Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pushing Back

"If you want to shut down an organisation, the best way is for people to stop working. The second best way is for everyone to just follow the rules"  - Patricia McLagan

Ever did something just because "this is what management wants", even if you felt it is wasting your time and doesn't serve any purpose?

Jim and Michele McCarthy might say you are violating a core commitment:
"Don't do anything dumb on purpose"
When you know it is dumb, it is your responsibility to push back.
The easiest way might be to go with the flow, do what you're told - but you are draining on your energy and motivation. It is frustrating to do dumb things knowingly. You are also wasting your time, and possibly the time of other people, by repeatedly following a seemingly senseless instruction.

Another way is to... not do it. In some cases it will simply be okay. But in this case, you might be doing a disservice to your organization, by holding back your feedback, and by practicing disobedience in a non transparent way. If you hold a leading role, you are also sending a message to others that it is okay to not follow instructions without being explicit about it. Don't be surprised when people start passively sabotaging your initiatives.

In my opinion, you serve your organization best by pushing back. Apply intelligent disobedience. Don't do a dumb thing on purpose, but go back to the person who might expect you to do it and tell them why you're not going to. This way you might either learn more about why this is needed (and feel less frustrated about doing it) or allow the stakeholder to look for alternative ways that would work for both of you. This is especially valuable if there are many others who obediently follow the same imperfect process. You'll be their hero.
There are many reasons rules stop making sense after a while. Context, tools, markets, culture - these things all change, and even a perfect process might slowly become obsolete. Managers need feedback, though some might not like it or be used to getting it.

If you find yourself saying "yeah, but it's not MY job to do it..." or "why should I be the one.." or "someone ought to" I recommend investing 18 minutes listening to if you see it, you own it by the McCarthys (you can start at 05:45 or so).

The combination of noticing something is worth changing and caring enough about it isn't common enough - don't waste it just because someone else said so.


  1. Guy, good one.
    managers should also learn on better communication of the goals, especially the intent of the goal. The specifics could be left to the individuals as and when appropriate. But, it is always important to understand the intent of the goal. If you object to the intent, then propose an alternate and better one. And if one does not have an alternate proposal, then you find a way of meeting the intent in your own way after mutual agreement.

    1. Thanks for the addition. I agree, if the rule comes with the "why" attached, it is much easier to follow or improve. It is a critical factor in not creating conflicts for the sake of conflicts, but as a healthy way to improve.