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When to disagree with the boss


If your boss is a narcissistic tyrant, read no further. Go directly to and find a new job. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

The rest of you should read on.

Businesses that are well conceived develop and can articulate their mission and strategies. In my experience, missions rarely change. For example, alternative energy companies have a mission to provide environmentally friendly energy sources to their customers. That mission extends to their brand. Selling fuel oil during the winter months when roofs are too icy to install solar panels is not consistent with their mission. So, they don’t do it.

However, strategies change often. As markets and technology changes, businesses must adapt. If the mortgage market collapses, banks may shift their strategy to commercial lending. When businesses stop buying computer and telecom equipment, IT businesses shift to services.

These shifts imply that new strategies must be developed and implemented. Investments must be made in plants, equipment and people. Great CEO’s always involve their leadership teams in discussions around these topics. But, ultimately, decisions of this type require significant financial investments; so, the decisions are made at the top and then filter down.

I would like to pause here to make a semantic point. Many business leaders are confused about the definition of strategy. I have seen many presentations of, for example, a business’s “Sales Strategy” when it was really a sales plan.

There has been much written about strategy. But I like to keep it simple. A strategy is what you will do. It’s a guideline for establishing priorities and allocating resources. (If you want something more complicated, click HERE for the Harvard version.)

A plan is how you will do it.

So, the IT business that shifts its strategy from equipment sales to managed services is making a strategic decision. To execute the strategy, a business may make plans to invest in new software and to bring on people with different skill sets. Perhaps they will lay off those whose skills no longer fit the business model.

Once those strategies are set, there can be no disagreement with the boss. It’s time to salute the flag that he or she has raised and lead the charge up the hill. Each member of the management team should develop their plans to implement new processes, create an effective organization and the metrics to measure success.

On these last issues, there may be (I would argue there should be) lots of ongoing disagreement. To be clear, I don’t mean violent arguments. I mean there should be ongoing discussion about what’s working and what’s not. The management team should challenge one another, including the CEO, about their process to achieve success and the metrics to measure it. Only through constant questioning can you consistently improve results.

It’s incumbent upon the CEO to create a culture that enables constructive confrontation and makes it safe for the inevitable mistakes.

The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who don’t do anything.

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