The Red Flag

My phone buzzed. I looked down to see the text.

“RED FLAG,” it read. A woman I’d been mentoring for the last year or so sent it. 


She was recently  promoted to a senior management position in a large technology company. We developed our own language for when she had a serious professional problem. RED FLAG was a call to action.

We met that evening, and she shared the reason for her concern.

About 18 months ago, her division adopted the Agile methodology, which is basically a set of principles for software development. It establishes a process of collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams to get projects done. Agile introduced a new way of thinking, speaking, and acting with its own vocabulary. Her division fully committed to it, and it experienced extraordinary results.

Unfortunately, not everyone saw the results the same way. The chairman of the company came to the last board meeting. He very frustrated with her division. He told the CEO there was a serious problem since there was no solid roadmap for each customer. He then shared a bound set of client and technology specifications, written in excruciating detail, from another company he chaired. His colleagues were impressed, so the board, determined to have its own set of bound, detailed product roadmaps, voted unanimously to make it happen.

The RED FLAG text came after the senior management team was informed of the board’s decision. The CEO planned to implement quarterly, all-day meetings to produce a similar set of customer and technology roadmaps to share with the board. The CEO reminded everyone the chairman was also the lead investor, so it was VERY critical this be given top priority. He announced these mandatory, all-day quarterly sessions would be held on Saturdays.

The senior management team was quick to point out the conflict with the Agile approach. They expounded on how much had been invested in Agile and how much success they’d had with it. The CEO tolerated this discussion for about 10 minutes before he stood, banged his hand on the table and said, “Enough! This is what we are doing and there will be no further discussion. The first Saturday meeting will take place in two weeks. I will be there to ensure full attendance and cooperation. This is critical to our future and therefore your future.”

She was breathless by the time she relayed all this to me. Unfortunately, this was not the first time I heard about or experienced something like this. Some executives love to adopt the latest, coolest tools without taking the time to understand the ramifications. In this case, the board was impressed by a set of fancy documents and as a result, risked throwing away a working methodology. The CEO reverted to the old ways (often called waterfall) of completing projects, by dictating the how and when, rather than using the Agile approach, where a cross-functional team would break the project into small pieces (sprints) and make it happen. Additionally, the CEO took the board’s vote when he didn’t even know what they would do with the fancy documents when they were done.

She was convinced if the project moved forward, the investment of dollars and time in Agile would be lost. It would disrupt everything they worked so hard to achieve AND result in personnel turnover. It would, she thought, create morale issues and impact existing projects.

After dissecting the situation, we came up with two feasible options:

Option 1:

Educate her CEO and the board on how this could be accomplished without impacting the current process.

Option 2:

Do nothing and begin the job search.

In our sessions together, we talked about the importance of trust and respect between peers and management. In my opinion, the mere idea of dictating mandatory weekend meetings to produce questionable results showed a serious lack of respect.

Ultimately, my RED FLAG mentee left the company to find a better opportunity. What did she look for? Respect, trust, and strong leadership skills in her new CEO.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

There are a lot of “red flags” is this situation but the main ones are:

●   The CEO lacked confidence in himself and his team by allowing himself to be intimidated by the chairman. He was hired to drive the company to success, not cower under pressure.

●   The board only embraced the “beauty” of those bound volumes, without considering the potential confidentiality breach of producing these detailed roadmaps. There are risks to flaunting the keys to the castle, the secret sauce, and sharing their IP with others not bound by confidentiality.  

This story is pure fiction, but it is an example of how executives, who are not leaders, often make ill-advised decisions for all the wrong reasons -- or in this case, no reason at all.