December 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Occasionally I have the luxury of sitting back and watching project meetings as an FYI attendee rather than a active participant. During a recent meeting that was to set context for a direction change and gain buy-in from stakeholders I watched as the two meeting leads followed a careful script crafted the previous day gradually spun off track. These were two seasoned professionals with more than a few years experience. People I highly respect. So what happened?
Like so many other group meetings, both the pre-meeting developing the script for the buy-in meeting and the buy-in meeting, understanding the roles at the table and there agendas was not prime on the mines of the participants. Often in meetings I find we –and I’ll include myself in this pattern– are more interested in our own specific agenda than achievement of the overall goal of the team or scoring points in intellectual arguments on detail procedures rather than outcomes. While the pre-meeting had established its goal of gaining buy-in from the stakeholders the approach to gaining such was less thought out. The team spent time creating a logical agenda to present what and why we were going to do differently. This was done optimistically or blindly in the believed if the logic was correct we’d get buy-in. While we got some agreement, the buy-in meeting slowly drifted away as stakeholders 1) raised issues that were not covered in the presentation but were of importance to them and 2) had a different understanding of terms, concepts, methods and how these are combined for results. Even the outcomes expected generated controversy. The goals of each stakeholders were different than the goals of the project or rather achievement of these stakeholder goals were not necessarily supportive of the overall goal of the project. That is not to say these goals were counter to achievement of the project, but these needed to be aligned in context of the overall project.
Which brings me back to the corrective action we should have taken during the pre-meeting. Years ago I brought to the attention of my management an article in Sloan Management Review : A Framework for Managing IT-Enabled Change, Summer 1993 July 15, 1993 Robert I. Benjamin and Eliot Levinson. I was promptly told to bury the article, we don’t do that here in this company. Such effort would be seen as manipulation rather than good leadership practices.
In that article they had an approach towards visually planning gaining stakeholder buy-in which would have served us well. However, while some progress in language regarding gaining stakeholder buy-in has improved in the IT profession, considered focus and concern in that direction are still merely a follow the numbers activity. Would the meeting have been different, more productive, and gained agreement -no commitment- faster had we used this approach. I don’t know for sure. I expect it would as it had worked for me very well at other companies, but I would have like to have seen it tried.
The other insight gained from the meeting was really a reminder that terms and concepts are not always understood by everyone in the same manner These are influenced by the context and role people play within a particular situation. This is especially true in the business process domain which is very abstract and often leans itself to multiple interpretations to terms, many times drifting off as a new label to old ways of doing business rather than the new approach it was suppose to be.