Emerging Tech

The choice -- To be right or be effective?

There are times as a manager when you have to choose between right and being effective. Are you ready to make this choice when the time comes?

I was in a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago when the answer given by one of our senior staff members to a question was "Well I have a choice, I can be right or I can be effective - I am choosing to be effective."

Those were the only words I wrote in my pad that day and I have been staring at them for a couple of weeks now. They bother me. Why? Because I want to be both right and effective and I don't like to even entertain the thought of having to choose. However, I know better than that. I left my rose-colored glasses somewhere with my Elton John LPs and I realize that we have to make this choice frequently.

Let's be clear about this choice as we begin to talk about it though. This choice is usually not about compromise, unless we are referring to the fact that we are compromising our principles in making it. This choice is about giving in or giving up in order to make something happen. Compromise usually involves both parties giving something up to reach agreement. Choosing between being right or being effective means you lose, they win on an issue with you banking on the idea that you are willing to lose the battle but hopefully win the war.

This can be a successful strategy, particularly better than winning the battle but losing the war, but it can also be a slippery slope and if taken too often can lead to problems. What kind of problems? Let me enumerate a few:

  • Choosing this path too often can lead others to believe that you are a pushover, thus they will no longer even try to compromise with you, and instead they will make demands and expect you to give in on your principles.
  • Choosing this path too often will eat at you as a manager - after all, you're giving in/up on something you believe to be right/true and if you do that too often what are you left with?
  • Your staff observes you and they mentally keep track of your winnings and losses, particularly if they share the belief/principle that you are giving up on and it causes them work that they find "distasteful." Do this enough and you will lose all credibility with your staff and they will consider you spineless.
  • Choosing this path and not frequently winning the war means that you are good at appeasing people but should make you wonder if you are truly managing anything?

So having said the above, when do you make this decision and how do you go about handling the repercussions?

First, this can often be a situational decision but it really requires forethought on your part and it should be a conscious decision, not a knee-jerk reaction. So try to avoid having to make this choice on the spot if you can avoid it.

In order to do that, you should first seek to make sure your position is clear and well understood. You can do this by simply saying "Please forgive me but I don't think I am making myself clear. If I may, let me restate my thinking on this." You always want to avoid making it seem as if they can't comprehend what you are saying (even if it is the case.)

After ensuring that your position is understood, determine if you are still encountering resistance or whether you have agreement. If you are butting up against resistance then you need to do some quick evaluation:

  • Who am I talking with?
  • What power do they have?
  • What are the possible repercussions of standing your ground?
  • Are you the final authority or representing someone who has the final authority?
  • What are the stakes involved? Are you being asked to give in on an important principle or something relatively minor?

Ideally, you will have thought all of this through before your encounter. However, there are times when it has to be done on the fly. In either case, if you're not the final authority you often can defer and say that you have a difference of opinion and need to take it back to a higher authority. This gives you more time to further evaluate the situation.

If that's not possible, your next goal is to reach compromise. Most people are willing to work with you if given the chance and being a creative compromiser is a valuable skill. Just look to Henry Clay as an example. In Mr. Clay, we have a historical figure whose whole reputation was built on bringing people together in compromise.

If you are unable to defer or compromise and have to make the choice of being right or effective, make sure you let the people know who are being impacted by your decision why you made it. You can stand by it, there is no sin in that - but making the decision and then letting those impacted speculate as to why you succumbed is worse than giving the actual facts - if you can. There will be those times when you cannot share that information, but I have found those to be less frequent than one would think.

In summary, having to choose between being right or being effective is a typical task for a leader at any level of an organization. In fact, you don't have to be in a managerial or supervisory position to be faced with this kind of decision. In all cases, it should make you uncomfortable that you have to do so, but with some skill and finesse you will find that more often than not you can turn the situation around or at minimum reach a compromise.

