Home » Leadership » If It’s Common To Do Then Maybe We Should Not Do It

If Its Common To Do Then Maybe We Should Not Do It[Jesse] Litvak was found guilty of securities fraud and making false statements, as well as fraud connected to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. … The case raised questions about how much trickery is allowed in trading, with witnesses at his trial testifying that his tactics were common. … If upheld, that contention “would raise the specter of criminal liability for commonplace conduct in negotiations,” his lawyers said.  “All manner of misrepresentations, whether about a trader’s monthly quota, about the time pressure on a deal, or about a shared love of a sports team, would qualify.” How Much Trickery Is Legal On Wall Street? Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec 1, 2014.

How much trickery is legal? Intuitively, the answer is none. Unfortunately this kind of thing is so common that trying to fix it too fast could cause more problems than the original misrepresentations. In just about every organization I helped to get to on time with good quality project completion we had to spend significant time addressing the accuracy and honesty of how we did our work.

For more see If Nothing Else, Honesty Is Just More Efficient

I recall one situation where when getting a status from a manager his reaction to what I was asking was “You mean we can just give our status as it is?”  Again, someone might wonder what kind of a reaction was that?  Yet for this organization, and many like it, it was normal to present a status that showed everything was fine except if it wasn’t fine how it was someone elses fault that there was a problem.  Of course, these organizations I worked with all were struggling, often for years, rarely delivering projects on time with good quality.

In these organizations, unable to right the ship and begin or resume delivering successful projects, they slowly devolved into bad habits.  These habits continued for as long as projects were not successful and contributed to subsequent projects not being successful and so simply became part of the common culture.  My biggest shock when entering the civilian workforce after over 20 years in the military was the ease at which someone would simply make something up. The somewhat humorous part of it was that these people would have been outraged at the claim they were lying.  It wasn’t a lie. It was OK to guess or theorize or simply be wrong — knowingly be wrong — in what we said.  We can just admit it later, if at all, but most people just ignored it and pressed on. The important part was the individual was not held responsible for the issue that they felt obligated to lie their way out of.  Nor were they held responsible for the lie.

Also consider Eliminating Your Project Management Honesty Buffers

When an outsider comes in to these kind of situations, these bad habit stand out like a beacon.  Yet to point it out is to attempt to say the emperor has no clothes.  It is not allowed.  It is considered unprofessional.  It is possibly grounds for dismissal.  In one particular case I had interviewed my new team. I was the new manager and they were an established team.  In interviewing them I found many inconsistencies in who thought who was doing what in the project.  This was not uncommon and usually not a big issue to fix. Yet when I told my new boss about some of the issues I had uncovered she was incensed.  She told me I could not make any changes and all the problems I had discovered I had to personally fix.  I had to personally do the work that was not getting done. When I demured and suggested it was best for those responsible for the work to do the work, my new boss walked out of our meeting with the suggestion that I might no longer be employed tomorrow.  It was bizarre.

So the lessons learned for me was first of all don’t assume because it was a common thing to do that we want to do it.  The second is to periodically look to see if we’ve gone down that slippery slope of bad habits because everyone else was doing them. The third is that many people are stuck in these common bad habits and breaking them is not a riskless effort for them. However, taking the effort to undo these bad habits is one of the key steps to vaulting any team up to their next level of performance.

See also The Leap To Exceptional Is Shorter Than We Think

What common things are you doing that are of questionable integrity that you would love to change?

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