You might think that a Devil’s Advocate is a bad thing, but it’s one of the best things for your business. Let me explain.
Scenario: A new project or service is being developed and a core group of people are going to be working on it. Sometimes the idea is the brainchild of a boss or department head, and they hand pick their team to work on it. They don’t accept ideas from outsiders, and they are certain it’s going to be the next best thing since sliced bread.
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Outcome: They spends time, energy, and even company money to implement the idea and NOTHING CHANGES, or THINGS CHANGE FOR THE WORSE. They get some horrible feedback from clients, etc. Then you start to hear the grumblings from employees saying they knew it was a bad idea or that it wouldn’t work, or they would have done it this way, etc.
When you have a small group of people working on one thing over a long period of time, they develop the same perspective on what is going into the project or what is being taken out. They are all dedicated and loyal to what they are working on, but when the time comes to launch it, they are expecting, whether they realize it or not, for everyone to feel exactly the same way.
Sound familiar? It happens everywhere, and it doesn’t matter if the reason is that the people are too like-minded, or that the boss or leader of the project just won’t listen to anyone, or if the employees are just “yes people” and don’t want to rock the boat or put any extra energy into thinking about the idea. Regardless of the reason, it can be crippling for your business.
The idea of a Devil’s Advocate might sound really negative, but it’s not, well, not if they have the right mentality. As long as they aren’t focusing on just the bad things (a Negative Nelly), and they can offer some alternate ideas instead (they come with solutions, not just pointing out the problems), and they spark others to think outside the box, then having a Devil’s Advocate on your team is a win-win.
Here’s the tricky part though, the big cheese needs to be willing to listen. We’ve had several clients over the year say that they need a change, they are open to new ideas, etc. BUT at the end of the day, they just didn’t listen. They would buck every new idea with why it wouldn’t work, they wouldn’t get their team excited about the new ideas, or they would agree to the idea but then 5 minutes later, they are off on their own path again creating chaos.
How do you know if a Devil’s Advocate (DA) is successfully doing their job? In all actuality, it should be subtle. There should NOT be huge disagreements, people stomping off getting angry, or a project being put on hold until people cool off. A DA just responds to ideas by asking more questions. They ask What If scenarios. They offer some suggestions on doing things different – would it have the same or better outcome. They spark others to think about the actual cause and effect. Their job is to get everyone thinking. If everyone agreed all the time with the first idea that came up, I’m pretty sure we’d still be in the Stone Ages.
It’s how Cindy and I work daily. She might be the one who still signs my paycheck, but if I just Yes’d her on every idea, piece of content, or strategy, I’d never be challenging her or myself. It’s not about being difficult or pushing back, it comes from a place of love and knowing that maybe if we dig a little deeper or consider a different angle, something GREAT will be born instead of something that’s just OK. Now, we make sure we are always moving forward, because progress should never stop, but taking time along the way to make sure we are still doing it the best way at the moment is crucial.
Do you have any great Devil’s Advocate stories, please share, I’d love to hear them? Comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.