Thursday, April 5, 2018

Why Yes-Men Are Bad for Business

In 1987 I was interviewing to become the in-house ad agency for The Chromaline Corporation. The first interview with the VP of Marketing went well. Now I was in my second interview, with both the president and marketing guy whom I would be reporting to. The president asked me a question that momentarily stalled me. He began by saying, "Here is a situation," which he outlined. "Rod and I are not in agreement on how to deal with it. What would you recommend?"

The very first thought I had, which is probably not unusual for many managers, was this: Tom is the president and has more power. Do I recommend what he wants to here or what Rod, who is hiring me, wants to hear?

I quickly realized that this game was a no win situation. Instead, I simply thought about the situation and what I would do if it were my decision, and replied as such. As it turned out, I felt the president was wrong and made a case for an alternate view. Agree with the guy of higher rank or with the guy hiring... Or choose a third way?

* * * *
Back in 2006 the Big Three automakers in this country were in serious trouble. As we all know, when the economy collapsed in 2008 both GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy and required a government bailout. Why didn't Ford fold, too?

The answer, which I read about this past year, had to do with a cultural change within the company that had occurred in 2006 when they hired Alan Mulally to be president and CEO. Evidently, despite the fact that Ford was bleeding 14 billion dollars a year, all its VPs were afraid to ruffle the former president's feathers by being a bearer of bad news. "Everything is peachy" was the continuous refrain. "There's nothing to fix because there is nothing wrong."

Yet Ford was hemorrhaging red ink and if no action was taken the patient would die.

Mulally fixed all this by allowing the executive team to share bad news and keep their jobs. Failures were no longer hidden in closets or buried in the back forty. The more that came to light, the more issues could be addressed by the management team working as a team. Honesty won out and Ford found a way to survive/thrive on its own.

* * * *
All these thoughts came to mind as I was attempting to write a blog post about risk, which I will likely share soon. Meantime, here are some interesting articles about Yes-men. (For the record, the malady is shared by both genders, but Yes-men/women is a mouthful and Yes-people seems clumsy.)

Here are some good articles for further reading on what I consider to be an important topic.

Why a Company Full of Yes-Men Leads You Nowhere

The Evils of Yes-Men and Groupthink

Your Inner Circle: Beware of Suck-Ups and Yes-Men
Noteworthy: No one wants to admit that they do this, but a quick glance at organizational life indicates that it’s the norm, not the exception. We’ve all seen it: the leader is isolated from reality, surrounded by a small group of people who deliver the good news and hide the bad.

Seven Ways "Yes People" Can Destroy Your Business
Noteworthy: Yes people don’t tell the truth. They only tell the small-business owner what they want to hear. This doesn't help a leader, who needs the whole story, good and bad, to operate a business. (There are actually a lot of good quotes in this article.)

Yes Men? No Thanks! 
Richard Branson weighs in on this corporate Achilles heel.
Noteworthy: The people who really make a difference are often those who don’t quite fit in. The ones who don’t act in the same way as everyone else and take risks rather than following the status quo.

There's more to say, but this is probably a good start. Make a difference.

Illustrations by Frank Holmes

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