I HATE COMPROMISE
September 6, 2010 6 Comments
I believe that the problem with compromise is that no-one really gets what they want and therefore no-one is really committed to the success of the compromise decision, and I find this to be as true in personal as well as in business life.
On a personal level, I have a belief that outside of politics and religion, it is very rare that two people can feel as strongly about any decision, and therefore whenever there is disagreement about something like where to go for the next holiday, what colour to paint the living room or what next car to buy, you should always ask each other how strongly you each really feel about this on a scale of 1-10. If you are really honest about the scoring, it is unusual for there to be a tie, and you should always go with the highest rating in the belief that that person will be the most committed to the success of the decision taken.
I am amazed at how many times I will strongly disagree with someone about something until I am asked to give my passionately stated position a score and, when I think about it honestly, realise that I may really only be say a 4 and don’t really have a strong position on the subject, as against having a strong propensity to having a position on the subject.
I believe that this is true of most people. We are taught through life to defend our position on most (if not all) subjects, so tend to be ready to defend every belief we have without really thinking through whether this is seriously important to us. I love it when this leads to serious debate and discussion over a dinner party for example, but it can be incredibly disruptive when you have family and friends who will disagree on everything as a matter of course.
I have found this to be particularly true of some friends the older that they get. I have one old friend from Australia, who moved to Spain about the same time we moved to France. Over the last 10 years he has become more and more strident about the fact that we chose France, and he has even called me an idiot for doing so, when Spain should have been a more obvious choice. I find this hard to cope with as the question of where I choose to live is definitely a 10 for me, but I doubt that where I should live should even rate as a 1 for him. When I point this out it just seems to get him angrier about why I chose France, particularly when I tell him that where he chooses to live doesn’t actually rate at all with me. I understand that he is just trying to justify his decision, but I don’t understand why we are having this disagreement at all, as I consider it irrelevant to our relationship.
I find it just as true in a business context, and I believe that much of it is the result of moving vocationally-brilliant, rather than people-brilliant individuals into management positions. Rather than let people get on and do what is important in the way that makes most sense to them, vocationally brilliant managers will often tend to try and come up with a better solution than their subordinate, and a better way of doing the task, as this will satisfy their vocational needs, and also show their subordinate how clever and innovative they still are, despite having been pushed into a management role.
I have always believed that a subordinate with a solution that I would have graded as being 70% right, will make a better go of it, than my riding over the top of him with my 80% approach. I will of course try to advise and counsel him, but will eventually let him know that I will support him in every way that I can, but that it’s his project, his decision, and his responsibility to make it work. If he is committed, and capable, I know that he will go out of his way to make a success of it, which I believe would not necessarily have been the case had I overridden him with my proposed solution, or had tried to talk him into a compromise approach, which would have meant that neither of us would have been fully committed, and I believe that commitment is key.
Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems used to have a saying that “You can agree and commit, or you can disagree and commit, but you have to commit”, an expression that I have loved since I first heard it in 1989. I have sat through numerous meetings, even at global board levels, where everyone commits to a direction that has been forged over hours of argument and debate, only to be already discussing with cronies about how to get around, or away from, the decision on their way out of the meeting room. It’s one of the reasons that I hate meetings as a format for decision making. I have always preferred people to come to a meeting with the decisions for their business area already made, and then have to defend them to their peers. This at least gives you a clear understanding of ownership, and also removes the “hide-in-the-herd” reaction if things don’t quite pan out.
Meetings tend to be built on compromise, and I believe that this is the worst starting point for decision making. I believe that it is better for business success to give people the responsibility and the authority to make decisions needed for their business unit, and to build the culture in the organisation that encourages and supports this, and doesn’t punish people for making honest mistakes along the way.
In the long run, this approach yields much better results both in private and business life, than does any approach built on compromise.
I remain uncompromising on not making compromises!