You’ve probably got most of this down.
I attend a lot of meetings. Usually I’m there to make a presentation or to meet a group that I will be working with. It’s great to see people in action.
One tip I like to share with upper management is how to make people cry at a meeting. Most managers have about 70% of the total package necessary to snap an employee. I’d like to make a couple suggestions to add to your spirit crushing repertoire.
Let’s review. The goal is to destroy the confidence and break the will of anyone daring enough to present a new idea. So, when Bob in accounting suggests an idea for a product improvement, start by setting him up for a critical peppering. After all, WE have the knowledge and experience to do the thinking. It’s our job to find fault with every new idea. That’s how we protect the business from unnecessary cost. We prevent waste. And we understand that if an idea is not perfect, it will not work and therefore will lead to a disaster making Katrina seem like the dance scene from Singing in the Rain. Bad things happen if we let bad ideas loose.
So we say something like, “Let me play the Devil’s advocate….” Then, with the skill of a brain surgeon operating on a fully awake patient, we begin to cut. Bob, what about X? What if Y happens? What if it doesn’t work? Think of the cost!
Look around. A few heads are bobbing agreement. Yessiree boss! Thanks for pointing out the flaws and once again saving us from ourselves! Shut up, Bob.
Be very careful, almost needless to say because it rarely happens, that you don’t carelessly throw some encouragement in the mix. That could lead ole Bob to give his idea more thought. By god, he could refine it. Worse yet, instead of nods of agreement with you, the Devil’s own advocate, you might catch nods of agreement with, gasp, Bob! I once saw a group actually rally around an idea and agree to develop it as a team project. Once that sort of thing starts, it’s out of your hands.
3M, a large and successful company tries to operate this way but lousy ideas like scotch tape and post-it notes still get through. Did you know the major auto makers have design centers where people sit around drawing cars all day? Believe me, they draw some pretty whacky stuff but those car companies keep the drawings like you would save your kid’s early crayon efforts. They file those silly drawings of cars with wings or solar panels—can you believe that?—they file them for “future reference”. I don’t understand why they don’t just tell those idiots to draw SUVs and pick-ups and quit with the winged-car jazz. Clean out the files and start fresh. Why would they save that nonsense?
Back to the point. After you’ve “pushed back” with sound reason, come in for the kill.  Tell them the consequences of failure. Scare them with the reality you, as a manager, face every day. One false move and it’s all going to come crashing in on us. Just thank god for the Devil’s advocate.
If you want to keep your business strong and vibrant, listen to every idea. Then look for the merit in that idea and commend the person presenting the idea. Ask those around you for positive points. Ask this, “Does this idea have enough merit for us to take it a step further?”  Wow. That would take courage. No idea is perfect. It’s easy to find fault. It’s hard to foster innovative thinking. Are you up to the task? Bob is.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog