The definition of a ‘Devil’s Advocate’: A Person who identifies and challenges the flaws in an assessment, plan, or strategy.
According to the Seven Ways to Fail Big article two reviews should be made before implementing any strategy by people who were not personally involved in the early planning. Even though CEO entertains the questions from the devil’s advocate’s and most comments get dismissed it is still important to have a devil’s advocate. In order for this process to be effective the need of transparency is necessary to have an open discussion for controversial or needed changes. In addition, an established limited charter and clear ground rules are necessary. For instance, the organization should define explicit parameter for the scope and conduct a panel and ultimately use the strategy.
Devil’s advocate’s use the dreaded phrase, ‘Yes, BUT.’ People are a annoying very little business value. However, when the organization knows a person is assigned to be the ‘Yes, BUT’ person, then the meeting becomes more productive and not a fighting mess. A devil’s advocate is commonly perceived to argue for the sake of it, and points out flaws in the plan at every opportunity. In short, the people only using ‘YES’ strengthens ideas by adding value to the ideas, while the devil’s advocate breaks ideas. Some people think there is no value added.
The devil advocate might not add value if they break a good idea. But what if it’s a bad idea that was broken?
A dialogue is a conversation among people with different points of view on issues of mutual concern, it sounds simple but more complicated than it seems. But dialogue doesn’t have the goal to complete a specific task or persuade others to accept their position.For this dialogue to be productive a devil’s advocate is needed as well as ‘yes’ people.
The benefits and disadvantages of Devil’s Advocate’s
A devil’s advocate biggest strength is in arguing the contrary. The devil’s advocates are seen negatively as they naturally challenge strategies and close ideas down. However, instead it should be seen positively as they wonderfully open new possibilities.
Devil’s Advocates are of most value when you are able to sit in initial strategy meetings, updated in the progress and be part of the final stages. Next time the devil advocate jumps on an idea with a ‘Yes, BUT’, don’t think, ‘Oh, no.’ Instead, CEO’s and leadership teams should embrace the conflict and the criticism. They’re the ones most likely to be the catalyst for your most successful strategies.
Seven Ways to Fail Big, Carroll and Mui, Harvard Business Review Sept ‘08