Why does management behavior often diverge from "broadly accepted" theory or best practice?
This question hit me over the head (once again) during a conversation with a talented, young CIO about a big project that was significantly late and over budget. Ask anyone experienced in the world of IT or change management, and they will tell you that the best way to pull off a big project is to break it up in to a series of small ones. Yet, this CIO decided to push forward with an approach that he knew was risky and likely to stumble and possibly fail. When I asked him why he pursued this course, he answered, "The other approach would have taken too much time." Of course, the perception of "too much time" is relative and based upon others' expectations. Right now, this CIO is taking "too much time" explaining to his board why he and his team are failing to deliver a better result.
Time and time again, I see leaders doing what they know they shouldn't.
Are we failing management theory and best practices or are they failing us?
Stephan Covey, author of the management classic, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, believes that "To know and not to do is not to know." It sounds right — but it must be wrong. You know what to do. Develop your people (but when's the last time someone developed you?). Influence others by listening and learning their motivators and personalities (but do you know the bonus objectives of the business partner who is driving you crazy?). Develop strategy in a participative fashion (but how many people can recite back the strategy you worked so hard to develop?). Foster momentum for change by impacting business performance (but did you measure the business results of the technology-enabled change you implemented last year?). Reduce risk by breaking big projects up in to a series of small ones. Design and configure technology so that processes and data can be shared across the enterprise (but how did your latest technology implementation help clean up the existing technology architecture?).
Maybe the difference between espoused theories and theories-in-use is driven by "the need to remain in unilateral control and the desire to suppress negative feelings." Wow — talk about half empty. My experience is that people come to work to do the very best job they can. More often than not, I see hard-working professionals compromising even when it hurts, working harder than other team members to get it right, and sharing credit when the glory is rightfully theirs.
Or possibly, the theory is right, but too simplistic to be of use in guiding actions in the complicated world in which we live. Maybe the theory "is at its core a collection of quasi-religious dicta on the virtue of being good at what you do, ensconced in a protective bubble of parables (otherwise known as case studies.)" So simple, it's simply useless (for example, business leaders need to sponsor IT-enabled projects or IT people need to get a seat at the strategy table).
So, you know what to do and, many times, you just don't do it. In reaction, consultants keep consulting. Coaches keep coaching. Writers keep writing. The same old thing — seven times in seven ways.
So, I turn to you — the real leadership experts. With your help, in future blogs, I am going to delve into why, many times, it's hard to do the "right" thing.
So fess up: What are you doing that you know you shouldn't? And, while you're at it, explain why what you are doing is right — even if your MBA professors would cringe in disbelief and deny your very existence.
While best practice is an amazing concept, it needs to be coupled with change management & best practice in 'up selling' these strategies to stakeholders. It seems that it is change 'we' fear most.