Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Plague of Ulterior Motives

I continue to be amazed at how much time, effort, and money is wasted internally by companies.  One of the number one causes of this waste is ulterior motives.  These are people who will deliberately say and do things in public, but in private have another motive to their actions.  This is a rampant disease that can cost organizations millions of dollars.  Instead of having uncomfortable conversations or debating issues, the person or group would rather act is if they are playing along and hope that the initiative fails.  There are several of these types to watch for:

The Two Faced Approach.  This approach is been around for a long time.  As soon as any social structure is developed, this approach is evident.  My kids experience this in school and unfortunately, some never seem to grow out of the behavior.  The approach is to act one way in front of one group and then act a completely different way in front of the sponsors and executives.  For example, an individual can be openly combative and antagonistic towards you in a closed meeting.  Then in the team meeting, be open and friendly and act as if they have been working with you all along.  One of the greatest examples of this behavior is Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver.  Eddie was conniving, manipulative, and mean to everyone.  However, when the parents were around, he had his best manners on display and gave the illusion to the parents that he was perfectly behaved. 

Transference of the Issue.  This approach will make sure to not answer a direct question or issue.  If you ask a direct question, they will talk around the subject without answering directly, transfer the answer back to you, or deflect the answer to a person or group that is not available at the time.  They make an art of not answering the question.  They will respond to questions with, "It will take whatever you think," or "What do you want it to do?"  These are purposefully vague answers to questions that can allow them to say they are being responsive without actually answering the question.

Secret Saboteur.  This group will secretly try to make the initiative fail.  Either they disagree with the initiative or they are scared of the change that it might bring.  Instead of working with the initiative, they purposefully delay, don't deliver, cause rework, or otherwise sabotage the work.  This is a particularly dangerous group. 

The Other Option.  I have seen this option several times.  This is where the group or individual wants the theme of the solution to be successful, but not necessarily the current selected solution to work.  For instance, a company wanted to do workforce management.   They looked at a portfolio and project management system and an enterprise resource platform.  The business and users wanted the project management system.  A key executive had former ties to the enterprise system and wanted that one.  Instead of debating the decision, the executive allowed the project management system to be purchased.  During the implementation, the executive put unrealistic demands on the team, changed the scope, and changed success criteria.  The first implementation group did not succeed.  A decision was necessary to continue with the current tool or get the one that the executive wanted.  Surprisingly, the business wanted to continue with the current system.  The executive again sabotaged the implementation to the point that the second implementation team failed.  Finally, the executive got the system that she had wanted.  However, it ended up costing the organization millions of dollars.

This can also manifest itself by stating that a group wants something when it isn't the true thing that they want.  For example, an organization that fights for a change of a tool.  The existing tool does what they want, but they convince the organization to change.  The reality is that they want control of the tool.  It isn't that one tool is better than the other.  It is that they can control the tool better if they own it.  I see this quite often with centralized IT departments.  You will get a department that wants to go rogue and get another tool.  In the end, what they wanted was to not have to utilize the centralized IT group.

We will explore how to deal with these types in later blog postings.  The first step in dealing with ulterior motives is to try to understand which one of these categories the group or individual belongs to.  From there, we can start to create a game plan on how to deal with them.

Am I missing any?  Would love to hear from you on this topic!


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