Cop Outs
by Sloan Campbell

     
   

When we talk about organizational behaviours we are generally referring to a field of study that investigates the impact which individuals, groups and structure have on behaviour within organizations for the purpose of improving an organization’s effectiveness.1 Well I have, over the last number of years, encountered three ideals that have graduated from being organizational behaviours to becoming the biggest cop outs in business. Before I go on let me first clarify what I mean by a Cop Out ... a cop out is an idiom meaning to avoid taking responsibility for an action or to avoid fulfilling a duty. 2

I consider cop outs to be akin to Weasel Words, which are words that are ambiguous and cannot be substantiated by facts. They are typically used to create an illusion of clear, direct communication. Weasel words are usually expressed with deliberate imprecision with the intention to mislead the listeners or readers into believing statements for which sources are not readily available.3

The three ideals that I refer to are Perception, Culture and Precedent ... this list may make you gasp, but just follow along and hopefully you will share my angst at the way these ideals have been twisted to have a negative connotation in today’s business place.

Perception

I have always considered perception to be the process by which individuals organize and interpret their impressions in order to give meaning to their environment.4 However, I am finding more and more that people are using the phrase “well ... my perception of that was (or is)” for the purpose of getting their own way without having to put up any fact based argument or a discussion of any kind. Just think about this possibility for a moment, it is ingenious in its simplicity and basically flawless in its execution ... Who would ever question, or for that matter, how could you ever fault someone’s “perception” of a particular situation. Simple ... You can’t !!

Could this be a loop-hole in the basic interpretation of business concepts everywhere? Have we found a way to express our own opinion, no matter how wrong or frustrating, without any possible recourse from others ?? I certainly hope not, if this is true and this is a loop-hole in our basic communication effort ... then business as we know it has just taken a VERY difficult turn for the worst.

We live in a society that relishes power & control and loves to win ... but what is the first thing that we all do when someone tells us that their perception of our presentation, calculation or idea was not what we were intending it to be ... we change it. It is at this point that we all hear the sound of any power, control and possible victory whooshing by our office door.

So how do we correct, battle or work with this diabolical perception ideal ... hmmm ... well, first let me say that I think that this ideal actually should be call Selective Perception, where people selectively interpret what they see based on their own interests, agenda, background, experience, and attitudes. A group’s perception of organizational activities is purposefully altered to align with the vested interests they represent. Managers view the organization from their perspective; employees often have a very different view, which is demonstrated in union conflicts. 5

The fix is really pretty simple and just as clever as the problem ... think of yourself as your main product and apply the 4Ps of Marketing to yourself.6 The 4Ps of Marketing are:

  • Product: The product aspects of marketing deal with the specifications of the actual goods or services, and how it relates to the end-user's needs and wants. The scope of a product generally includes supporting elements such as warranties, guarantees, and support.

  • Pricing: This refers to the process of setting a price for a product, including discounts. The price need not be monetary - it can simply be what is exchanged for the product or services, e.g. time, energy, psychology or attention.

  • Promotion: This includes advertising, sales promotion, publicity, and personal selling, branding and refers to the various methods of promoting the product, brand, or company.

  • Placement (or distribution): refers to how the product gets to the customer; for example, point of sale placement or retailing. This fourth P has also sometimes been called Place, referring to the channel by which a product or services is sold (i.e. online vs. retail), which geographic region or industry, to which segment (young adults, families, business people) etc. also referring to how the environment in which the product is sold in can affect sales.

In popular usage, "marketing" is the promotion of products, especially advertising and branding. However, in professional usage the term has a wider meaning which recognizes that marketing is customer-centered. Products are often developed to meet the desires of groups of customers or, in some cases, for specific customers.7 Make adjustments to yourself as you would to any product that would require improvements or changes to become or remain successful. This seems like a VERY simplified solution, but the best fixes usually are ... remember KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). This will likely not correct all of the Selective Perceptions you might encounter, but it should fix the majority of them.

