Issue:May 2015

EXTERNAL DELIVERY – Fight the Good Fight

The expression “never bring a knife to a gunfight” often holds true in a business environment. All of us have experienced situations in which we feel strongly about an issue or project and are prepared to “fight” for what we so strongly believe in. Courage is mandatory in these circumstances; however, courage alone is not the only necessity. I believe placing yourself in a position of strength is what will lead you to success. Remember, not everyone is going to be on your side or agree with you.

The first thing you must do is work out the balance of information and understanding. This means you have to make your presentation understandable to the people who have the least ability to comprehend the information without insulting the intelligence or boring the most capable people in the meeting. You cannot afford to lose either group.

Second, you must triple check your information to make certain every bit of it is accurate and defensible. People are going to challenge what you say, some for information reasons, and others for political reasons. But either way, if you say something that is inaccurate or indefensible, then you are in grave danger of losing the “fight.” Facts are facts, and they are often your best ammunition. People can and will challenge facts, but if you have done your homework, then your facts are always defensible and will stand up to any challenge.

Third, you must do is what is referred to in Japanese management style as Nemawashi. This is what is most often referred to as Japanese consensus management. However, Japanese consensus management does not mean everyone agrees as most non-Japanese believe. It means that everyone has been consulted and had their opinion heard prior to the decision on the issue or project being debated. I find Nemawasi to be of great benefit to me for situations in which I have to convince multiple people to approve and support the issue or project I am looking to take forward.

The Nemawashi process states you must meet with each individual personally prior to the group meeting to hear his/her concerns and objections. This affords you the opportunity to hear what everyone has to say and to discuss solutions or compromises to his/her concerns and objections. You do not want this type of conversation to take place in the group meeting. In this case, your audience may develop mob mentality very quickly. The other benefit is that you will know ahead of time what the push back will be and who it will come from, and you can make your defense preparations ahead of the meeting. Most likely the push back will be minor and be raised so that others at the meeting will know the information is not being accepted carte blanche.

The ultimate benefit to Nemawashi is that, if done correctly, when the decision is made, people as a group will support the decision, even if they do not necessarily agree with the decision. The non-agreement people will most likely support the decision because they realize their opinion was heard during the one-on-one process and considered in the decision. So Japanese consensus management does not mean everyone agrees. It simply means everyone’s opinion has been heard and considered, and the decision will be supported even by those who are not in agreement.

All of this is to say that thorough preparation and communication is essential for success in these situations. Fighting the good fight is commendable as long as you bring the right tools to the fight! 

John A. Bermingham is former Executive Vice President & COO of 1st Light Energy& Conservation Lighting, Inc. and former Co-President and COO of AgraTech, a biotech enterprise. He was also President & CEO of Cord Crafts, LLC; President& CEO of Alco Consumer Products, Inc., Lang Holdings, Inc., and President, Chairman, and CEO of Ampad, all of which he turned around and successfully sold. With more than 20 years of turnaround experience, he also held the positions of Chairman, President, and CEO of Centis, Inc., Smith Corona, Corporation, and Rolodex Corporation as well as turning around several business units of AT&T Consumer Products Group and served as the EVP of the Electronics Group, and President of the Magnetic Products Group, Sony Corporation of America.