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Monday, November 20, 2020

Cop-outs, Excuses, and Put-downs



When an organization has to resort to mindless excuses and put-downs to stop necessary change from even being considered, you know that you have just about reached rock-bottom in complacency and mindless attachment to defending the status quo. Yet that is what is common in many companies today: managers who routinely set aside potentially useful ideas without any form of rational argument. Using a well-worn set of rude and dismissive phrases, they browbeat their subordinates into remaining quiet about the inefficiencies and stupidities that are all too obvious.


Most companies are horribly complacent. The guys in charge got to their current positions under the status quo, so they have little or no real interest in changing anything. The current system must be good, because they are the kind of people that it produced. That's why they so often react to new ideas with a "so what?" response; and why they defend the status quo by saying things like: "This may sound harsh, but that's the way the world is." Of course, they pay lip service to wanting greater creativity, but only as long as it remains within bounds. Improvements on current ways of doing things are acceptable. Significant changes are viewed with emotions ranging from deep suspicion to outright hostility.

Such organizations fail to get the full range of innovative suggestions from their employees because they actively discourage truly fresh ideas. Very, very few proprerly creative ideas are ever subjected to reasoned consideration or argument. Instead, complacent managers have developed a series of instant responses to any suggestion that is too threatening to their pre-determined point of view. These phrases have two important purposes:
  1. To stop any further discussion or consideration of the idea; and

  2. To belittle the person who made the suggestion and make him or her feel foolish, so such behavior won't be repeated.
There is a list of instant, thought-free excuses for keeping things as they are that is almost endless. Here are some serial offenders:
  • There's no budget (money/space in the program) for it.

  • We tried something like that years ago and it was a disaster.

  • The customers (suppliers/staff/shareholders/top brass) will never buy it.

  • When you've been around as long as I have, you'll understand why that will never work.

  • That simply isn't a practical suggestion. It will never fly.

  • Sorry. It's not worth the risk

  • So what? (Said with a shrug and usually followed by: "Let’s move on, shall we?")

  • That's the reality of life around here. If you don't like it, you know what to do.

  • I can tell you right away that no one else will support you on that (said glaring around to make sure nobody does).

  • (Sigh) Isn't it wonderful to be so idealistic and naive.

  • Perhaps we should set up a working group to discuss it (. . . and bury it).

  • Forget the blue skies stuff. Come down to earth with the rest of us.

  • What an amazingly courageous, unusual, and personally risky idea. Is anyone else ready to support it? (. . . and put his or her neck into the noose as well.)
Complacency is especially prevalent wherever who you know is more important than what you know. If office politics and brown-nosing are the ways to succeed, it's unreasonable to expect ambitious people to risk offending those higher up by even suggesting that the current way of doing things (which is usually the result of decisions by those presently in alpha-dog positions) should be changed to any significant extent.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that the way organizations are run today is a failure. Look at all the scandals and criminal charges against corporate executives. Consider how the tide is changing against over-payments to CEOs and the casual plundering of corporations for personal gain. Listen to the pitiful wailing by those in charge against regulations that force corporate wrong-doing out into the open. Visit almost any business school and see the frantic attempts to find space in the curriculum for more substantive courses on business ethics.

The time for mindlessly defending the status quo is (hopefully) past. Its failures have become too obvious to ignore or paper over. Corporate America (and the rest of the developed world along with it) is in urgent need of fresh ideas, before businesses from nations who don't carry so much baggage from the past sweep on past and consign us to the margins. I heard recently that the giant US automakers are pleading with the government for relaxation of regulations and handouts from taxpayers. I don't hear Toyota making the same requests. Could it be that they don't need to, because they have seen the need for change and grasped it whole-heartedly?

Don't let the conservatives browbeat you into accepting that there is nothing to be done about the status quo. We made the world how it is today. Who keeps it running that way? We do. But since we made things like that, we can change them as well.

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2 Comments:

Robert Pearson said...

I love this chart.
My previous favorite was the one for "The Essence of Delegation". So many gutless managers, so many important decisions to be made?

These charts are classics you won't see in "Team Building" unless they are used against you.

1:35 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment and support, Robert.

Keep reading, my friend.

8:11 AM  

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