“Up or Out” Program (Part 1)

jet_climbing_through_cloudsI am sure by this time the one person who read my blog has long since forgotten about it. I think it is necessary to state here that I don’t have a valid reason for not blogging. I guess I am just not sure that anyone will ever read it. But I suppose that I should nonetheless put my ideas into play, as I am absolutely certain that no one will know about them while they remain only in my head.
I want to talk about the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. And no, it’s not surfing the internet. It’s the big “D”… that’s employee dissonance. If you are not familiar with the term, it is a psychological term for the condition of having a conflict with your beliefs and your behaviors; what I think and what I do are not in agreement. Why is dissonance bad? Because dissonance equals stress! When people experience the big “D” they will find a way to relieve that tension by adjusting one or the other sides of the equation. For example, if I feel that my employer doesn’t value me and that I am just livestock, then I can either change that attitude or change my behavior to reflect that attitude. In other words, if I feel unvalued (or worse, devalued) then doing what is best for my employer causes dissonance, which causes stress. To relieve this, I can either convince myself that my employer cares or I can stop acting in the best interest of my company… guess which one most people choose. This is a huge problem for companies and costs untold billions per year in lost productivity. If it is not dealt with properly then it festers and companies only shoot themselves in the foot.
If you are a manager or executive and you’re reading this then check out the point of view described below:
“My employees are lucky to have a job. Do they know how hard it is out there to find work; they should be glad that we keep them on. I can’t give everybody a raise, nor can I promote everybody either. I can’t hire more people to help because that’s not in the budget. They need to stop complaining and get to work.”
If you think like this, to put it bluntly… you suck. You really suck. You suck not because you treat your employees poorly, you suck because you are getting drastically lower results from your people and sooner or later this will haunt you. This is what I call the “robot mentality,” because the manager presumes that he or she manages robots. You don’t need to care how robots feel or how their career is progressing. You can spot a “robot mentality” when you hear managers say, “I am not here to make people feel good,” or “All I care about is getting the work done.” You don’t manage robots; you manage people, all of whom come equipped with emotions, hopes and dreams, and ingrained beliefs. If you can’t see that, then you shouldn’t be a manager. I think the position for Darth Vader is open, go apply for that. You manage people and that means you take all the baggage that comes with human beings for all our flaws and idiosyncrasies. If you don’t want to face that, then bow out. It’s that simple.
You might think I am some champion for the worker. I am a champion for business. I operate under the knowledge that when labor and management are in alignment it produces extraordinary results. Don’t believe that can happen? Investigate Southwest Airlines and you will soon see how wrong you are (read The Southwest Airlines Way, or Great by Choice). Southwest is a company with a People Department; they have excellent labor (union) and management alignment, and the results speak for themselves. This is the most phenomenally successful business in modern history, bar none. It is so precisely because of its business model and how it keeps its employees aligned with that model. Do you think Southwest has lower dissonance among its employees than nearly everyone else? You would be right.
The fact is: the big “D” cost money, more that you might imagine. So, what can you do about it?

Where have I been?

Not that any soul on the planet cared, but it has been a while since I posted something on here. Where have I been? Well, as I said before I was busy earning my doctorate in business, which I am happy to report is now finished. What an experience! So, now what? I want to be heard. I want to spread my perspective about business and leadership and have someone give a flip what I say and think about it.

How? Well, I would eventually like to launch a consulting/writing/speaking career in the business/leadership area. This is the place where I can hopefully start to build an audience for my work.

So, enough pipe-dreaming. Let’s see what I’ve got! (actual posts to follow this one)

The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives (Commentary)

Well, I decided not to talk about myself in this entry. Somewhat because I am not very interested in doing so, but mainly because I doubt anyone reading this really cares at this point. Maybe someday people will care more about who I am, but for now I’m pretty much a nobody.

Recently, I read a great piece in Forbes called “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives” contributed by Eric Jackson. It is based on work done by Sydney Finklestein in his book Why Smart Executives Fail. It is a poignant parody of the Steven Covey book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. I wanted to expand on some of this article and hopefully bring some BTBL (Big Truth Big Lie) to the party.

Spectacularly Unsuccessful habit #3 of executives was especially interesting to me—they think they have all the answers.  Jackson summed up this trait of some executives this way:

Here’s the image of executive competence that we’ve been taught to admire for decades: a dynamic leader making a dozen decisions a minute, dealing with many crises simultaneously, and taking only seconds to size up situations that have stumped everyone else for days. The problem with this picture is that it’s a fraud. Leaders who are invariably crisp and decisive tend to settle issues so quickly they have no opportunity to grasp the ramifications. Worse, because these leaders need to feel they have all the answers, they aren’t open to learning new ones.

