Organizational transformation

10 Lies That Hold Back Organizations

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Tiny individual lies build collectively over time.
  • These lies over time integrate into organizational culture.
  • The danger is that culture can then reinforces the lies.

The problem with the tiny little individual lies that make their way around in organizations is that collectively over time they have the potential to create a culture that actually reinforces them. Here are 10 little lies that are good to be aware of.

1. I’ll work on this tomorrow

The problem with this little lie is that once it gets started tomorrow can turn into months and years. The only way to beat it is to create a mechanism that measures progress achieved against the important and not just the urgent.

2. It doesn’t have to be perfect this time

Sometimes there are deadlines where things just have to get out the door. Everyone has been there. The challenge is to avoid the slippery slope where the goal becomes to simply “ship” versus “ship great.” Window’s Vista and Apple’s recent maps debacle are good examples where seemingly small imperfections can have a major impact on how the brand is viewed. And while I would agree that we shouldn't sacrifice good at the expense of the great, focusing on the perfect gives us a much better understanding of what good really means.

3. It’s all up here

Planning takes a lot of work and one of the ways we convince ourselves that we’ve planned well is to tell ourselves that we have the plan all in our heads. More often than not, “it’s all up here” really means, "I have no idea." Taking time to put plans on paper is the only way to make sure that what we’re thinking can actually work. While talking is useful, getting it down on paper is critical.

4. I can do this on my own

Whether on the individual level or the organization level, it’s impossible to be great at everything. Focusing on what you do well and bringing in other professionals to fill in the gaps is important in making sure the bar is equally high across the board.

5. We did our branding stuff last year

There can be a tendency to believe that branding is single point in time: a new logo, a new website, a new message. The best branding, however, is less about a specific point in time (though there usually is a specific starting point) and more about applying a continual process of managing perceptions through a diligent and consistent approach to everything you do.

6. We’re a really unique organization

Believing that your organization is so complex that others might not understand it could reflect reality, but more often this thinking keeps organizations from improving. While all organizations are different in what they do and how they go about it, all organizations have the same core parts: a product or service, employees, and processes by which those employees, including management, turn those products and services into customers, revenue and profits.

7. We don’t really have competitors

In the startup world, you’ll often hear this. But it’s simply not true. All organizations, for profit and otherwise, operate in markets where there are always options. Not understanding these other options could mean you are unnecessarily restricting your product or service, which in turn could be minimizing your actual market potential.

8. We’re doing fine

Sometimes organizations are doing fine. Revenues are steady. Employees are happy. Customers are coming back. The inherent problem in doing well is that others will begin to understand the opportunities in that market and come looking to capture some of it with more competitive offerings (this is why competition tends to drive prices down). Doing fine today is always at the risk of someone else offering a better tomorrow.

9. That’s the way it is

In Japanese there is a saying called “shigata ga nai (仕方がない) or “shoga-nai (しょうがない),” which means “it can’t be helped.” In organizations, more often than not this thinking reflects not a willful rejection of change, but a lack of understanding of what the other options are and how they could be beneficial.

10. Nobody else gets it

When an entire organization believes one thing and a few individuals (or one) in that organization believe something else, it can be tempting for the minority to simply blame the majority for “not getting it.” While this problem seems to reflect a mere difference of opinion, what it really reflects is a closed organizational culture where ideas and information don’t flow freely. Creating a open culture where people are encouraged to get together and speak freely is the only way to ensure that all ideas can make it out into the open.

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