Toss the Bad Apples, Save the Strategy

My daughter had a school assignment where she had to write conflict. The ending was not working. I said, "Where's the struggle? That's what the audience wants to see."

In a healthy organizational culture, people struggle every day toward a clearly envisioned result.

In an unhealthy culture, nobody knows what the destination is. 

Because every sign points to somewhere else.

Photo source here.

Faulty strategy is not usually the problem. Our desks are littered with analyses, most of them sound.

The root of the problem is toxic people, who get in the way of a real struggle to move things forward. Generally these fall into three categories:

* Fearful. Scared of making a mistake, scared of looking bad, scared of other people who are scared, their philosophy can be summarized as "Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." They always need to put on a good front.

* Power-hungry. These people want to be in charge, and they think that if they talk about problems it makes them look weak. Weakness is not acceptable in their world. They don't talk about issues unless it somehow helps them to get to the next level - i.e. they're all too willing to get someone else into trouble if it moves them up the ladder. They operate in secrecy.

* Lone Rangers. These people don't trust that anybody else understands what needs to get done, or they believe that others tend to be incompetent. They would much rather go it alone, and if they admit problems to you, then they know you're going to mess up their stuff. So they pursue what they think is right, but in a manner that's closed off to the world.

All of these people may have good reasons for acting as they do. But the problem is that we don't work in a vaccuum. Other people don't believe what you say, they watch what you do. And when they see the group pursuing an agenda that seems scattered, isolated, confused or uncoordinated, they ultimately are left to figure out what to do on their own.

No great strategy can survive leaders who act like cowboys, who seek power for power's sake, who live their lives hiding under the bed. Strategy requires leadership based on trust:
  • The constant flow of communication, before, during and after a crisis.
  • Honest, meaningful communication.
  • Timely admission of mistakes.
  • Use of mistakes as a learning opportunity.
  • Use of oneself as an example.
If you want to know why a strategy is going badly, look for the bad apples who are spoiling the bunch. It is usually their behavior, not a lack of intellectual analysis, that's getting in the way.

* All opinions my own.