Posts Tagged ‘truth’

The Soul of a Project #22: When a Lie is The Truth!

by Gary Monti on August 7, 2012

What to do when someone is lying? Answering this question is critical in any environment but is especially so in a changing environment. The organization is at risk to destabilize, the team is disoriented teetering towards falling apart and now a key player is mucking around with the truth and being dishonest. Addressing this is critical if power is to be shuttled in the right direction so stakeholders can adapt behavior accordingly and the associated costs are kept to a minimum.

What has helped is dividing the possible response into two broad categories – moral and emotional. Why? My experience is the dishonesty is about protecting something – position, reputation, etc. In other words, there is a feeling of vulnerability about which the individual is at a loss in terms of knowing what to do so they invent something to protect themselves. It becomes their “truth.” I’ve found it best to refer to it simply as emotional dishonesty. What’s behind this approach?

Keeping in mind the goal is the team pulling together to keep the project on track there is a distinct advantage to finding what the vulnerability is and see if the individual will consider doing the work it takes to get through the difficulty and take themselves up a notch in performance and add to the team.

Why do this? After all, the person did lie. Wouldn’t it be simpler to make a moral judgment and write the person off? The short answer is, “We are all human.” It means we have a shadow side that takes a lifetime of work to integrate into the rest of our personality. It means that given a chance to do that work the individual just might get to a better spot and be even better. Assuming the damage the lie causes is reparable and the value the individual provides can go beyond that damage then it is worth the investment.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sums it in his Meditations well when asking what to do with difficult people who create challenges. His answer, paraphrased, is, “Work with them, only humans are available to get the job done.” If the person is challenged on moral grounds it only heightens their desire to protect themselves. That becomes their “truth.”

Aurelius saw that in complex situations vulnerability goes up so getting frustrated with dishonesty and making moral judgments can be self-defeating. He also saw in doing this work and showing a disciplined compassion you take your place as a leader worth following. The odds of success go up.

Ever feel lied to? Is it hard to put your finger on what, exactly, is wrong with what is being said or done? It can feel like you are trapped inside an Escher drawing. What to do?

My suggestion is, “Go with it!” If that is what is happening, then call it what it is. Let the team members and stakeholders know (in a calm voice, of course) that their closed arguments just don’t add up. And just how is this done without sounding like a loon yourself? Once again, it is one of those “reads easy, does hard” situations.

Let go of focusing on the outside world. Go within…and drag all that insanity with you. Let people talk. Listen. Absorb without judgment. The tools needed to spot inconsistency are already in your toolbox. Stop thinking and, as Obi Wan told Luke, “use the force.” This force is there all the time. It is called integrity.

I’ve had more than one CEO (but not many), as well as other stakeholders and team members, lie to me on a consistent basis. If challenged, they would say they were simply testing me, wanting to see if I knew my stuff. Which is fine if it stopped there. The problem is when they saw my ignorance or naiveté as a license to stay with the distortion and go on with whatever their (hidden) agenda was.

This may sound a bit paranoid. It isn’t. We all actually do it to some extent. That “extent” is determined by how much we lust after or want to avoid something. Ever fudge 15 minutes on billable hours? For guys, what do you say in response to, “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”

Those situations to which I am referring to here, though, are the systematic ones. The situations where there is a conscious effort to paint a complete picture that is closed in scope but relies on fabrications. When this occurs the details fail to match up. And this is where the solution lies!

Pay attention to those details without getting swamped by them. The way to do that is by watching behaviors and seeing in what direction outcomes go based on believing what is told. See where that trail of bread crumbs leads. When you get that picture, go back and look at the details again.

Again, trust your judgment. Once you can draw a bead on some of the inconsistencies, i.e., articulate them, keep up the process. The details, upon which you need to focus, validate, look to see if they exist, are mutually inconsistent, etc., will become apparent. It’s as if they begin to phosphoresce.

As you confront (in a respectful, business-like manner) the situation there will be a natural repeating of the illusion. You’ll be asked to stare more closely at it, as with Enron when reporters where getting close to the truth. You might even be told you just don’t get it, that you need to mature and get up to speed in order to see the truth. It can be especially tempting when the person creating the illusion has power.

The fact is, if you work to stay with the inner truth there will be a calm out of which grows the ability to sum (no matter how many thousands or millions of dollars have been spent) the situation in 3 words, “It’s an illusion.” At that point, you can do the best project management possible.

The Soul of a Project #3: Truth vs. Propaganda

by Gary Monti on February 8, 2012

“Truth is the first casualty of war,” is attributed to Senator Hiram Johnson, R-California, 1918. This can occur on projects as well.  What can really muddy the waters is the confusion between facts and truth. Think of all the political hacks on cable news shows.

