BSC’s Design Guide to Success – Part 5

Each week, we will highlight one of BSC’s Top Ten Tips from our acclaimed Design Guide to Success. To download the full guide, click on to the Articles page.

5. Identify Leaders with Veto Power – and Engage Them Early and Often

We recommend carefully identifying potential individuals or leaders who may be able to exercise veto power at any point in a design engagement. This varies by organization. If one’s CEO is particularly hands on, either in managing the sales model or in extreme cases, chiming in on sales compensation measures or formulas, you need to determine how to best involve them at appropriate points and avoid the eleventh hour veto. In our work, we call it, “pulling a Pete”. Pete, as we’ll call him, was a highly engaged and likeable CEO from one of our clients. Pete become part of our vernacular when he basically hijacked the design process late in a project, indicating that he had no faith in the design team and we should just continue our work directly with him. Unfortunately, he lacked everyday touch with the field organization, and the resulting few weeks were burdened with massive inefficiency. With little time left in our design window, we ended up having to step back, quickly collect his directives and views, and then work backward with a sub-portion of the design team and those with knowledge of the day-to-day realities. It was an entire redesign, retracing our steps to form an almost perfect circle. By “perfect”, we mean frustrating and suboptimal. To avoid a “Pete-like” experience, we recommend the following:

  • Understand executive viewpoints and involve them early. Know what you are up against. If a leader is very hands on, ensure his or her voice is heard early, his objectives and goals are clear, and he is given a chance to co-author the process by which you will create the new plans. We now tend to assume leaders want more of a say than less of a say, so attempting to have an early project discussion with veto-eligible parties is a wise expected step in any project.
  • Have the executive charter the design team. While this may not fully satisfy a CEO with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), letting them identify at least some of the design team body will give you a leg to stand on when design recommendations cross his or her veto desk.
  • Agree on the approach for executive check-in sessions. A hands-on leader may need to have check-in conversations after each major design team meeting, while others may be fine with a single review when initial design constructs are taking shape. We recommend assuming they will want more involvement versus less, and let the leader push back and hopefully provide the truthful and realistic mandate for the design team to do its work.

Hold the executives accountable. With a leader’s feedback incorporated, his or her co-authorship of the design team members and process, and frequent check-ins, you will have gone a long way toward avoiding an eleventh hour shift. Most leaders are in those roles for a reason; they are strong business people, prone toward logical and rational behavior (that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!). If things do start to teeter at the project’s end, you have a defensible and emotion-free list of reasons why the current design approach should continue. That hopefully will go a long way.