“I want you to give me a reason to fire Alison,” a project manager told me. Before my face could register a shocked expression, he went on.
“She doesn’t have anything good to say about the new system we’re adopting. She focuses on every fault. She’s going to turn everyone against it.”
After reviewing the chat streams on the project management channel, I found that Alison did indeed find faults with the new system, but the majority of her comments were positive. More importantly, her fault-finding was constructive. She highlighted issues that could prevent customer utilization, or misalignments with promised customer benefits.
Alison was troubleshooting, which is very different from troublemaking. The difference is important. The former is supporting success while the latter is subverting it. Listen for trouble shooting tells:
Is accompanied by a request for clarification (“Help me understand this…”).
Is constructive or accompanied by a reasonable suggestion.
Fits within a reasonable framework.
Is not accompanied by an ultimatum.
Is presented as an opinion (“In my experience…”).
Highlights a perceived risk to the organization.
Highlights a misalignment with KPIs or governance.
Disagreement isn’t disloyalty. Finding fault can be an effective tool to making an exceptional product or project. Troublemakers tend to use sweeping generalities, with few suggestions for fixes:
"This looks terrible."
"Our customers will hate this."
"I said from the beginning this would never work."
"This is …fill in the date… all over again."
"Who approved this design?"
"This is a waste of my time."
It is often the people in the trenches who discover missing requirements or missing functionality that can cause major headaches down the road. As a manager, try not to listen just to rebut, but listen for someone else’s point of view and logic. When a leader can remove their ego from the equation and focus on the value of the feedback, projects improve.