Over my storied, 32-year career I have worked for several companies, and a couple of them were very large companies that the small startup company I was working at was acquired by. The example outlined here has happened to me several times.
This story starts back in 1991 when I was a new college graduate and applying for jobs right out of school, most jobs I would apply for all said, you need X number of years of experience. This was a huge bummer, as I did not have that coming out of college and I remember thinking, “Having experience in this discipline must mean quite a bit if you need that in order to be employed in this field.” Then I thought, “Well, one day I will have that experience and it will mean a lot.” Boy was I wrong!
Throughout my career there have been a number of times where I was asked to go off and figure something out for the company I was working for. Let’s use the example of being asked to come up with the term or phrase the company was going to use as one of its defining advantages in the marketplace. After a couple of weeks of work, testing the term, collaborating with other smart colleagues, all as experienced people do, we had the phrase.
Its now time to present the idea to the executive staff. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, nor do I feel every idea I come up with is the best. I also certainly don’t expect to deliver an idea or concept and not have there be questions about it or asked about how we came to the conclusion. However, this time was different. As we presented the phrase, one of the executives said, “Now, I am not an expert in this area, but I’d like to use the phrase <insert term here>.”
In the past, when I was younger and maybe less experienced, I probably would have said, “OK” and worked hard to make the executives phrase work. I wouldn’t have questioned it. Its similar to showing respect for your mom or dad when they say, “because I said so.” and as the child, you have to agree. Or thought, this person has this title for a reason, maybe they just know more than the collective. Or, maybe I didn’t understand the bigger picture of the company and assumed they knew something I didn’t, and this new phrase would make much more sense to me as time unfolds.
This time was different. This time I had the experience to KNOW for a fact, that the phrase the executive had chosen was a really bad one, no matter what else was going on in the company. I spoke up this time. It took a few extra weeks of work and convincing, but the executive finally agreed that the original phrase we had come up with was the right one.
During the time the team was working on validating our phrase vs the executives phrase, the thought of there being 3 to 6 people, spending precious person hours on a task, which really wasn’t necessary, as we were all hired because of our expertise in this area, yet the executives, who admittedly were not experts in this field didn’t listen to us. To me this was a complete waste of time and resources, especially at a point in history where companies are trying to be as efficient as possible. I don’t understand why, when you ask for experience, and you get that experience you don’t trust that experience. It is bad for morale, it makes workers less inclined to work hard for you, and usually when you don’t go with the idea the team came up with, the alternative is really not that good.
I think its time for a lot of executives to get off their high horse, forget about what people think of them and their title and take a lesson from the great Herb Brooks (coach of the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic hockey team), “When you pull on that jersey, the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back…” meaning the team you have working for you has the same goals and objectives as you do, to make the WHOLE company/team better. You need to listen to experience.