Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Spoil the Broth … Maybe?

By on January 24, 2018

The beginnings of an employer brand recipe

Well, is it truly because of the amount of cooks or is it because of the personalities of the cooks? I haven’t figured that out yet, but I feel like it’s a bit of both.

We all know that, in general, when less people are involved in a project there’s less of a bottleneck. But at what cost? What if we are missing out on key insights by not including certain people? What if it’s not the right strategy? If the right people are involved upfront, then we don’t have to ask these ‘what if’ questions. We will head down a smooth path of insight-gathering and creation, together.

We’ve worked with companies with all sorts of stakeholder scenarios. Situations with a large number of stakeholders (think like a large group of department heads), but only one point of contact. In other instances, we have had two main contacts who have very different points of view and varying levels of seniority. There are so many possible combinations — ideally the less people the better — but you already knew that. This goes back to the quote at the title of this post. Here’s my thought process.  

 

Let’s talk about two of the many different outcomes when there are too many cooks in the kitchen:

Groupthink: “when a group makes faulty decisions because the group pressures lead to a deterioration of ‘mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgement. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.” I see the same thing happen in focus groups. That’s why it’s our job to facilitate these opinions, so everyone feels safe, but still share their unique opinion. And don’t get me wrong —I’m not saying we want a bunch of stakeholders who are lemmings.

Another extreme is when there are too many strong opinions and refusal for consensus. Then it just becomes a status competition where project goals fall by the wayside.

 

Both of these outcomes negatively impact the work. Because it’s not based on insight or strategy —it’s based on opinions. This is why we take our creative brief so seriously, we truly believe that it is a contract between all parties (client stakeholders, creative director, brand strategist, and the account lead). Once we get that document approved, the rest of the process should go smoothly if (and only if) everyone agrees to reference back to the brief for their feedback. It goes without saying that the creative brief also needs to be strategically informed, single-minded and insightful (but that’s a post for another day). And this isn’t discounting people’s personal opinions, but to move a project forward, we must have a goal in place that everyone can rally around. The goal is about agreement on a great strategy, not about winning at internal politics.

 

Okay, but then how do we create that welcoming atmosphere for people to share their points of view? This is why we utilize a RACI chart before starting any project. It’s crucial that everyone knows their place, but also can feel heard.

 

And it’s not just about people, it’s about the type of people. Now that I’m writing this, I’m wondering if we should have our clients take personality tests before we fill out the RACI. Too much? I’d like to be convinced otherwise. But let’s think about it; do we want opinions for opinions sake? Or do they bring additional value? The trick is finding the right mix of people — some with experience, some with decision-making power, some with history of the brand, etc. I’ve facilitated countless workshops with clients where the outcome feels more like the end of a therapy session rather than a productive meeting. They feel like it went swimmingly, because they felt heard. This means that corporate culture health could be improved (again, a post for another day).

 

So what does this mean for how many client stakeholders should be involved in a branding project? It depends (I know, I hate when someone says that to me, too), but less is more. And we can always include more people in the key milestone approval phases, to ensure we are headed in the right direction. We want key stakeholders with complementary opinions and a variety of knowledge. Yes, that won’t happen every time. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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