On my Team: the Old Guard

helmet-978558_1280When you hear the term “Old Guard” what do you think of?  As I have been writing this series, I am reminded of how labels carry both positive and negative connotations, but it seems often the negative ones are those that come to mind first.

It can be tempting, when what you want is innovative, creative strategies for pushing your business forward, to forget or even dismiss the Old Guard. These folks have been with the company through thick and thin and seem like they will remain forever, regardless of where the company goes.  As a result, they may not have an experiential understanding of what might be possible. They might even have animosity to change on general principle. What you need are the movers and shakers, right? Right?

Well, yes, but you also need the steadiness of this person who has stuck around. You need their knowledge of the organization back when no one else in the room worked here. You need their stories of events long past. Even stale biases and political grudges can be of use to the strategic planning team, as long as the team is not allowed to bog down in them. The business would not exist without the Old Guard and there’s more than one in your organization, so representation at the table is critical.

A few years ago, I had the delight of welcoming a new executive into the organization I was at and I had helped him plan the meeting where he would be introduced to his new team. When he got up in front, he proceeded to tell this story of how he had outsourced a particular function and it helped both the team and the bottom line dramatically. It’s a great story exhibiting his courage to make changes and his willingness to listen to his team. Here’s the problem: we had been through outsourcing that exact same department at our organization only 2 years prior and it was an unmitigated disaster. We brought the team back and they spent the next year cleaning up the mess. Looking around the room, I could see that our new executive had all but lost his audience. If I or someone else on the team had taken some time to give him some history of the group, he might have used a different story, a story which would have had the intended impact.

In every strategy meeting someone inevitably says, “I did X at my other company, let’s try it here.” X might be the best idea since sliced bread, but if X here would present organization specific stumbling blocks, you need the Old Guard to point them out before you run headlong into an epic face-plant.

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