It is Friday the 13th today – maybe the best day to write this post after all .
First I need to turn back the clock to the 1980s.
In my teens, the most popular car in India was ” The Ambassador”. It was so popular that the company just did some weak spot welding to barely keep the engine in place, and slapped on 4 tires and let you take delivery of the car . Buyers then took it to a workshop to do better welding, do wheel balancing and all of that . That was normal – and till I moved to USA, that was all I expected of a car buying experience . I have driven those new Ambassador cars a few times from the dealership before taking them for wheel balancing and other fixes – and that caused this huge mental block for me about all kinds of misaligned things. It was further reinforced in the automobile engineering classes in college .
Then I did my MBA in mid 90s – and the only thing that stayed with me throughout my life after that was the concept of “policy by lapse”. In short – it essentially means “doing nothing” as the strategic response to a given problem . The example my professor used was of the former prime minister of India who took that strategy when some Hindu extremists destroyed Babri Masjid . The guy didn’t do a thing – and is “alleged” to have said something like this . “I am not indecisive . I consciously decided to not take any decisions at this moment”. Needless to say – I have a serious aversion to “policy by lapse ” ever since that lecture .
But it was only after I started working that I realized that it is rather common to run into both “misalignment” and “policy by lapse” for a given problem . And you can imagine what that did/does to me 🙂
Both are issues that take some top down management attention to solve . And you can’t take your eyes off for long – it needs micro corrections all the time , just as a perfectly wheel balanced car cannot drive straight for long without micro corrections .
I have given up on annual goal setting being a useful strategy – in my line of work , no goal remains static for that long . Along the same lines – i am not a fan of annual performance reviews either . These rules were set at a time when world changed slower – and now they are useless . The only reason they exist today , I think, is because it is a “scalable” process . Not because it works .
Whatever changes to goals happen at a lower level of org hierarchy – it should be aligned with goals of the company . Every goal should have a clear rationale on why it matters to the success of the company – not the success of a product , not the success of finance department – the success of the whole company . Otherwise , don’t set that goal . People like stretch goals – but that is not a reason to be unreasonable and reckless . It is a serious credibility loss for a leader if he or she cannot explain their direction in a rational way.
If you as an employee get an unreasonable goal – go right ahead and challenge it (Politely ). Ask the person who set it, to explain it in terms of how it helps the company in tangible terms . Either you will learn something you didn’t know before, or the other person will have that pleasure (or pressure , in some cases) . At a minimum you will know whether it is a hill that is worth your while to try capturing . If you don’t get satisfied with the answer – make a decision on whether you are going to disagree and commit , or quit . Do everyone (including you) a favor by NOT contributing consciously to misalignment .
It is not pleasant or efficient or even safe to drive a seriously misaligned car – and it is not easy or fun to work in a misaligned organization without widespread confusion and frustration . Not only will the goal not be met – you risk losing your best talent in the process if you keep doing that , on top of looking stupid for not meeting the goals in the first place . It is a high speed race to the bottom – and it is a race you can choose not to compete in .
Then there is the “policy by lapse” thing . Hope is not a strategy – and if you believe it is , I have a dead rich friend in Nigeria who has left you a large sum of money . Just send me your bank user is and pass code to make the transfer 🙂
I have encountered “Policy by lapse” several times at work , and can’t remember it succeeding even once . I do have several examples and battle scars of cases where it was the chosen strategy to deal with misalignment . And I have later regretted every such occasion I have decided to not take this issue head on . If you keep driving a car with misaligned wheels for a long time , it gets worse – not better . If you think it gets better – I have a couple of bridges to sell you right after you sign up to get the money from my dead friend in Nigeria 🙂
If people swap a few “what” questions they routinely ask in corporate world with “why” questions – this problem can be prevented easily . But even if you can’t prevent it – at least try not to use “policy by lapse” to fix it .
Trust me – remember I am the dude who sold you the nice bridges that you paid for with the money from my dead buddy in Nigeria . And I have some freeways I can sell you to go with those nice bridges too 🙂 .