Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Honesty and Reflection on Company Mistakes

One question I get asked on occasion is how does speaking out about mistakes affect things like a career.

As I have stated before, honest analyses of what went right and what went wrong are hard to come by in any corporate environment. Most peoples' interest is protected by burying mistakes, this is how execs get hired again and again. The problem is this (obviously) does not serve the organization.

Honesty is not rewarded, even if:
  • It is to lobby for training (or pointing to the Borders book store across the parking lot when someone complains the 'dir' command does not work on UNIX - maybe that's baby-like; I prefer competence)
  • If there is an easier way to get something done
  • If there is something that affects the company bottom line
So has this affected my work or ability to find it? Undoubtedly, but not in a quantifiable way.

Would you hire someone that will tell you when mistakes are being made?

How about if you do not react and the person gets shrill at times?

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Blogger David A. Lane, KG4GIY said...

What you point out is, in today's corporate culture, unfortunately true. Most of the companies I have worked for, despite a "you can tell us anything" attitude and binders of "ethics" statements, do not want to hear the truth.

They do not want to hear that the billing system is late because the equipment that was ordered was underpowered or not suitable because the equipment that was required was "in excess of the project budget." They do not want to hear about security issues (until they are wringing their hands about a breach that just showed up on Slashdot or the front page of the Post) because the implementation of the fixes that would have prevented the breach in the first place would have put an "undue" burden on their ability to surf the web.

I can go on, but it is pointless. As Enron should have taught us, it is only after the fact that the corporation cares about the truth, and then only because they have been burned for not listening to it...again.

8:15 AM  
Blogger John Lennon said...

Years ago I reported to the CEO of my company that some managers stole some computers. I had list of s/n and after sending them a letter they promptly returned all the equipment. The result for me for being so forthcoming? I was let go because, well, I shouldn't have spoken up and I was considered a danger for the company...

11:35 PM  
Blogger lextalionix said...

Maybe we can derive an ad-hoc company success barometer based on a willingness to accept constructive criticism.

If a company thwarts, punishes, or ignores "speaking out", then it will fail.

Also, Did anybody notice that the idea of the 360 degree review never seemed to take hold in an organization ?

Bad executives, Bad Managers label those that "speak out" as "trouble makers".

These same Bad Executives, and Bad Managers are thus able to "game the system" to self-purpetuate their control over a doomed company.

Of course, when faced with such a corporate environment, it's best to simply move on - since the company will fail.

1:58 PM  
Blogger David A. Lane, KG4GIY said...

In response to lextalionix:

"If a company thwarts, punishes, or ignores "speaking out", then it will fail."

Lex, if only that were true. Regrettably, it is not.

4:11 PM  
Blogger dp2 said...

Unfortunately, the fact is companies with great/dysfunctional work environments succeed, and others with great/dysfunctional work environments fail. Whether or not any of this is (or seems) fair--it happens.

Mistakes will happen from time to time, and being honest about them can help--assuming that the individual(s) involved will (re)analyze the situation, come up with a plan for correcting those mistakes, and follow through with implementing the corrective measures. Sometimes, certain actions/thoughts are intially perceived as mistakes only to be recognized later for their merit(s).

Scheduling and budgetary issues are major contributors, but they're certainly not the only ones. Management style, information flow, accountability, respect, and courage are some others.

Some managers are leaders, and many are not. I can count on one hand the number of managers, that I've had, who were also great leaders. I can't put my finger on it, but I know there's something that they do that inspires me to elevate my game. Most--but not all--of the managers I worked with, whom I also found to be great leaders, had some sort of military background. Leadership can be taught, but many people opt to not learn.

I believe that information control may be implemented along a continuim of two extremes: Linus Torvalds transparent, and Steve Jobs tightly-sealed. Both extremes have their place, but more often than not, I think it usually boils down to one's personal preference(s). As in JL's case, he was ultimately released, because one or more people were more concerned the delivery--rather than--the content of his message. JL learned a hard leason: honesty pays--but not necessarily in the way one expects.

The result of honesty paying off in ways one expects is increased accountability. I can bank on what you tell me, and you can do likewise. If we can entrust one another with small things, then we'll be a lot more willing to entrust one another with larger things when the time comes.

I've found--in nearly 100% of the cases I've seen--that the root cause, for most political dysfunctionality in most organizations, is a lack of accountability. Sometimes, that lack is accidental, incidental, or even sentimental. This lack of accountability is often the result of a lack of good, strong leadership. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase Bank, once stated that he'd prefer a second-rate plan with first-rate execution to a first-rate plan with second-rate execution.

Without strong leaders, who respect their employees (and themselves), and who have the courage to stand their ground (at times), accountability will never take root within an organization.

By the way, DAL, I think Enron taught more executives to hide their s___ (stuff) better: relocate their "questionable" activies offshore in lesser regulated zones, hire more accountants and lawyers to build/find more loopholes, and to lobby their representatives for some more pork to fill their barrels. Many executives still aren't listening.

Lex, nothing will change until one's customers start to demand some kind of action. For example, Microsoft (and a few other companies)--for years--used several tactics (like introducing various incompatabilities) to lock-in their customers. In 2005, some docs leaked out Microsoft possibly implementing some "new" API extensions meant to break compatibiliby with CIFS. Soon afterwards, several of their key clients demanded that they maintain CIFS/Samba compatibility--and Microsoft did.

1:11 AM  

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