Obstacles to True Consensus – The Smart Conservative

Obstacles to True Consensus – The Smart Conservative

Following on from the first post in this mini-series, today I’ll describe another obstacle to True Consensus. Again, it’s about the behaviour of certain key people.  And again, in line with our belief that “People are Good”, the behaviours we’re discussing are not dysfunctional behaviours, but the outstanding, positive behaviours, the virtues, that have taken the company to its present success.

Obstacle: The (Smart) Conservative

Usually, these are people with an enormous amount of experience, very well respected. But somehow, given any suggestion of what to improve, they immediately find ways to prove to you it should not be done. It’s as if they’re going out of their way to maintain the status quo. Do you know anyone like this? What can we do?

As long as these people are in the crowd – and they’re always in the management crowd – what chance do we have of reaching a true consensus on some idea, or way forward, that is beyond the expectation of almost anyone in the group? It’s not that these conservative people are stupid. Definitely not. Do you think that they’re out of touch with reality? That they don’t know the situation of the company? Of course they know. And very well.

And now if we talk with them and ask them “What do you think? Do you think that if the company fails to embark on a process of ongoing improvement, it will survive in the future? What do you think their answer might be? They thoroughly believe that if we DON’T improve, we’re going to be out of business. So how come that these people – with so much experience, with such strong convictions that the company must improve – block any suggestion for improvement? What are they, imbeciles? How it is that this happens?

Here’s the explanation: These smart conservative people have the gift of being able to see both sides of a conflict. Very clearly. As a matter of fact, when we, through analysis, cause them at last to see the core problem, they will tell us “We already know that. We have already spoken out about it, more than once.” And they really believe the problem exists, and the analysis is correct. They have seen both sides of the conflict. They are keenly aware of both sides of the conflict. But do you see what’s happening? Most suggestions for improvement that they have seen in their careers, the vast majority, anyway, are not solutions or improvements that remove the conflict, they are solutions based on movement on the conflict arrow. To give an example of what we mean by “movement on the conflict arrow” consider the bin-annual flip-flop in many companies; from centralisation, to decentralisation, and back again to centralisation. Each time this movement was presented as “THE thing that will save the company” So many huge and expensive reorganisations. Each time, these smart conservative people oppose such initiatives.

Why? They’ve already seen solutions based on movement on the conflict arrow. They have learned from experience that the ONLY thing that will happen in such cases is the substituting one set of undesirable effects for another set of equally undesirable effects. And if that’s what people want to do, better not to do anything. ”Thank you – we have seen it before, we’ve been there already, why should we try the same thing again?”

Remediation: Block Movement on the Conflict Arrow, Identify and Remove the Flawed Assumption

How then do we cause these conservative folks to move towards our true consensus? Let’s present some new ideas, and for each one show the core problem, the conflict. To begin with they will not be surprised. They know the problems already. But then we show them that we have no intention whatsoever to move on the conflict arrow. More than that, we show that we propose blocking any movement on the conflict arrow, because it would be just substituting one set of undesirable effects with another.

Instead, we highlight the flawed assumption within the conflict. We don’t say ”we have a solution”, but rather “we have a direction for a solution”. In other words, our direction is based on the knowledge that we have found one (or more) flawed assumptions. So now we proceed to the next step: creating the full solution. In Theory of Constraints, the full solution emerges from the creation of a Future Reality Tree.

Yes, But

The Future Reality Tree leverages the remarkable ability of people, especial smart, conservative people, to say “Yes, but…”. Usually, a small yes, and a big BUT…

So, rather than attacking these “yes, but” reservations, we embrace the gift within every “yes, but”: “Yes, I understand the solution, yes, it will remove the conflict, BUT it will create another issue…”.

We help as much as we can to meticulously document the cause and effect of the “but”. We go out of our way to do this, to clarify their reservation. Once we have articulated really clearly what’s bothering someone, their reservation will augment our solution by removing the “but”. In this way we arrive at a full solution. With each reservation making that solution simpler, more powerful, and more intense.

And we ourselves learn the value of taking the time to listen to and clarify folks’ reservations.

Repeating this approach three or four time with a smart conservative person, they begin to realise that we are even more paranoid than they are. In a good way.

As soon as these folks understand our intentions, our rigour in dealing with risks, they become our champions and biggest supporters. In most cases the biggest supporter of True Consensus and all the changes it implies is the CFO.

This is how to remediate the obstacle of the smart conservative.

And by the way, did you notice how it’s much the same approach as we take with the Dominant Impatient Visionary?

Next time: Extrapolating From the Past – another obstacle to True Consensus explored.

– Bob

Further Reading

Beyond the Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt (Audiobook only)


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