Wishful Thinking Leads to Failure Especially When Combined With Incompetence, and Playing Politics
1991, after exiting from the world of corporate recovery I find myself working in the Finance & Administration function of a global drinks company. My first mission? To assist a highly experienced American with a delicate mission. The hotly anticipated and much ‘advertised’ Management Information System has been live for a couple of months. The MIS, much touted by the Tops has cost a fortune and it doesn’t work. The Tops associated with the MIS are a laughing stock…
That which we ‘found’ to be so in 1991 continues to be so today:
- Wishful thinking, politics, and incompetence abound in large organizations;
- These do not cause serious damage with regards to day-to-day operations as ‘algorithms and machinery’ have been built over the years to deal with that which needs to be dealt with;
- However, the same characteristics (wishful thinking, politics, incompetence) tilt the ‘playing field’ heavily towards failure when it comes to large-scale change – the kind with “transformation” in the title.
There’s a book called “Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will”. I read this book back in 1994/95. And, I have forgotten it all except for this quote by Jack Welch:
Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be
I say that one of the primary causes of DCX/CX failure is not putting the right people in critical roles
Which roles am I thinking about? The Business Sponsor. The Programme Manager. The Product Owner. The Subject Matter Experts (Business Side). The Solution Architect. The Change Lead. The Project Managers. The Functional Leads. The Technical Leads.
What happens when one doesn’t respect the unforgiving demands of the implementation arena by letting standards slip – accepting/making compromises based on wishful thinking or political expedience – and putting those who are unfit for these critical roles into these roles? This phenomenon has a history and a name: “Lions led by donkeys”.
“Lions led by donkeys” is a phrase popularly used to describe the British infantry of the First World War and to blame the generals who led them. The contention is that the brave soldiers (lions) were sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders (donkeys).
Let’s consider the role of Product Owner. What a responsibility comes with this role! The person/s filling the role Product Owner in a CX transformation programme must have an in-depth lived/felt understanding of the those falling in the class Customer. This necessarily means familiarity with variety for the class Customer tends to have considerable variety amongst its members. This person/s also has to be an advocate for the interests of the Customer class – ensuring that whatever product (solution) is constructed meets the needs/wants of the Customer class. This person/s must bring the genuine voice of the Customer class into the transformation programme and make sure it is vividly present so as to inform thinking and decision making around the Product.
I say that the second cause of DCX/CRM failure is the failure to deal swiftly/decisively with those who are incompetent with regards to the demands of the role they are playing
Incompetence can be hidden relatively easily in the realm of the strategy/theory for there is no connection with the real world. In the arena of implementation, incompetence cannot be hidden for long: it surfaces when results have to be delivered – either they are delivered to the requisite quality or not. Which is to say that some of the “lions” turn out to be “donkeys” when measured against the context/role they find themselves in.
When incompetence surfaces those playing ‘leadership’ roles are confronted with an important choice: to face reality as it is and is not or to escape into wishful thinking. Few, in my experience, exercise the courage it takes to do the right thing. To take a hard/realistic look into the source of the incompetence and take the necessary action – almost always this is to move these people out of their roles and into other roles or out of the transformation programme. The logical consequence is that those who are incompetent get to dig a deeper hole in which the transformation programme ultimately finds itself in.
Allowing me to give you an example. On a recent engagement, one who was playing the role of project manager and solution architect with on the CRM workstream of a transformation programme found himself with a 6 person team – 4 offshore, 2 onshore. It took about four weeks for this person to come face to face with this realization: the entire offshore team was incompetent with regards to the work that had to be done.
This person asked for these people to be replaced by suitably experienced people asap. The request fell upon the deaf. So this person made his best efforts to coach/assist the incompetent. After a further few weeks, it became clear that this was counterproductive: the competent/effective were less productive because their time was taken up with the incompetent – teaching them, reviewing their work, correcting their work. Faced with this reality this person took all the work away from the offshore team, reassigned the work to the onshore team, helped the onshore team by doing some of the design and configuration himself, and disbanded the offshore team as soon as that option became feasible.
This person was not thanked for this decision. Why? Recognizing and dealing with incompetence can reflect badly on oneself (if one has recruited those people into their roles) or it can reflect badly on those (usually higher up the status ladder) who did recruit them. So you see the temptation for those who are politically savvy to bury their heads in the sand.
I say a third and important cause of DCX/CX failure is that politics takes priority over reality thus distorting the thinking and decision making
I can decisively say that rare is the person who will be truthful when his/her identity/status/livelihood is threatened. Yet, this is the dominant, almost exclusive, context in just about every large organization that I have ever worked in (as an employee) or worked for as a consultant.
Why does this happen? The lack of psychological safety within almost all organizations that I have come across. Where one fears speaking the truth one does not speak the truth. What this means is that one creates a circle of those with whom one can speak the truth (“us”) and those with whom one cannot speak the truth (“them”).
Where psychological safety is not in place, and “us and them” is operative/dominant, there one finds that information, communication, thinking, and decision making are distorted. This distortion tilts the playing field on which the transformation game is being played towards failure.
How can those who find themselves in leadership positions deal effectively with reality if reality is actively being masked with information that hides/distorts/mislead? If this question interests you then I recommend listening to the following talk:
Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best for 2019. Until the next time….