21 comments
arbind.gupta
arbind.gupta

We all know that we need to make the choice but this article helps in explaning how to make this choice and what are the pitfalls in choosing one or the other Arbind

jensgeyer
jensgeyer

Congratulations that you picked up that single sentence and asked what may be behind this often overlooked pearl of wisdom. Most people (especially in IT) wouldn't even give a damn about these words and forget it instantly. You are absolutely 100% on the right track, and I say this without any reservations. The only thing I'm a little afraid of is that a lot of readers will even "know better". And there we are again: They want to be right, and so they made their decision. Thanks again, JensG

infeeltrat
infeeltrat

And not right too often! When it becomes cultural, it's all too easy to get caught up in it. I've seen too many organizations where such a practice is taken to extreme and anyone chosing to be right is promptly plagued the pariah.

libskrap
libskrap

there are very few things where there is one right answer, which seems implied by the author. I wonder, was there not some "rightness" in the other choices? Was there not some "wrongness" in the author's preference? The context of the issue makes a tremendous difference in the rightness or wrongness of the choices. The speaker that preferred effective over right may have been meaning that he/she preferred another choice over the one that was the apparent choice, and was just putting a "spin" on the comment to try to sway people to his/her preference.

wrlang
wrlang

Some things are missing. Are you sure you're right in the entire situation? Often there is no clear right/wrong. Every action has a cost and benefit. If the cost outweighs the benefit, then the right thing to do may not really be the right thing to do if saving on costs now is paramount. Perhaps having extra costs afterward is better. Ask the resistor to explain their position. Simply making sure you are understood is half an effort. You need to understand and make public the reasoning of the resistor(s).

Notnerb
Notnerb

Effectiveness is about doing the right thing at the right time. Efficiency is about doing things the right way. Expedience is about doing something, anything, in order to move forward. There is no value in doing things the right way, if its not something you should be doing at all, or if it takes so long that it prevents you from doing what you need to do. To use a soccer analogy, sometimes you have to kick the ball backwards in order to reach the goal. It's inefficient and annoys the 'get the perfect shot' people, but it's certainly effective. So, learn to pick when to drive for perfection, and when to back off and accept an imperfect solution that might just take longer, but at least keeps you in the game.

A contractor
A contractor

In my world being right means things get done well the first time in manner that makes support and enhancements easier down the road. Being expedient means getting things done in a half-baked manner (dare I say unprofessional way) that means that things blow up, enhancements cause more than expected problems, and support is a nightmare. My boss always has taken the expedient way and is now paying the price.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

how does one remove effectiveness from rightness?

Ramon Padilla Jr.
Ramon Padilla Jr.

As distasteful as it can be, having to give in on principle in order to move an effort forward is often required of a manager. Like a bitter pill, you take it with the hopes that by doing so you will win out in the long run. How does having to do this make you feel? What are your strategies with dealing with the situation?

JamesRL
JamesRL

We often have customers come to us with elaborate scenarios that they need fixed yesterday with a complex solution. Given the fact that in our world like most, we have limited resources and much demand, we often propose a limited solution, focusing on the greatest need, and putting the bells and whistles into a possible future project, in order to be able to complete in a timely manner. It of course isn't perfect. We would like to be able to deliver what the customer wants instead of merely what they need. But sometimes, the greater good, to serve the most customers in the best way, you have to compromise. You can't always get what you want....but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need... James

KMacNeil
KMacNeil

There's a vast difference between "being right" as in "yeah, I won" and "being right" as in "this is the way this should be done". I think Ramon missed this difference in his blog. And Notnerb caught it perfectly. Finding the right solution has to take into account all aspects of the problem at hand, including the costs, the time available, the corporate culture and its readiness for change, just to name a few. Being effective takes all those things into account, then chooses the solution that addresses as many issues as possible. There may not be the "perfect" solution, but there is the "best" solution to every problem. The challenge is to find it and be willing to not always win.

nospam
nospam

I asked myself the same question when reading the article. I have often suggested the best or better way to implement a system. The CEO often dumbs down design to his comfort level. Example. 'Enter all transaction data, let the Computer make /implement business decisions when possible.' His thought: 'No, its extra work to enter ALL transaction data,( even when money is involved) let end users make that and other decisions.' Obviously an incomplete data set/data base can never be entirely reliable, nor the business decisions of 100+ end users. I'm right and unemployed. I suppose the expedient way in this example is to plan the improvement to his poor design, over time. That way the top execs get behind the plan instead of plotting an unwanted career change.

