Volunteers

Boards Benefit When 'Devil’s Advocates' Are Present

‘Values-based opposition’ improves your CU’s chance of making better decisions.

August 19, 2013
/ PRINT / ShareShare / Text Size +
iStockphoto/Thinkstock®

A decade after acquiring Gatorade’s parent company and turning that brand into every athlete’s must-have energy drink, Quaker CEO William Smithburg moved in on another drink surging in popularity: Snapple.

Despite a $1.8 billion bid and a lot of unanswered questions, Smithburg received the full support of his board of directors. Three brutal years later, Snapple was
sold for $300,000 and Smithburg stepped down.

“We should have had a couple of people arguing the ‘no’ side of the evaluation,” he said.

Organizations often suffer when devil’s advocacy is in short supply, Chip and Dan Heath illustrate in “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.”

Credit unions benefit from a board of directors that constructively challenges conventional thinking, investigates additional options, and combats hubris and the tug of short-term emotions.CU Directors Newsletter

“We want to avoid the momentary discomfort of being challenged, which is understandable, but surely it’s preferable to the pain of walking blindly into a bad decision,” the authors write.

Some organizations license skepticism by appointing individuals to the task. The best approach is to encourage the entire board to participate in what the authors characterize as “values-based opposition”—avoiding adversarial politics by disagreeing without being disagreeable—and to work as collaborators and analyze options objectively.

Become a better devil’s advocate by following these guidelines, the authors advise:

Expand the options. Decisions require multiple options, not "yes" or "no" answers. Alarm bells should sound if you’re asked “whether or not” to pursue a single alternative. Ask “What else could we do?” to generate other reasonable courses of action.

Consider the opposite. Channel the discussion toward objective reasoning by asking, “What would have to be true for this option to be the very best choice?”
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, asked this question to defuse a tense negotiation over whether to close a historic copper mine in Upper Michigan. In the end, those who pressed for the mine to remain open conceded the numbers didn’t add up.

Ask pointed questions. Because proponents naturally offer weighted arguments about an issue, it’s your job to ask pointed but legitimate questions.
The Heath brothers highlight one study that shows a seller wouldn’t willingly disclose a major glitch in a used iPod unless directly asked what problems it had.

Bookend the future. Don’t base decisions on a single forecast of a fixed outcome. Consider the full range of possibilities, from very bad to very good.

Honor your core priorities. By identifying and enshrining the tenets that guide your credit union, you make it easier to solve present and future dilemmas.
Always ask, “What kind of organization do we want to build?” 

This article appeared in the August issue of Credit Union Directors Newsletter.

Post a comment to this story

heroes

What's Popular

Popular Stories

Recent Discussion

Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

Your Say: Who should be Credit Union Magazine's 2014 CU Hero of the Year?

View Results Poll Archive