We have all seen this, haven’t we! This trait dovetails with habit #4 as well – they ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them. It immediately brought to mind a famous quote by General George S. Patton, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” Let’s face it, when the Big Truth is that an executive is in over their head and takes every step necessary to prevent that fact from coming to light it is only a matter of time before the whole organization is on its way through the U-bend. It is increasingly rare that executive can be seen admitting when they make a mistake or don’t know what to do.

What are the symptoms of this trait? Here are a few:

  • Major decisions are always a surprise to middle management and frontline employees. If secretiveness is the order of things within upper management it is usually not because the ideas are the best and can stand up to scrutiny.
  • The people that decisions affect the most are never included or represented in meetings. When upper management treats people like peons not only will there be resistance to change, there will often be major problems that could have been avoided by simply asking the frontline people all the possible ramifications of a proposed course of action. When the executive team makes decisions in a vacuum of input, they usually fail.
  • Solutions are always sought from outside the organization, i.e., vendors and consultants. Vendors should only be there to supply you with that which you cannot (practically speaking) produce yourself. Consultants are great because they bring in an outsider’s perspective and can supply beneficial information on how to accomplish what your organization has never accomplished before but others have. However, if outsiders are brought in by management to do what could have been done internally, then resentment abounds. When bad executives know they are not trusted by their employees they simply pay others to trust them.

Effective executives don’t shy away from input and they certainly should welcome people to think critically and point out potential flaws. As human beings we love to feel that we are always in the right; admitting we are wrong, especially when we think we could lose our jobs, is one of the difficult and rare. No amount of sheer force of will coupled with copious amounts of BS (bovine scatology) will make a bad plan work when it really needs to.

All of this reminds me of another quote by the great Patton, “Watch what other people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” To be fair, there is a time when a leader must lead people into uncertainty. The other ditch that one can over-correct into from the dictatorship of bad executives is to endless bureaucratic egalitarianism where decisions are discussed to death and meeting after meeting results in nothing. This is wrong too! The correct path is the middle one; to realize that you don’t have all the answers and seek to hear opposing viewpoints. When an executive only consults with a few people and is cynical about other’s opinions this is the smoke, warning of the fire that they are going to bring the whole organization down in the blaze. Successful executives hire people who are not only experienced but good critical thinkers and not afraid to be the “devil’s advocate.”

The First Post

So, what is the Big Truth/Big Lie all about? Well, it is the foundation (hopefully) for my doctoral dissertation as I pursue a Doctor of Business Administration degree through California Intercontinental University.  Basically, the Big Truth/Big Lie concept is that every industry, company, business unit, department, and employee has an underlying issue that prevents them from moving to the next level.

The Big Truth is the “elephant in the room” that everyone within the organization (or the individual) is pretending is not there. This is the stuff that everyone immediately gets defensive about when it is brought up. For instance, a company’s management might maintain that the economy is to blame for poor performance and lack of profits, rather than facing the Big Truth– that the company’s business model sucks and will never produce the desired profits. In other words, the Big Truth is the reality of a situation that everyone pretends is not true or not as relevant as it actually is.

The Big Lie is much the same as the Big Truth only the reciprocal. This is the idea or mindset that everyone in an organization believes or pretends to believe is the truth, but the functional reality is that it is not true or not as relevant as is assumed. For an example just think of 99% of all campaign promises from a politician.

Very often, the Big Truth and the Big Lie are two sides of the same coin. The importance of the Big Truth/Big Lie concept is that this is the thing that prevents breakthroughs and success. Yes, there may be several Big Truths/Big Lies in any given entity, however, there is usually one of each that precipitates the rest and once destroyed the rest fall like dominos. It is the job of business leadership, above all else, to deal with the Big Truth/Big Lie, otherwise no other aspect of even great leadership will suffice and the organization will ultimately fail.

This blog will be a fleshing out of this concept and other applications of logic to business. Ideally, I plan to write a dissertation on this subject. If that goes well, I plan to follow in  the footsteps of Stephen R Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Succesful People) and turn Big Truth/Big Lie into a popular book. If that goes well, I plan to turn myself into a speaker and make loads of money helping others get past the Big Truth/Big Lie in their lives. If all of that goes as planned, after I make a bunch of money, I will retire early and go away and stop bothering people.

In the next blog, I will do what I hate– talk about myself, but if I am going to be the well-known Big Truth/Big Lie Guy, then I will have to do some shameless self-promotion. After that atrocity, I will start talking about real-life examples of the Big Truth/Big Lie concept.