September 28, 2020

The Know It All

A few years ago I was asked to visit a company and present the findings of project work I recently completed.

Anybody in Consulting knows what this experience is like. You enter the building, and you make a judgment about the company based on the lobby and security procedures you are asked to follow. Heck, the very process of obtaining a badge says a lot about how willing the company is to allow your ideas "in the door".

You are escorted to a conference room. Certain people are there early, first to enjoy a bagel and cream cheese. Others are on the phone, holding impromptu meetings in front of everybody else. Frequently, there is a powerful Executive sitting front-and-center. People sheepishly hand this person documents, and s/he nods her head in approval or tells the individual the twenty-four reasons why the document is unacceptable.

You weren't hired by this person. But this is the person you are there to present to. This person is the "Know It All".


A Virtual Chief Performance Officer needs to figure out how to work around the Know-It-All.

I visited a company a few years ago where the Know-It-All was the Chief Merchandising Officer. He knew everything. He knew why marketing failed (repeatedly, in his mind). He controlled the meeting ... even though the CEO brought me in and was (in theory) leading the meeting. His merchandise was not a problem, the problem was the people in room who were not doing their job supporting him. I had data showing that his new merchandising strategy was a problem ... a big problem. He wouldn't accept facts. I'd state a fact, he'd just get louder with theory and ideas and concepts ... no proof that what he was doing was working or would ever work. If backed into a corner, he'd lie. He pointed fingers.

He'd say stuff like "I've seen people like you come and go". Great! Nice observation.

There is no reason whatsoever to argue with this person. You won't win the argument, and worse, you'll just get frustrated.

You have to work around this person.

The amazing thing is that these people are frequently NOT the CEO. They're usually a C-Level team member, and they intimidate the CEO because the CEO doesn't have the subject matter expertise the bully / know-it-all possesses.

The Chief Performance Officer needs to encourage the CEO to write acceptable goals and objectives for the know-it-all, assuming that the CEO doesn't want to fire the know-it-all (and by the way, what stops a higher-level individual from firing a belligerent subordinate???). If new merchandise is the issue, write a simple goal and objective and give the CEO a tool to manage the Chief Merchandising Officer.

Goal:  Grow sales from new merchandise by 10% in the first six months of 2021.

  • Exceeds Expectations = +15% sales growth from new merchandise in the first six months of 2021.
  • Meets Expectations = +7% to +14% growth from new merchandise in the first six months of 2021.
  • Missed Expectations = < +7% growth from new merchandise in the first six months of 2021.
If the Chief Merchandising Officer misses expectations, there must be consequences for the CMO, correct?

Make the "Know-It-All" prove s/he knows it all. Analyze new merchandise performance, demonstrate what needs to happen, write a goal that makes it clear how performance must change, and then hold the person accountable if performance does not change.


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