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.
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:
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.
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?
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:
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:
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
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.
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:
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 !!
Many more articles in Performance Improvement in The CEO Refresher Archives