Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Releasing Your Agenda - What It Means and Why It's Important

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It's likely that, at some point, you'll be asked by your McKinsey boss to "release your agenda".  In this post I'll explain what that means, and why it can be helpful.

What does it mean to release your agenda?

This phrase is typically used regarding client interviews or problem solving sessions with clients or thought leaders.  It's best practice to prepare for these sessions by aligning on goals and proposing an agenda for achieving them.  Ideally, your meeting will be constructive and your agenda acts as a roadmap to getting the information you need.

Sometimes, the conversation will veer off course, but still be productive.  In those cases, it's important to let the discussion run its course, even if it means giving up on your original goals, letting your subject talk about whatever they want, and "releasing your agenda.

Why is this important?

Although releasing your agenda can be frustrating, it's often helpful and can lead to valuable outcomes, even if they're not the ones you were anticipating.

If it's a client interview, your subject might not talk about what you want, but could still provide beneficial information or insights on other matters.  In such cases, it's often more important to keep your subject talking and sharing than it is to get them back on the track you wanted.  You can always circle back later and ask those questions at another time, especially if releasing your agenda and letting your subject talk or vent helps you build a strong working relationship.

Unless you're facing a crucial deadline, any good McKinsey boss will understand that establishing client relationships has long-term value.  That can make releasing your agenda worth the frustration and additional time it might take to revisit the conversation and get the answers you want later.

If the context is a problem-solving session with a subject matter expert who's going off on a tangent, you're still likely to learn something helpful.  While it might not help with the question on the table, it might give you insights on how to solve other elements of your workstream or other, related workstreams.  That said, with a colleague, it's more acceptable to try to keep your conversation on point or to bring it back to your agenda after briefly straying.

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