Facts vs. Truth

Facts stand alone. If it is 75° F outside that reality is what it is. It is free of dependence on anyone’s frame-of-mind.

Truth on the other hand is different because it is, to some extent, dependent upon one’s frame of mind. In fact, the definitions for “truth” range from “consistency with facts,” to “being true to a set of beliefs.” That latter definition is what muddies the waters. In other words, it gets personal.

Frankly, I’ll support someone who conforms to the facts and has a personal belief system that is disciplined, humble, and compassionate. When that person speaks from the gut I resonate like a tuning fork. I might lead, I might follow. Frankly I don’t care because that person seems trustworthy so I’ll risk they’ll negotiate in good faith.

On the flip side, when propaganda is being used, “run!” is the word that comes to mind. That person’s truth is scary! This is especially true when beliefs I hold to be true are being hijacked and parroted to promote the other person’s agenda potentially at the expense of others, the team, and myself. I can get so caught up in hearing what I want to hear that the ability to see the propagandist is lost.

Truth vs. Propaganda

What makes propaganda so dangerous is its seductiveness. It goes something like this. If we just go along with a bending of the truth we can get something in return. Usually it is relief from a fear or getting something we’ve been after, some possession, recognition, money, sex, the list goes on-and-on. “Tow the company line” sums the situation well. Here’s an example.

Employees can invest highly in consultants brought in to bring about change. The employee believes something like this, “After they listen to me they’ll just HAVE get management to shape up and then my life will be okay.” Those employees will champion the consultant.

This is a form of self-propaganda. How do I know that? By watching employees being left flat when I tell them that for the change to take place they will have to individually, one-by-one, commit to the needed change. The propaganda was this, I would be both the shield and sword that will take on senior managers and get them to follow sound project management principles. Believing this to be true, the employee feels safe.

Now there is truth in this.  Consultants have an obligation to challenge variances from the principles appropriate for a situation regardless of the employee’s position – from Board member to janitor. However, this simply sets the stage by spooling up one frame-of-mind through the organization that fits the project’s needs. There is a second part to this, though. During the one-on-one’s each person must hold their ground in sticking with the planned improvements. THIS can be a very challenging task when the resistant person in the conversation is higher up in the food chain.

Propaganda can set in and emotionally dishonest arguments and judgments surface. Sticking with the example, the employee says, “The truth is, the consultant has failed.”  The unconscious reality (self-serving agenda) is the employee might be afraid for their job and doesn’t want to risk taking a leadership position in the conversation by disagreeing legitimately. Granted, this fear can be very real. However, the bending to the propaganda, whether one’s own or someone else’s, can leave lasting damage.

Socrates said it well. As he was quoted in Plato’s Phaedo:

“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”

Unfortunately, in the end Socrates was asked to drink the hemlock since he wouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid. It can be hard leading a project. Tread carefully.

Guys, have you ever found the zipper down on your pants and realized, because you haven’t been to the rest room in hours, that it must have been that way for a long time?  And you strongly suspect other people may have noticed but didn’t tell you.  Ladies have you ever casually glanced in a mirror only to smile and find lipstick smeared on your teeth?  And in either case you wished you’d had someone around who cared more about your appearance than your feelings, didn’t you?  You needed someone who would tell you the truth no matter what.  You needed a truth-teller.

Do you wish you had had a friend or family member who would have told you years ago when those first few excess pounds started to creep onto your waistline?  You might have been annoyed to hear it but a comment of “Munching on a few too many ice cream bars these days old friend?” would have saved you all the dieting you must now endure.  You needed a truth-teller.

Truth Teller

A truth- teller is more than just a friend.  And it might not even be a friend.  Some of the best advice you will get through the years will come from people who either don’t know you or know you and dislike you.  Abraham Lincoln was running for political office and his opponent called him a horse’s ass.  When told of this and asked what he planned to do about it Lincoln is rumored to have said something like “My opponent is a smart man – – – I think I had better go home and look in the mirror”.

But a friend who is also a truth-teller is especially helpful.  Close friends know your weaknesses.  They know the things you intentionally avoid.  They know the things that routinely blind side you.  This is the person who will tell you straight up that you have terrible breath. (By the way anytime a stranger offers you a breath mint, take it.  They typically aren’t doing it to be polite.  Your breath stinks.  Thank them, take the mint and make a mental note that they may be a good candidate for a truth teller.)

Note that your truth teller friends may be people who want you to reciprocate and to also be their truth tellers but maybe not.  Not every ego is strong enough to benefit from a truth-telling friend.  The best relationship is, of course, when either person can be completely open and honest about the other’s shortcomings or imminent mistakes.  Just make sure that you cultivate several truth-tellers in your life.  You do this by asking them to tell you when you are about to make a mistake such as risking the date of a life time just to watch ten more minutes of a ball game.  You want them to tell you when you are about to risk a great job by responding childishly to a perceived injustice at work.  Such a friend is priceless.  Try to find several, make sure they are always comfortable telling you the whole, hard truth and be sure to always thank them for doing so even if your feelings have been hurt a little.

