In his four years as director of software development, Suresh had never faced anything like this. He had left the e-staff meeting room crest-fallen, knowing he would have to address his development team and deliver some shocking news. Now in front of them, he looked down immediately. Catching himself doing that, he glanced up briefly only to lower his head again, unable to look them in the eyes. He began speaking, slowly at first, shuffling his feet.
“Management shocked me. They said all we had been working on for the 4.0 release, was now up-ended. Our main competitor has introduced a new feature so novel that we would look antiquated if we continued on our path. They said we had to start from scratch and be ready to launch by April 15th. I told them it was impossible. I really did. That we had been working nights and weekends and were worn out. But they weren’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. Finally with two of our main funders there, I had no choice but to say ‘yes’. That we could do it.”
As he shifted and heard the groans in the room, he became defensive. “Well, what did you want me to say? They put a gun to my head. I had no choice. I’m too upset to talk further about this now. Let’s deal with it in the morning and try to figure out who does what when we’re less tired and upset.”
Suresh missed a golden opportunity. And in just minutes lost the support of his team, the very people he needed to lead him through the problem.
What could he have done instead?
He could have realized this was a classic “bad news” story and could have fired up his team, instead of encouraging them to look for new jobs. By harnessing the power of negative story.
What if it had gone more like this?
Suresh enters the room. All eyes are upon him. He looks back taking his time to look each member of his team in the eye. Only then does he begin.
“Listen up (vertical take-off). We’re in a fight for our lives (identify & personalize issue). There’s no way to sugar coat this. Our main competitor has launched a radical new innovation that makes our 4.0 release seem like yesterday’s news (truth, not corporate pablum). They have out-flanked us (not just about me). If we keep going as-is we’ll be dead in the water as a firm (real risk). Can any of you picture what that would mean? Dead in the water after all the hard work, the sacrifice, the nights, weekends, missed kids’ games and worked holidays (paint a vivid picture)? Well, guess what? I told e-staff no effing way was I (now shifting to protagonist hero role) going to let that happen. And no way my team would either. Is that right? (seeking personalization & buy-in). Are we going to let those guys run rough-shod over everything we have done? Is that what this comes down to? To give up at this point (generate determination)? I say no. But I can’t go it alone. Are you with me?” Group reacts in a very different and vocal fashion–solidly giving support.
Suresh continues, knowing he has turned a very bad situation into a solid future course of action. “E-staff and the funders looked me in the eye and said, ‘but can your team deliver once again? Do they have it in them’? Then they really surprised me by mentioning many of you by name. You Pavel, you Jennifer, you Mingjun. You Brad (cultivate trust). They said they would back us with anything we need. We had what they called the ‘red shoes’ on. Anything we need, we get. And they offered a breakfast this Saturday for our SO’s to explain exactly what’s at stake since they know how important family support is to making this happen.”
“So, that’s it. Again, I ask. Are you with me?” (resounding yea’s). Then let’s get this done. Let’s start blocking this out right now!”
Ask yourself…which team would you rather work on? And if it’s time to face a problem as team / company leader, which Suresh will you be?
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