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Hiding The Problem As A Project Management Tool

Over ten years ago, the then CEO of Motorola told all their employees to stop using other manufacturer’s cell phones and only use Motorola phones. It was indefensible, he said, that Motorola employees would be seen using, for example, Nokia phones on the job. This behavior made it look like Motorolans didn’t like their own phones. Just recently, the new CEO of Nokia lamented that employees didn’t have much interest in their industry because they only used Nokia phones. He didn’t see many instances of Nokia employees using other manufacturers’ phones, and that confirmed their lack of interest.

When Motorola sent out its edict, the first casualty was that we could no longer look at other manufacturers’ phones to compare what they had with what we had. If we wanted to do that, we had to get a marketing order to go buy a specific phone (which didn’t happen very often). Before, all we had to do was wander from cube to cube until we found someone with the phone we wanted to look at.

What the CEO of Motorola never understood was that many people simply took the phone the operator (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) gave them a good deal on, and it wasn’t some judgment about the phones we were making. He used an edict to attack the symptoms and failed to understand (or misunderstood) the underlying cause. He also assumed that if people didn’t really like our phones, by having them use them anyway, outsiders would see us using our phones, and that would imply we did. I guess there is some marketing logic in there somewhere, but history showed that it was a fairly useless symbolic act.

The Nokia CEO coming to the opposite conclusion from similar data is an interesting comparison. Of course, I always argue that what we do is very situational, and doing the opposite thing in two different places doesn’t mean they aren’t both appropriate. However, there are some fundamentals that generally hold up no matter where we are (e.g., dignity of people, etc.), and honesty is one of them (marketing campaigns not withstanding). I liked the fact that the Nokia CEO tried to use the data (phone usage) as an insight into the culture of the organization. The Motorola CEO tried to do something similar, but, in my opinion, instead of fixing the culture (or the situation that resulted in the behavior), he effected a visual change in behavior. I recall during one of the later big layoffs at Motorola that engineers, thinking they were about to be let go, were all blatantly carrying Apple iPhones and showing them off. The questionable edict left a bad impression of management that remained for over a decade.

Changing an organization is one of the hardest things any project manager will have to do when implementing a project. We should make sure our choices in trying to bring about a change addresses the underlying causes and not just the visible symptoms. If we clean up the symptoms, then the underlying problems may continue to fester, and all we’ve accomplished is making it harder to see the real problems that need fixing.

Have you seen management changes that appear to cover up rather than resolve a problem?

Thank you for sharing!

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