“…self deception, the root of all evil” – Lazarus Long


Does this apply to organizations as well as individuals?

An individual can do any number of things while deluding himself as to his motives. This can be very destructive to the individual, but the damage is usually limited to that person. In extreme cases many lives may be affected. This type of self-delusional behavior, when indulged in by an organization, can be far more destructive.

The ability of management/leadership to militantly seek and destroy these delusions is crucial if any lasting change to an organization is to be accomplished.

While most management will agree that their mission is to create an organization that values and seeks the right changes, they may have inadvertently created (or, more likely, let stand) an environment / culture that values exactly the opposite. The causes can be manifold, but all boil down to, at some level, lack of leadership. Everyone knows that a good leadership must do what it says. A leader who values change must also create a culture that values truth. Change must be undertaken in response to facts. The real facts. An organization that makes changes on any other basis is just twisting dials, hoping that things will get better. This leads to the situation where changes are attempted, effectively at random, with the clear potential to do more harm than good. Many organizations, unfortunately, will make decisions based, not on the actual facts of the situation, but only on the facts that they permit. A management style that does not allow truth (facts) to bubble up to the decision-makers always creates an environment where change is not only undervalued, but is deliberately eschewed. Facts, even (especially?) the ugly ones, must be reported up the management chain deliberately and forthrightly.

What could cause employees and managers to deliver or elevate data that is incorrect? The obvious answer is to hide shortfalls in performance. Weaknesses in planning, forecasting and execution can all lead to underperformance that has the potential to be masked. Of course, underperformance must be properly identified before it can be addressed. Masking this underperformance, either in toto, or by attributing it to the wrong underlying causes, may stimulate a change that is both wrong and potentially harmful. Envision a doctor prescribing medicine that makes an affliction worse because of a misdiagnosis. Do that often enough and a patient will either find another doctor, or ignore the one he has. If he doesn’t take any of the medicine that the doctor prescribes, he knows he won’t get sicker, and might even get better on his own. So it goes with the organization. Management ‘prescriptions’ are ignored in favor of the status quo, because the changes prescribed in the past made things worse. Ignore the change directives, and work a little harder, and maybe things will get better on their own.

The leadership issue to address here is the performance ethos that failure is not tolerated. Like any other process in life, what you measure is what you get. If failure is punished, than all efforts will be made to avoid failure. Not only does this create a culture that is afraid to innovate; the culture learns to undervalue and/or fear facts, as they can only betray the failure that will not be tolerated to all and sundry. Response: the failure to uncover and address problems is the behavior that should not be tolerated. Management must create an environment that militantly pursues, discovers and values facts, as they are the true indicators of problems. Tolerance of lack of response to reality is the behavior that should be eschewed by an organization. Dogged pursuit of the facts as a window into the true operational state of the organization should be the example set by leaders, indoctrinated by management and exemplified by line personnel. The culture that values facts as being the real and correct precursors for change will embrace the changes that result.

Another cause of myth-based decision making is that the real data is inaccessible or unknown. The data may be buried in multiple systems and not available for discovery, or the managers may not know how to assemble the data pieces they have into a cogent set of facts that represent reality. This, much more mechanical topic, will be addressed in future posts.