Have you ever felt as if the real issue at hand is not being addressed? Despite the validity and importance of every argument presented, it only served as a distraction from the actual problem. Yet, you cannot shake the feeling that every attempt to discuss the issue is redirected toward another seemingly less urgent matter.

In the context of Strategic Management, a “Red Herring” typically refers to a misleading or irrelevant piece of information that can divert attention or distract from the main issue or objective. It is often used as a metaphor to describe something that appears significant but is, in fact, a false trail.

Traditionally “Red Herring” was used in negotiation as a deliberate strategy to divert the attention away from the topic of discussion to a topic of lesser importance. This tactic allows negotiators to bring up the original topic later, under more favourable conditions or without facing challenges.

Whether using “Red Herring” in Strategic Management is intentional or not, the negative impact on the business remains the same, ultimately affecting the bottom line—profit.

Red Herring Strategy

The Red Herring Strategy in Strategic Management is quite common in the board room and management meetings to argue for one’s recommendation. Yet, it cannot amply be proven without being accusatory and committing career suicide. However, not all is lost; there are valid leadership strategies that can be used to counteract the use of Red Herring in Strategic Management, Strategies that coherently align the actions and decisions of the business with its business goals.

1: Clearly Define and Communicate Business Goals:

The cornerstone of any successful business is a leadership team collaboratively working toward common goals; goals they buy into, are inspired by and are motivated to work toward achieving.

Establish clear and well-defined business goals that are aligned with the Organization’s Mission and Vision. Communicate these goals effectively to all stakeholders, including the board members and management team. When red herrings are introduced, refer back to the established goals to ensure discussions and decisions remain focused.

2: Foster a Culture of Evidence-Based Decision Making:

Another cornerstone of success is teamwork, and teamwork is inspired when leaders create an environment that fosters transparency, collaboration, and creativity.

Encourage a culture where decisions are based on objective evidence and thorough analysis. Emphasize the importance of data-driven decision-making and request supporting evidence for any claims made during discussions. Encourage critical thinking and constructive questioning of the information presented, focusing on its relevance to the decision at hand.

3: Establish Decision-Making Criteria:

How leaders make decisions, what information is considered and how they evaluate the information presented before making a decision is rarely questioned, if at all. And only upon reflecting after an ill-informed decision negatively impacted a business is when the gaps in the decision-making process revealed. Even after gaps are apparent in the decision-making process, the process isn’t questioned, improved or steps taken to correct.

Develop a clear set of decision-making criteria that should be considered when evaluating options. These criteria can include alignment with business goals, financial feasibility, market potential, risk assessment, and strategic fit. When a red herring is introduced, evaluate it against the established criteria and assess its impact on the decision-making process.

4: Assign a Devil’s Advocate Role:

Too often, poor judgement falls through the cracks because team members are afraid to question the fallacies in their peer’s decisions, thinking or arguments, negatively impacting the organization.

Appoint a designated devil’s advocate in meetings to challenge ideas and arguments presented. This role is responsible for questioning the validity and relevance of information, ensuring that red herrings are exposed and addressed. Rotate this role among team members to promote a fair and balanced approach.

5: Conduct Post-Mortem Evaluations:

Similar to point 4 above, often, when a business decision fails, the decision is discussed superficially, and everyone moves on. The problem resurfaces differently with varying degrees of damage to the business – some minor and others more severe. The underlying issue builds in severity until it erupts into a significant loss, followed by swift actions – reprimand or dismissal.

After meetings, conduct evaluations to assess the effectiveness of decision-making processes and identify any potential red herrings that may have influenced the discussions. Use these evaluations as learning opportunities to refine future meeting strategies and improve decision-making processes.

By implementing these strategies, you can create a more conducive environment for effective decision-making, minimizing the impact of red herrings and ensuring that discussions and decisions remain aligned with the business goals.

Practical Execution:

The execution of these strategies is discussed in more detail in Leadership Processes, elevating Critical & Strategic thinking, with practical instructions:

1: To collaboratively define clear goals from the Business’s Corporate Strategy

2: To develop the information to minimize red herrings and realign the leader’s actions to the business’s agenda

3: To develop your own unique, coherent decision-making process, with insights to question any fallacies impacting the quality of your decision.

Also, check out the other articles in NMCS Insights Corner for additional tips, strategies and insights to help with other business challenges.

Additional References:

Leadership Processes – elevating Critical & Strategic Thinking

NMCS Insights Blog

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