brian.neas
brian.neas

Let?s use an example to demonstrate Ramon?s point; If your company uses a System Life Cycle or a Project Management methodology, you as a manager may be engaged in project or software development milestone reviews, sometimes referred to as gate reviews. In these meetings, you may be called upon to make the decision to continue moving the project or development forward, or to halt the project until certain project criteria is met. As a manager, you have to weigh the loss of benefits by pausing the project (?right?) versus allowing it go through its gate review even though the project hasn?t met certain criteria (?effectiveness?). What strategies to use to deal with situation? Compare maintaining process integrity versus the loss of business benefit/opportunity due to delay.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

One of my favorite sayings is "It is better to be kind that to be right." I think the point here is efficiency, not moral issues. The goal is to get the job done: My way may be more efficient, but doing the project with happy coworkers is usually more important that speed... or making enemies over minor issues.

dallas_dc
dallas_dc

Right - We know what that is. Whatever your position is, of course. Effective - Achieving your goal, or advancing toward your goal. Efficiency - Being effective in a manner which requires the least steps or the least amount of effort. Expedient - Based on or marked by a concern for self-interest rather than principle. Outcast or Pariah - Preferred result from being "Right" too many times, especially with your boss. (also see Demoted) Unemployed - Worse result from being "Right" too many times. Evaluate each situation carefully, and choose which battles are worth winning (risk/reward). Also, try to avoid thinking about "Winning" and "Losing". Think more in terms of what is best for your career and your company. I sleep better when I take that view. I highly recommend a book called Crucial Conversations. It may help avoid the results mentioned above by trying to "Right" too often. http://www.mhprofessional.com/product.php?isbn=0071401946 Thanks for listening

fperreault
fperreault

Let say I want to go from point A to point B and I am convinced that road 1 will take me there faster but my counterpart is convinced that road 2 is the best way to go. If I am stubborn, I can argue till the end of time about it but that will not get us anywhere. I can decide to be effective and agree to take road 2. Yes maybe I was right about road 1 and may have gotten to point B faster, but in reality, I possibly got there faster since I did not lose time arguing. So I made the right decision. What's wrong with that? I understand that it is not always as simple as that but very often it is. 2 more things I want to add. - First, contrarily to the author, I think that making a compromise is part of the "proving yourself right vs. being effective" debate. - Second, I have learned long time ago from a wise man that when you are stting around a table with other people and you are the only one right, you are most probably wrong. So when others do not agree with me, I tend to spend time trying to understand their point. As Covey stated it in the 7 habits, first seek to understand, then to be understood.

Mr L
Mr L

I firmly believe this happens all the time. You are developing a solution to deliver XX service to the business, and as is often the case there is more than one way to skin this particular cat. You are sure you have the best approach, i.e. the "right" way, and another manager is convinced he/she knows the right way...but it's not your way. A decision has to be reached to move forward and you both believe you have the Golden Path firmly in your grasp. Ok, now what? If it's a "one way or the other" decision, one of you is going to wind up surrendering on what they believe to be right in order to be effective. And usually the business couldn't care less, assuming you are both competent and you both proposed "right" solutions that do what the business needs with comparable costs/risks.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Expedience and 'rightness' are not inextricable one from the other in the sense in which effectiveness and 'rightness' are.

I_Borg
I_Borg

...and I am still confused. How can you be expedient and wrong? Or is expedience the "Gray Area" between Right and Wrong. We cannot post on this topic until you elaborate...

tom.baker
tom.baker

This kind of article is easy to write without discussing the challenging situations in which the cave/stand choice is up front. The reference to Henry Clay is too obscure and irrelevant. It would be nice to see a part 2 article that addressed this gap.

dwain.erhart
dwain.erhart

Sometimes a project has requirements you know to be right and others where you must choose to use an alternative rather than dump the entire project. This has happened to me a number of times. Being right and being effective often go hand in hand. However, there are instances where budget constraints, buyin, priorities, etc. get in the way of being able to do things right.

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