Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

5 minute read

It’s been a pretty good 3 months in the markets. DJIA is up nearly 20% and the Nasdaq-100 is up a bit more than that. This, of course, is a good thing. Purse strings are opening up and projects, once stalled, are again getting the green light. We have not seen the last of the company layoffs or closures, but I believe we can say with confidence that the scales are beginning to tip in the right direction. Again, this is good. But what’s bothering me at the moment is a desire (or expectation) among certain constituencies that in the next while things are going to get back to the way they used to be. I don’t think that is a good thing and, consequently, I don’t want that to happen. I think we all can do better this time.

One of the necessary consequences of turmoil is change. Change brings anxiety in many quarters, but it also brings opportunity, a chance for the individual to shine, to take charge, and to make a real difference. Those who step up with enterprise, energy, and ingenuity can take a moon shot. However for that moon shot to stay on course, to succeed, and to sustain, those attributes enterprise, energy and ingenuity, must be coupled with the triad of accountability, transparency and integrity. It’s upon this latter triad of values that great careers, businesses, and economies are built, where trendsetters, market leaders and statesmen – not politicians – are found.

So, what does this mean? How do we do things differently? Is there a better way?

To distill these thoughts into tangible illustrations to which we can all relate, I will borrow a little from Jim Collins, (the author of Good to Great) and his musings in his latest work How the Mighty Fall, and Why Some Companies Never Give In, and from my previous post It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Mirror.

Have you ever witnessed these behaviors in your organization? or How Not to Succeed.

  1. Those in power are shielded from unpleasant facts lest the messenger is shot.
  2. Strong characters intimidate their colleagues with strong opinions forcefully presented and often without any basis in fact or research.
  3. The manager presents his (or her) thoughts without soliciting opinion or questions, fearful of critical input, or worse – hearing a better idea from a subordinate.
  4. Subordinates acquiesce meekly to a decision they believe is flawed, and after-wards declare "Well I knew that wasn’t going to work."
  5. Individuals promote their own idea, not because it’s the best, but because it’s theirs.
  6. Getting this month’s report right overrides ‘doing the right thing’ for the long term.
  7. Analysis of failure occurs in search of a scapegoat, rather than insight.
  8. Accountability is vague, and transparency is low, because that way, there’s always someone else to blame.
  9. Plans with documented assumptions, success metrics or goals are eschewed in favor of the fog of "we’re working on it a hard as we can, but you know our resources are tight and budgets are small, but we’ll get there eventually."
  10. I don’t have a number 10 to complete the list – but I’m sure you do.

In organizations where these behaviors are endemic; good people leave, productivity suffers, ‘safe’ is better than ‘good’, mediocrity reigns, morale suffers and self esteem is low, and ultimately organizations fail. Nobody who’s any good wants to be part of that culture, and without great people, you can’t build a great company.

Could we have avoided (some of) the meltdown, and the attendant human suffering, of the past year if we could have erased all of these behaviors from business practice? In that scenario (perhaps Utopian) accountability, transparency, and integrity, would be norm by which we are all measured. Would that have lessened some of the recklessness, tempered the greed, or reduced the focus on short term benefit? I think so. And as we emerge from this salutary time, perhaps we can learn some lessons.

How to Make a Difference – and Do It Differently This Time.

These are the behaviors I think we want to encourage and can make a difference:

  1. Not being afraid to present bad news, because everyone wants to find a solution, not a scapegoat. Failure teaches more than success, and working together to find a solution encourages ingenuity.
  2. Respecting others opinions, and assuming you don’t know it all. Because you don’t.
  3. Focus on getting the best idea supported, not just your idea, and being really open to have your idea critically assessed. You will receive recognition for the value you provide, not the idea you promote.
  4. Having the fortitude to stand up and be counted when you don’t agree with a decision. Don’t hide behind the hierarchy. You’re not doing anyone any favors.
  5. When leading a team, asking more questions than making statements, challenging suggestions and relentlessly pursuing insights. You might be surprised what you learn.
  6. Being openly accountable. State your goals, your targets and your assumptions. People will help you get there.
  7. Sharing all the information you have, because information is truly power when everyone has all that’s available.
  8. Being relentless in pursuit of ‘the best that you can be’, and shunning mediocrity.
  9. Considering the long term effect of what you do.
  10. ‘Front loading’ the pain by openly exploring potential risks at the beginning – because it’s easier to fix problems early, and if they’re not fixable, early failure is better than later failure.

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