Managing Around The "Smartest Person In The Room"

By Jim Hughes.

We have all been there. The company is stuck, wants to drive top-line sales revenue. You work tirelessly to get sales, marketing, finance and operations aligned. Marketing has researched potential campaigns, finance has weighed in on profitability, and sales has committed to drive results. All the details are in place: customer KPIs, success metrics, revenue targets, and BAM!!!!... the Smartest Person In the Room (SPR) derails everything.

Recently I had just such an experience. I know, we have all been there. The old axiom of there are a 1000 reasons not to do something rears its ugly head. Unless the SPR is the CEO, owner or king – don’t go to the dark side. However, in the immortal wisdom of Sun Tzu and ‘The Art of War’ – a frontal attack is not the answer.

In this case, the client was looking to launch a new sales campaign and the SPR hid behind the ‘I am just playing devil’s advocate.’ Although some of his exceptions to the campaign were warranted - they came at the team like a Gatling gun – a barrage of problems, all provided without a sense of how important, nor a suggestion to resolve.

Happy endings: it takes a village to manage the SPR.

To get the SPR in the boat, and make the person a valuable contributor, it was first important to break his resistance without fighting. Here are the steps you can take to get your SPRs on the program.

Step 1: Write a true business case for the project, and iteratively and quickly soliciting feedback from all members. Like any cross functional organizational plan – sales, marketing, services, finance, and operations – get everyone involved in embracing the ‘issues.’ However, if there are multiple issues, do not treat them the same. Stop light all issues: Green – no issue/solved; Yellow – required a change/doable; and Red – a true show stopper for the campaign. For this campaign the team quickly got to 2 Red items (none of which were initially presented by the SPR). A quick pivot on the campaign and we were underway.

Step 2: Establish accountability. After the team agreed on what were the true ‘issues’ to resolve – the group assigned accountability to resolve that ‘issue’ to the person most qualified (and passionate) – he or she who identified it in the first place.

Step 3: Embrace the team. The team did not argue, capitulate or ignore issue. Each member did not let the SPR derail the efforts – rather the group recognized where they can contribute, and stayed committed to driving success.

Egos and hidden agendas are a killer of great ideas. When managed using the three steps outlined, you can truly bring the SPR into the fold and help them be a true contributor to solving company issues or capitalizing on opportunities.

Happy and successful selling!