Matrix Group Fundamental #4: Don’t Let Your Boss Make a Mistake

I’ve blogged in the past about JP’s rules. After hearing a great presentation on company values by Dave Friedman to my CEO peer advisory group (i’m a member of Vistage) I decided to rename them Matrix Group fundamentals. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that JP’s rules are really a code of conduct, a set of rules that evolved over time and that provide guidance on “how to be” at Matrix Group.

Dave says that while most companies have corporate values, most companies don’t do a good job of providing enough guidance about what those values really mean, how to interpret them and how to live them on a daily basis. So at his company, he started each week with an email to his staff about one of the fundamentals. He talked about what the fundamental meant to him and provided examples of how to live it. He then asked all staff to open each meeting with a quick discussion about the fundamental of the week.

I’ve been following Dave’s advice for a few weeks now and I’m loving the results. A recent discussion about “It does or it doesn’t but never should” kicked off a lively debate at staff meeting and “Don’t let your client make a mistake” got the project managers talking. Here’s my most recent email about this week’s fundamental: Don’t let your boss make a mistake.

Week of January 21, 2013
Fundamental of the Week: Don’t let your boss make a mistake.

One of the worst and saddest things for me is when I hear: well, I knew it was the wrong way to go, but I didn’t mention anything.” If I ever hear that, I know that the staff member, client or partner has checked out or is not committed to the success of the project. Or perhaps this person doesn’t feel they have the ability or power to say something because the person making the decision or talking at a meeting is a manager, VP, Director, or CEO.

We are a company of experts. Each of us brings a unique blend of education, experience, background and skills to this company. Most of the time, most of us aren’t afraid to speak our minds; this is why we bring people together in meetings and have inter-​​disciplinary teams and projects.

But what do you do when your manager just made the wrong call during a call with a client that *could* have long-​​lasting and negative consequences for us and the client?

What do you when JP say something just totally wrong about what Sitefinity or the Google search can do?

What do you when your manager says “this should take 2 hours” but you think it will be 4 or 6 or 8?

In all of these cases, I believe that you all have an obligation to do something, say something. You clearly need to do it in a respectful way that doesn’t make your manager look bad or feel stupid, especially in front of a client. Here are some suggestions:

After the call, ask for a few minutes and say to your manager, “hey, I have concerns about x. I think if we did that, this will happen. But if we do x, the client still gets what they want and the code will be x, y, z.” If you feel very strongly about a technical or artistic decision, you should feel free to bring this to Jason, Eric, Alex or even myself. Nobody will get thrown under the bus.

If I ever say something totally wrong in a meeting, pull me aside after the meeting and say, “actually JP, Sitefinity does xx.” If it’s during the meeting and it’s important that the client have the info right there, you can always say, “excuse me, JP, but I’m pretty sure that the in a recent version of Sitefinity or CF or Google or whatever, that issue was addressed.” If you do it respectfully, you will actually make Matrix Group look good because a subject matter expert said something, contradicted the CEO and did it in a professional, respectful way. I will thank my lucky stars I brought an expert along!

If you and your manager have completely different perspectives re: scope, then step back and say, “I think this will take much longer, here’s why. Can we chat for a moment to make sure we’re talking about the same scope of work?” Chances are, there’s been a miscommunication about the scope or the PM needs a little education. Either way, it never, ever hurts to clarify the work and the expectations.

It turns out to be another time commitment to write what I hope are thoughtful emails on the fundamentals each week. But, as my coach Pete Schwartz always reminds me, one of my main jobs is to coach my staff and provide guidance for how to think and behave so that we are all in alignment and serving our customers well.

How about you? What are your company’s fundamentals? How are you communicating your fundamentals to staff, especially new staff?

6 thoughts on “Matrix Group Fundamental #4: Don’t Let Your Boss Make a Mistake

  1. Great blog post Joanna. I enjoy receiving the fundamental emails each week (and I know I am not alone on this). These emails are a great way to starting your week. It’s like the theme of the week and something that is consistently with me.

  2. Loved this!
    Its so amazing the owner /​ Chief Trouble Maker posted this. Just one of the many reasons Matrix is AWESOME!

  3. It is critical that all team members be watching out for all other team members. The world is moving so fast; no one is really an ‘expert’ anymore and it takes a village, so to speak, to really do things right. It speaks well for any organization where employees can feel empowered to give feedback to the boss. It isn’t that way in all offices. And it IS critical in a client-​​facing meeting to be very savvy about correcting another team member. It needs to sounds like an addition to the conversation, not a correction, so the client’s confidence is kept high.

  4. Great blog, Joanna–I couldn’t agree more. As the old Japanese proverb says: “All of us are smarter than any one of us” and that doubly important for leaders. If leaders do nothing but surround themselves with those who will always agree with them, then they set themselves up for failure. It is so important to bring the sum of an entire team’s experience to bear when trying to solve complex and/​or difficult problems. There is nothing I value more than a subordinate who will help me to understand a perspective on an issue that I may be overlooking.
    Keep up the good work!

  5. Great blog Joanna! Having worked with large hotel corporations, Managers are often afraid to speak out because they can be casted as showing off or worse, really offbase. I find that after a conference call or even asking questions in a conference, it sets off a frenzy of “gossip like” atmosphere — “Can you believe what he said” or “He shouldn’t have open that can of worms!” My brother worked for INTEL and there, you speak your mind but they respond with brutal frankness in front of your face. I prefer that as you can actually either explain more or defend your position. Other corporate cultures unfortunately, are just satisfied with going with the flow and agreeing with the higher ups or kissing as.……

  6. Joanna, this may prove to be a classic. I’ve never heard this particular way-​​to-​​be expressed before.

    It is so good that you wrote the email to staff and were unequivocal about this, that you encouraged and gave absolute permission to all team members to have the courage to speak up respectfully when they feel something needs to be said. Sometimes we all need to feel we have permission in order for us to overcome our childhood-​​sourced fear of embarrassment or being punished.

    It is so important for an organization to have a set of *living* core values, guiding principles, or company fundamentals. In our computer distribution company “back in the day,” our attitudes and behaviors were informed by them. What we found had them stick was that we walked the talk, conversed about them, and acknowledged anyone and everyone who manifested them.

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