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No Grin-F#!?ing Allowed!

by David Brock on January 16th, 2009
Well, I’ve got your attention with the implied profanity! Sorry about that, but we all know what I mean. We’ve all seen it, experienced it, even actively participated in it. We all know what is happening.

Think of the endless meetings we have, whether they are internal meetings, with customers, suppliers, and others. Everyone presents a polite face. There is an air of “superficial congeniality,” seeming agreement, then the meeting ends and everyone goes off and does what they intended anyway.

It may be a passive aggressiveness, it may be an avoidance to confront and openly discuss the tough issues. It can be a fear of facing reality, or an avoidance of discussing substantive performance issues. It is group and self-deception. It is letting form triumph over substance.

Michael McKinney calls it “Living Within The Lie.” Everyday, in the news we see the extreme consequences this behavior creates — stories of catastrophic failure — of systems, organizations, and people. Companies failing, 100’s-1000’s of layoffs, bailouts, and the list goes on.

Let’s not let the catastrophic failures divert our attention from the fact that this happens all too often in little ways, with each of us every day. While the result may not be a catastrophic failure, in the least this behavior drives under performance, and lays the foundation for potential catastrophic failures.

Many of my formative years were spent in IBM. At the time we had something called the “contention system.” It was a process to actively stimulate different ideas and approaches. It stimulated active, sometimes heated, discussion and debate. The goal was to consider many alternatives, evaluate their merits, and to emerge, with a consolidated view that everyone supported 300%. I have to admit, it didn’t work all the time, but it did work most of the time.

The good news about the current economy, it that we no longer have anything to hide behind. Behaviors and practices around avoidance, confronting reality and the tough issues can no longer be masked or hidden.

The solution is simple, though hard to execute. Superficial congeniality can no longer be acceptable in any organization. This doesn’t mean being impolite or mean. It requires each of us to commit to engaging each other in talking about the tough issues, not to let ourselves be fooled, not to blow people off in meetings — leaving and doing what we want.

Until this bad behavior is reversed, it is impossible to drive and sustain real performance improvement.

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