What to do with your unpopular opinion
Dear Remora: a (tech) partnerships advice column
If you’ve never heard of remora fish then you'll be surprised by the enduring deal they have struck with a very intimidating strategic partner.
Remora fish attach themselves to sharks and eat scraps of food that sharks discard. In exchange, sharks agree to have remora hitch a ride on their backs because the remora also eat parasites off the sharks’ skin.
This partnership begs the question: if the remora fish can arrange a win-win with the most powerful partner in their ecosystem, why can’t your organization?
To help you, I’m piloting a new format today: a tech partnerships advice column called “Dear Remora.” After you read it please send me a question for Dear Remora to answer in an upcoming post.
“Dear Remora - I’m a partnerships manager for a high-growth technology company that you’ve likely used. I was recently tapped to lead a partnership deal with a huge partner on our most important new product. This is a big opportunity for me. More responsibility. More impact. A likely promotion. But there’s one problem. I do not believe in our strategy. Our product vision and customer acquisition plan is all wrong. I know it. Others here know it. And I’m pretty sure our partner is doubtful of our strategy too. But this opinion is very unpopular internally. Our Chief Product Officer is all in. What do I do? How can I move forward with this partnership when I don’t believe in the direction we are heading?*”
Dear Unpopular Opinion -
Your predicament sounds all too familiar to me and to so many who lead partnerships on early stage, unproven technology.
You’re taking the right first step: ask why. Why is this the best plan? Why this partnership? Too many people simply follow orders from above.
But now what?
You could quit or transition to a new team. Or you could do nothing. The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle. What you decide can distinguish or even define you.
The steps below are aimed at helping you evaluate whether to whisper or scream your concerns.
When I look back on my experiences similar to yours I know there were times when I should have been more vocal. In some cases I trusted that those “in charge” knew better than me. I shouldn’t have. Or I raised my concerns too subtly. I should have been more direct.
You can do better. Trust your gut. Use your voice. It is why they hired you.
Also, how your company responds to your unpopular opinion says much about your future there.
Great companies install leaders who welcome healthy conflict, knowing it produces better outcomes. I cannot promise you will be rewarded for speaking up but if you are punished, it may be a sign that it is time for you to move on.
Here's my advice for what you should do with your unpopular opinion.
Smart small - begin by raising your concerns informally with your manager or a mentor or confidante whom you trust. Listen carefully. Is there context you lack? Is there a plan to address your concerns?
Write it down - write down your point of view. Assemble the data. You don’t always need to offer a better solution. Asking the right questions can be just as effective.
Reflect - How much is really at stake? Is the decision reversible or irreversible? The answer is very different at a startup versus a large company with multiple revenue streams. Who is is likely to support you? Who will feel threatened? Make a list. Do you stand to benefit personally from your unpopular opinion? It’s important to pre-empt the accusation that you’re pursuing a personal agenda.
Share & listen more - having reflected, it may be time to gather input from a broader group. Do this in 1:1 conversations at first. Do these perspectives leave you feeling better or worse?
Go higher - if you aren’t yet satisfied, take your unpopular opinion to a senior leader with the authority to bring about change. Do you think the leaders of your organization (and others) made it to the top by sitting on their ideas? No. Do you think all their ideas were wildly popular? Nope. Now is your time to shine. Be humble. Be logical. Be curious. Be direct.
Things I suggest you do not do:
Get personal or name call - Strategy is hard. Good strategy is very hard. Those crafting strategy are (likely) doing their best amid great uncertainty and many variables.
Raise your objections publicly before sharing them privately - this goes for both in-person (large meetings) and digital (large email distribution list).
Share your unpopular opinion with your external partner(s) without having done the work (outlined above) internally.
If you've made it this far please reply to me with feedback on this post. Unpopular opinions welcomed :)
*this question comes from conversations, not an actual reader letter