Amplifying Dissent in Your Organization

Amplifying Dissent in Your OrganizationThe recent chaos in the markets has everyone asking the same question: How come no one saw this coming? People wonder how we ever got so far down the wrong track. Didn't any of the smart guys in these now flailing investment funds and banks see the underlying problems in the credit market? The answer, of course, is probably yes. It's just no one listened to them.

The New York Times ran a story to this effect last week, and offered examples of people who saw the current meltdown coming:

All through last year, Jim Melcher saw the signs of a rapidly deteriorating American housing market -- riskier mortgages, rising delinquencies and more homes falling into foreclosure. And with $100 million in assets at his hedge fund, Balestra Capital, he was in a position to do something about it... So in October, as mortgage-backed bonds were still flying high, he bet $10 million that these bonds would plunge in value, using complex derivatives available to any institutional investor.... Mr. Melcher's flagship fund has since doubled in value.
In the case of Balestra Capital, the price tag of ignoring dissent would have been steep. With the value of contradictory voices so high, the Harvard Business Review's Conversation Starter blog today offers a round-up of resources and advice for managers looking to amplify dissent within their organizations.

In one such article Lynn Offerman says, "all leaders need to make an extra effort to unearth disagreement and to find followers who are not afraid to pose hard questions." She suggests managers follow these steps:

  1. Keep visions and values front and center. It's much easier to get sidetracked when you're unclear about what the main track is.
  2. Make sure people disagree. Remember that most of us form opinions too quickly and give them up too slowly.
  3. Cultivate truth tellers. Make sure there are people in your world you can trust to tell you what you need to hear, no matter how unpopular or unpalatable it is.
Before the next bubble begins expanding, it might be worth considering if there are any voices in your company loud enough to wake you up if you start dreamily wandering down a treacherous road. For links to further resources on how to cultivate these voices, check out the Conversation Starter.

(Image of amplifier by kainet, CC 2.0)