this I say, is it better to stand up and be counted or is it better to stay quiet and let the wrong decision stand instead?

I collated comments from the group and after anonymizing them, I went back to the CEO with my feedback. And the funny thing was that he was shocked that no-one had told him how they felt in the ten-plus years the meeting had been run that way. He had hired capable people; people he trusted, after all.

So here's a challenge for you; the next time you're in a meeting and you disagree with what is being said, stand up and be counted. Find the right way to express your opinions and get your point across so that you can help shape the outcome and change the direction before it is set in stone. You may feel alone when you first make your stand but you won't be alone by the time you finish - it could well be that everyone else is thinking the same thing, too. And the impact of your stand will be felt by not just the people in the room but by all of the teams that rely on the decisions being made therein.

Rob Whitfield is the CEO and Founder of One Brit, No Bull, a corporate training and coaching company based in Los Angeles and operating worldwide. Rob can be contacted here or on (+1) 518 9NO BULL.

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As well as being an experienced management consultant and energetic public speaker, Rob Whitfield is a certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified Master Coach and a certified Master Practitioner of Hypnotherapy and Time Line Therapy. No Bull.