Back when I ran a company, at one point we thought a situation was one way, and then the facts changed and it became another way. Yet when we reviewed our strategy, the new facts were not considered. New facts…no shift in direction! Nothing changed in our strategic planning and yet there were big changes in the external environment.
Sound familiar? How frustrating is it? As a consultant or manager in your organization, how many times do you point out something that is obvious, that should be fixed, and yet nothing gets done! And then you get that dreaded comment, “I know you’re right. Sometime when I get a chance, I will fix it.” Or how about: “I know but I just don’t have time to fix it.”
To me as the consultant or the outsider looking in, this is very deflating. It’s a real downer, particularly when the log jam is over something we discussed before. I sometimes want to ask, “What didn’t you get, or hear, since this is an important element in what we are doing right now?” No excuse, right?
But perhaps “no, not right now” is not the answer. Perhaps the real answer to the excuse question is a big “maybe.” Should we tolerate anything that is not an absolute? I think not but perhaps we need to be a little more flexible and understand what someone else might be going through. I say that because I have started and led a company and have seen a lot of strange (or different) behavior. You probably have also. So, let’s try to unpack the reasons why people exhibit this attitude of avoiding what needs to be done in an organization.
Some simple reasons why things don’t get corrected
Here are some of the reasons why people sometimes don’t do what we think is very apparent: correcting obvious mistakes.
- Lack of energy/time: It takes a lot of energy to cast aside missteps and backtrack. There are only x hours in the day and in a growing, productive company, it is typically full steam ahead. “Now you are asking me to reverse course and pivot?” someone might ask. As the saying goes, “No harm, no foul.” Especially if no one is complaining.
- Political: Politically, it would be a disaster to change. Admitting mistakes is not necessarily the path for advancement. Remember, the person who owns the current direction pushed long and hard for it. Abruptly changing one’s position takes a lot of courage and doesn’t necessarily make you popular or a standout. And if you are going to be right the second time around, you’d really better be right because you are standing on thin ice. You have used up a lot of political capital. Is the risk of changing greater than the risk of just continuing to do what you’re doing?
- It’s plain tough to change direction. The organization is fired up and moving in one direction. Now it must pivot. Not only do you have to worry about what the higher-ups are saying about you, but you may have your work cut out for you convincing your peers that the second path is the right way to go. Perhaps it represents the business’s last chance to get ahead. Do you want to risk it…particularly if it’s not guaranteed it’s going to work?
- People’s egos get in the way. “I have always been right. I can’t very well change direction at this point. I am a leader…I can do almost nothing wrong. If we are heading over the cliff, so be it, but if I change direction…how will I be thought of?” Sound familiar?
What does your company stand for? Is it obvious or fuzzy?
All the above are good reasons for rationializing or trying to understand why the status quo is maintained. However, you as a business person really must be better than that. If you are going to build a solid base, you must build candor into your organization. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. This means that mistakes must be recognized and fixed. And honest mistakes need to be rewarded or recognized for what they are!
Perhaps this means that the culture of your organization needs to change, or at least modified, so that it stands for excellence and, most of all, intellectual honesty. So what does it mean to build an organization on a solid foundation?
Leadership needs to build on solid ground or the organization will not stand
First and foremost, the burden of building something of substance falls on leadership. The organization must be transparent, secure and intellectually honest. A lot to ask for. You bet, but it should be the underlying goal.
As Jim Collins said in his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't,” this means putting the right people on the bus and taking the wrong people off it. While it is important to have an enlightened leadership group to espouse these traits, it also means hiring the right people at all levels to build a solid company.
Don’t sweep mistakes under the rug. Recognize them, then fix them.
We all want what we build to last. This means that regardless of time limitations, or ego or anything else, as an organization, you can’t afford to let bad strategies or a changing business environment cloud clear judgement. If you “just missed” something, then go fix it. Don’t build your foundation on sand.
Instead, build an organization that encourages intellectually honesty and candor above all else. Because it is these traits that will enable it to last, long into the future.
Ready to open your eyes and “see” how your business could improve?
At Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we specialize in helping organizations see their strengths and weaknesses from the outside in so they can overcome the roadblocks that are holding them back. Applying the tools, methods and principles of anthropology and Blue Ocean Strategy® are the primary ways we do this. Please contact us to discuss how our team of specialized corporate anthropologists and culture change experts can work with you so that you and your leadership can overcome your challenges — and blind spots — and soar. We look forward to hearing from you.
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