Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 46;   November 12, 2008: Accepting Reality

Accepting Reality

by

Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.

Sometimes organizations or their leaders confront problems over which they have little control. For instance, a manager might want a supplier offshore to deliver something right after an important national holiday. Even if the supplier agrees, the holiday might cause delays, because some employees might take extra days off. To acknowledge this risk is to accept the larger reality of the limits of the manager's control. The manager cannot control the behavior of the supplier's employees.

The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979

American Airlines Flight 191, moments before its crash near O'Hare Airport in Chicago in 1979. The crash was due, in part, to engine strut failure caused by use of an unapproved engine maintenance procedure. The mandated procedure assumed that the engine would be removed first, and then the pylon. By removing them together, as a unit, the airline reduced the total effort required, but the procedure caused stresses on the pylon. (See FAA animation) Those stresses initiated a gradual cracking process, which eventually led to the accident. Subsequent inspections of other aircraft that had been subjected to the procedure uncovered nine other cracked engine mounts. Photo courtesy U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Recognizing these limits can be difficult, because organizational leaders have day-to-day experiences that demonstrate their substantial power. Those experiences can obscure the reality of limited power, causing those leaders to make decisions that defy reality.

Reality does constrain even those with organizational power. Here are some of the forces of reality that we simply must accept.

Physical law
Leaders sometimes create expectations or make demands that cause the led to attempt to violate laws of Nature. For instance, in 1979, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed on takeoff as a result, in part, of engine strut failure due to stress cracks created by using an unapproved maintenance procedure. 271 people died.
Those who create environments that encourage people unknowingly to try to circumvent physical law could be setting themselves up for higher turnover, degraded morale, ridicule, or criminal prosecution.
Societal and cultural norms
Requiring work schedules that conflict with holidays, major sporting events or other observances, whether or not they have legal status, can cause staff to conceal their absences, or worse, to report for work distracted, exhausted, or otherwise impaired.
The cultural constraints of our societies are far more influential than anything the organization might try to assert.
Limits of human performance
From time to time, managers require substandard working conditions, work hours in excess of the norm, or suspension of vacation allowances. As short-term measures, they might be understandable and endurable. But when they become standard requirements of the job,The cultural constraints of our
societies are far more influential
than anything the organization
might try to assert
work quality degrades, rework rates increase, and turnover becomes inevitable.
In most cases, requiring inhuman conditions or excessive hours as a way of reducing costs or circumventing regulations is shortsighted. These practices are toxic to the organization and cause the most capable people to leave.
Economic forces
If working conditions are below the norm, or compensation is below the norm, the quality of the work force eventually declines below the norm.
The cost of managing an inferior work force is usually higher than the norm. Leaders get to choose: spend money on the work force and working conditions, or spend money dealing with a resistive workforce, higher turnover and output quality issues. You can't minimize the costs of both.

Dealing with the world as it is, rather than the world as we would have it be, is the easiest path to success. On what path is your organization? Go to top Top  Next issue: Favors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenzYrwhoThgJlcaNeSner@ChacDTVHFnhBNiIBqrfIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Sun doing a loop-de-loopA Message Is Only a Message
When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.
Jack-in-the-boxNo Surprises
If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: Part II
The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool called the Johari window.
A grove of quaking aspenFinding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSTBpxxxxqEeOxZjAner@ChaczTxCiLMGqZjNbuwAoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.