Culture

Even at the best of times culture is a difficult concept to understand, but using it for ulterior motives just stands to further muddy the waters. For the purposes of our discussion we will define culture using Henry Mintzberg’s statement which refers to culture as “ the soul of the organization — the beliefs and values, and how they are manifested. I think of the structure as the skeleton, and as the flesh and blood. And culture is the soul that holds the thing together and gives it life force.”8

It is my opinion that many managers and leaders are now using their organization’s culture as a reason to employ a status quo and forgo the creativity of trying to find their own solutions. Statements like “we have always done it that way”, “unfortunately that is the culture here” or “it has worked for 25 years, why would we change now ?” are all glaring indications that it may be time to re-evaluate your way of thinking ... especially when it flies in the face of any kind of common sense and good judgement. One of the most frustrating results of this type of cop out is the practice of Micro Managing teams/employees.

Micro management has become a very popular descriptor in today’s workplace. Webster's Dictionary defines micro manage as “to manage with great or excessive control or attention to details.” Most people today hear these words and immediately think of the annoying manager who constantly looks over their shoulder, questions everything they do, won’t let them make any decisions; and runs his/her office like a military command and control centre.

What are the Tell-Tale Signs of a Micro Manager?

  • They have a hard time delegating tasks. They likely spend more time “telling” staff what to do and how to do it versus “asking” them what they did and how it went.
  • They believe that being a manager means that they have more knowledge and/or skill than their employees.
  • They believe they can perform most of the tasks of their staff, probably better.
  • They believe that they care about things (quality, deadlines, etc.) more than their staff.
  • They feel it is more efficient to do the job themselves than give the job to a staff member.
  • They are overly critical of their staff. When they review the work of staff members, they tend to find at least one thing wrong each time. They often suffer from the “red pen” syndrome.
  • They don’t allow their staff to learn from their mistakes.
  • They get irritated if staff make decisions without consulting them.
  • They spend an inordinate amount of time overseeing single projects.
  • They pride themselves on being "on top of" their staff’s projects.
  • They are overworked, and their staff is not.
  • They come into the office earlier than any staff member and leave later. If they are away from the office, they call in at least twice a day, including when they are sick or on vacation.
  • They seldom praise staff members.
  • Their staff appear frustrated, depressed, and/or unmotivated.
  • Their staff do not take initiative – they have to check with the manager before doing anything.
  • They have been referred to as controlling, dictatorial, judgmental, critical, bureaucratic, suspicious, or snooping by staff, managers, or family members.

Someone who tends to micro manage may be new to a management position or be an experienced manager with poor management skills. Some signs that poor management results in micro managing behaviour include:

  • The manager still views him or herself as “a doer” versus “an overseer.”
  • The manager may be an expert in a certain field, or have a personal passion for a particular job or file, which makes it difficult for them to step back from the details.
  • The manager will not, or does not know how, to delegate. They seem to struggle to get the work done that their staff “couldn't or wouldn't finish.”
  • The manager will not, or doesn’t know how to, coach. They don’t take the time to help their staff learn.
  • The manager cannot manage projects effectively. They require frequent communication with their employees, including detailed status reports and updates.
  • The manager has difficulty managing his/her time. They spend their time immersed in staff’s projects instead of performing their management functions.
  • The manager has difficulty managing pressure from above or from outside the organization.

Sometimes a manager can be capable of managing projects and people but is a poor leader. Being a good leader requires trust in one’s own abilities and the abilities/motivations of their staff, Sometimes a Managers life experiences may make developing this trust difficult and, therefore, results in their “taking on too much.” For example:

  • If a manager has had been held accountable for the failings of his/her staff in the past, they may find it difficult to trust the skills/knowledge of current staff.
  • If a manager has been let down by staff in the past, they may be cautious of trusting the word and/or motivation of current staff.
  • If a manager has developed personal control issues to satisfy internal needs, they may express themselves by the need to appear the most knowledgeable; by difficulty in sharing information or credit; or by the need to gain a sense of power from feeling “needed” by others. 9


If your organizational culture needs to be changed, why not change it instead of hiding behind it and continuing to take actions that are detrimental to the organization or are out-and-out wrong !! One of my previous managers used to say that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”... where is that more applicable than in this instance?

I don’t think that I would be incorrect to say that if we knew that something in our personal lives was detrimental to our families or out-and-out wrong, we would do everything in our power to change that something. Then why do we hide behind the organizational “culture” in our professional lives? Mostly because of the fear of change ... Hey, who is kidding who, NOBODY likes to change ... but change is how we learn, how we grow and how we progress and become more successful.

