Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How to Avoid the Yes-Man Culture

The dilemma for many CEOs is that they initially moved up the ladder because of their ability to solve problems and drive solutions. They are used to having the right answers and having their expectations met. While that is a great position to be in, there is a flip side. When you learn to trust yourself and you are usually right, you expect others to follow you and the yes-man culture is born.

The yes-man culture gets its name because people become accustomed to doing things the CEO’s way. Employees assume that the CEO will always
have the right answer and may be afraid to speak up and point out that things could go wrong. In fact, there are meetings designed just for this kind of behavior. These are the ones where the CEO does all the talking while his team nods in agreement. The boss leaves feeling like everyone is on board because they all nodded. However, somehow the project fails or is significantly delayed. 

A good CEO or manager needs to be able to have reasonable expectations of herself and her employees. She needs to sense that when everyone is agreeing with her, she is in trouble. Her people have to be able to feel comfortable saying “no” on an issue in front of the CEO. If they can’t, employees might not speak up when a project is going to be late, which could put the CEO in an uncomfortable position with the client.

While this may sound like a typical problem with no real solution, there are organizational structures to mitigate these kinds of risks. Except, it takes a real leadership commitment. The key word is negotiation. When the boss asks for something to be done by Monday at 3:00pm, the employee needs to be able to have three options: to say yes, to say no or to make a counteroffer, like to have it Tuesday at 11:00am. The employee’s perspective could be crucial to the success of an initiative. An employee may request to have the deadline extended. In this case, the CEO can ask what resources the employee may need to finish sooner or politely accept the Tuesday deadline.

At the same time, an employee may need to say “no” because they have a better understanding of the customer’s needs and know that the project will be a bad idea in the client’s mind. With all that said, the worst thing to do is punish an employee for needing more time or saying no. If you do that, the unspoken culture becomes “you can’t say no” and you are stuck with the yes-man culture.  It is said that if a person can’t say no, they can’t say yes either. They will just give you lip service even if you are the smartest guy in the room. As the ‘80s slogan goes, let people “just say no”.   

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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