In my considerable time working for and around large firms, I’ve been on the receiving end of exactly one good, constructive business review with a team from corporate. That makes the score approximately 119 lousy experiences to 1 that was worth a damn.
I’ll rail at the lopsided majority in a moment, but first the one good meeting. This singular event was the visit from a high-ranking member of this global electronics manufacturer to evaluate our progress. He had been involved in helping start us a number of years earlier and now he was overseeing the broader organization and needed to assess where to invest or cut.
For two weeks ahead of the review session, the general manager of our unit went into hyper-panic, driving his troops to produce a seemingly endless stream of reports and presentations. All of the data was assembled, bound and carefully positioned on the table in the spot designated for our visiting dignitary.
The day arrived and the big man, all 5’3” of him, along with his entourage took their seats and the process began. After opening words from our GM, the big man asked about the stack of bound reports practically blocking his view to the rest of us. The GM explained what had been prepared and for a few moments, the big man was silent. Finally, in what shocked everyone in the room, he looked at the stack, pounded his fist down on top of it and exclaimed, “Excuses! Get rid of this paper and let’s talk about your business.”
For the balance of the day, we engaged in a thoughtful overview of the business, outlining our challenges and opportunities. The tone was respectful and the questions were tough, and the responses honest. A form of swift trust developed that allowed for open discussion on difficult topics. When it came time to talk about the need for critical investments in infrastructure and new product development, we received approval for most of our needs on the spot.
This meeting was in accounting vernacular, accretive. I’ll go so far to say that it energized our team to push harder. After all, we didn’t want to let down someone who had both respected us and provided support.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of these corporate reviews are the exact opposite of motivational events. Here’s why:
6 Ways the Team from Corporate Destroys Value During Business Reviews:
1. You’re approach suggests we’re guilty until proven innocent. Most business reviews by corporate staff assume that the division company is guilty of crimes ranging from gross mismanagement to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. These sessions are extended trials where the goal of one side is to convice and the goal of the other is to escape the hangman’s noose, at least until the next review. Great for morale!
2. You assume we are morons. And why wouldn’t you? We’re running this little tiny business and you oversee a giant megalopolis with hundreds of minions doing your bidding. Clearly, you’re smarter than the rest of us who have invested decades of learning our industries and vocations.
3. Every line of inquiry compels us to justify why we are drawing air and taking up space on this planet and in your company. These meetings are often nothing more than a requirement that we re-justify our existence in your corporate universe. Instead of transparency, these events turn into something resembling a farce at best or a bad tragi-comedy at worst.
4. You preoccupy on cells in spreadsheets without context for the numbers. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard you beat us over the head with that particular number, it’s not going to change in this meeting. We promise to work on it for the future, and we’ll tell you how, but make your case, set your expectations and let it go. That cell is not a crime against humanity or a personal affront to your very existence.
5. You don’t make an effort to understand our business. You critique our strategy without context for our markets, clients, prospects and competitors. And you suggest where we’re weak on talent and process, without having spent any time working in the business. You’re ignorance is showing, and it isn’t flattering to you.
6. You’re tone is exclusively, “what have you done for me lately.” It should be, “how can we better support your strategy?”
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I’ve attended, participated in and led productive and positive business reviews in a variety of settings. It’s the ones in the global conglomerates or highly divisionalized organizations with disconnected staffers or senior executives that seem to take on the personality of the sessions described above. For everyone involved in leading these reviews, start with showing respect and work towards establishing trust. After trust comes transparency about the opportunities, challenges and tough topics. If it never reaches this level, it’s just a waste of the precious time in our professional lives.
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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.