John P. Kotter’s best-selling book titled Leading Change has an 8 Step Process for Successful Change, which I recommend you investigate so that you can avoid (and eventually remove) the culture cop out from ruling your work life. The 8 Step Process for Successful Change is as follows:

I. SET THE STAGE

1. Create a Sense of Urgency.
Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2. Pull Together the Guiding Team.
Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change—one with leadership skills, bias for action, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills.

II. DECIDE WHAT TO DO

3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy.
Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.

III. MAKE IT HAPPEN

4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy-in.
Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

5. Empower Others to Act.
Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6. Produce Short-Term Wins.
Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible.

7. Don’t Let Up.
Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with instituting change after change until the vision becomes a reality.

IV. MAKE IT STICK

8. Create a New Culture.
Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become a part of the very culture of the group.

This type of change isn’t going to happen over night ... but doing something is FAR better than doing nothing and continuing to hide behind the culture cop out forever.

Precedent

The ideal or concept of precedent has a legal history behind it. In common law legal systems, a precedent or authority is a legal case establishing a principle or rule that a court or other judicial body adopts when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. 10 For the purposes of my discussion, we will define a precedent as something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind. 11

My problem is not that precedents exists, it is the fact that few managers or leaders want to SET a precedent !! Why is it all of a sudden bad or wrong to be the first person, group or organization to do something new or cutting edge ? It’s not; many managers and leaders use the precedent as a cop out or as a CYA (Cover Your Butt) effort not to rock the boat.

As I said previously, we live in a society that relishes power & control and loves to win ... for heaven sakes we keep score of just about EVERYTHING that happens in the world each day ... from the biggest/strongest tornado right to the PeeWee Division 50 Houseleague Baseball or Hockey Champions. But when we get to work ... all of a sudden, we lose the desire to be first, best, greatest, top or preeminent. Poppy Cock !! That doesn’t pass the smell test for me ... sorry.

Again I will ask, Why is it all of a sudden bad to be the first person, group or organization to do something new or cutting edge? The answer has not changed ... it isn’t.

As I see it, the big issue here is that being first requires WORK and sadly many of today’s managers and leaders do not want the extra work that goes along with being creative and first. Work is not a four letter word or taboo to mention, it is what is required to make any meaningful change.

The work I am speaking of is the work of problem solving. To avoid the pitfall of the precedent cop out, take the time and the effort to follow the Basic Guidelines to Problem Solving and Decision Making:

  • Define the problem
  • Look at potential causes for the problem
  • Identify alternatives for approaches to resolve the problem
  • Select an approach to resolve the problem
  • Plan the implementation of the best alternative (this is your action plan)
  • Monitor implementation of the plan
  • Verify if the problem has been resolved or not

Do the work, find a solution with your team whether it becomes precedent or not, because if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem ... enough said.

Hiding behind a cop out is like choosing to watch the Game instead on playing the Game; you can’t be successful standing on the sidelines.

Success is a journey, not a destination ... saddle up !!

Notes:

  1. Organizational Behaviour: Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour: Third Canadian Edition. Nancy Langton and Stephen P. Robbins.
  2. Cop Out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cop-out
  3. Weasel Word: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word
  4. Organizational Behaviour: Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour: Third Canadian Edition. Nancy Langton and Stephen P. Robbins.
  5. Organizational Behaviour: Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour: Third Canadian Edition. Nancy Langton and Stephen P. Robbins.
  6. 4Ps of Marketing: http://www.hafihz.com/islam/how-to-correct-people-perceptions/
  7. Marketing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marketing
  8. Organizational Behaviour: Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour: Third Canadian Edition. Nancy Langton and Stephen P. Robbins.
  9. Micro Management: http://images.globalknowledge.com/wwwimages/whitepaperpdf/WP_Micromanage_Lemmex.pdf
  10. Precedent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precedent
  11. Precedent Definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary
  12. Problem Solving & Decision Making: http://www.managementhelp.org/prsn_prd/prb_bsc.htm
     
   
     
   

The Author

  Sloan Campbell is an Implementation Project Manager at SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). SOCAN is an organization that administers the communication and performing rights of virtually the world's entire repertoire of copyright-protected music, when it is used in Canada. You can e-mail your comments to the author at scampbell@elcan.com .
     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2008 by Sloan Campbell. All rights reserved.

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