Controlling the Message
Are politics eating away at the ability of businesses to be competitive? I don’t mean capital P Politics and elections, just cultural office politics. I wonder if we have gotten so good in so many cases at “controlling our message” within our walls that we lack the ability to discuss what our true Current State really is.
(Don’t worry. I learned my lesson quite clearly when I brushed past the pool in my post inspired by the music business not to mess with the holy trinity of Politics, Religion, and Free Stuff on the interwebs. I tried and failed to come up with a different word than politics for this post…Sorry)
So much of the Lean philosophy and toolkit is built around either highlighting the gap between the current state and the ideal state or following a process to move closer to the ideal state from the current state. These are only effective if you’re willing to talk about your true current state. I don’t know of many businesses that are willing to have these conversations. In many cases, the ability to interpret what is happening in the most palatable way possible far outweighs the ability to identify what is really happening. The narratives that are created have become the currency that keeps the operation rolling and keeps everyone happy.
Here’s the thing about ‘messaging’…it rarely stops. The people delivering become incentivized to keep the message on the same path for risk of losing credibility, job security, or recognition. The people receiving want to believe the message, if for no other reason than it seems pretty silly to reject the communication of the people you are trusting to keep you up to date.
How does this culture impact Lean leaders? The biggest obstacle comes in getting people to recognize the existence and scope of a problem. It can be extremely difficult to get resources, time, and commitment when key players are invested in making sure that the problem area continues to be spoken about in glowing terms. Data helps, but not always. In some cases your best bet is to find ways to create a bridge from the narrative to the reality. Yes…that means that you may need to become engaged in a system of politics that you despise, but these waters are tricky and need to be navigated somehow. Sometimes it may mean that you have to go covert and work on the project “off the record” to improve something you know needs help. (That one falls under the umbrella of being easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.)
I guess what I’m getting at is that sometimes the reality of our cultures gets in the way of doing the right thing. It doesn’t mean that people are intentionally doing the wrong thing, just that it’s not always clear how to get people aligned and rowing in the same direction. Use what you have at your disposal and make a difference.