The old saying…

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

… is true!

And only a truth-telling friend can provide the prevention. Otherwise life will provide the cure and it is seldom pleasant!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Project Reality Check #9: Tyranny of the “Truth”

by Gary Monti on February 15, 2011

Tyrannical behavior can spring from the best of intentions. It is one person seeing the “truth” and insisting others follow. If you read the previous blog you’ll know why “truth” is in quotation marks. It can refer to our perception of reality, expectations, and insistence to conformance to that view rather than addressing reality itself. In projects this can lead to disastrous behaviors when the person or organization giving the orders believes they are in the know and doing what is best. This surfaces repeatedly throughout history.

The Devastating 88’s

In World War II one of the most effective weapons was the German 88 millimeter cannon. It was initially developed as an antiaircraft artillery piece and proved to be extremely effective. Testing it, the army noticed it could penetrate any British armor and quickly adopted it for field use, building a field carriage that made it quite transportable. Its performance was, in a word, devastating. Four 88’s could decimate a much larger unit of British armor.

So what does military history have to do with business? Look at it this way. Imagine how it would feel if you could invest $500,000 in a project, have a smaller team and take market share from a much larger competitor who had invested $5,000,000 and just isn’t as quick responding to customers. If that were true then your deliverable would be a force multiplier. A force multiplier amplifies the output of an individual. The 88 was a force multiplier!

Roll back to the previous blog regarding fantasy and reality. The German military management saw what the 88 could do, modified their view of the “truth,” and let subordinates implement accordingly. The “truth,” though, can cut the other way.

The Tyranny of the “Truth”

Ironically, the British could have matched and neutralized the 88 with an artillery piece of their own, a 3.5 inch antiaircraft cannon. This was very slow to occur and did only on an ad hoc basis. Consequently, the tyranny of “truth” caused many lives to be lost. The back story to this reveals a lot.

Similar to the 88, the 3.5 was devastating. It could penetrate any armor the Germans had. So, why aren’t there stories of 3.5’s wiping out German armored units? The British military command was notorious for being very hide-bound. Rank and privilege went hand-in-hand. In other words, an officer must be intrinsically superior to an enlisted man. Also, a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place was the order of the day and that place was determined by military command, those superior people. Consequently, the “truth” about the 3.5 was, “It was designed for antiaircraft use and it was preposterous to think something designed to attack an aircraft could have anything to do with an armored vehicle.” The “truth” was infantry would use a 2-pounder cannon, the shells of which pretty much bounced off German vehicles. The important thing was the 2-pounder was designed for anti-tank use so that was that.

The “Solution”

Eventually, British troops were allowed to use the 3.5 as an antitank weapon in North Africa and had some success. There was a problem, though. Because of the bureaucratic restrictions the gun plus carriage was twice the weight of the 88 and lacked the nimbleness. Keep that image in mind and switch back to business.

Think of General Motors before (3.5) and after (88) bankruptcy. The “solutions” offered before bankruptcy were predicated on keeping the status quo and associated reward system intact.  That was the “truth.” The path to success at GM has been built on dropping the old belief/reward systems and working to mold GM to be in line with current market demands and pricing. It has been painful, to say the least. It also has been rewarding and looks to offer a chance for GM to once again thrive.

In closing, I’d like to pose a question, “If you were to present this story to your organization and project team… would they say you are an 88 or 3.5 and what would they want to do about it?”

Fantasy vs. reality during project execution can be a major concern for the project manager and the team. “No good deed goes unpunished” might be the project motto. This seems rather dark but it is a common project reality. Assuming everyone has the best of intentions how could this happen? It can be summed in a word, “disconnect.” What is maddening is how this disconnect can be subtle and imperceptible, being spread out across the entire organization rather than focused at one location.

The Truth(s)

One would assume with intelligent, disciplined, competent people from top to bottom that harmony would be the order of the day. So, what happens? It has to do with the “truth.”

Truth is anything but an isolated, stand-alone reality. Truth is always embedded in a belief system. Belief systems are shaped by experience. As one travels through the various levels of hierarchy and across disciplines, experiences shift and the truth is in tow.

Imagine people at different altitudes looking at the project through a tube with a lens at the end, a lens that changes with their stakeholder position. Everyone gets the same light radiating from the same project but the truth varies from person-to-person. The relief effort in Haiti is a good example.

Suffering continues in Haiti. The project goal is frustrated. A year after the hurricane billions of dollars contributed to help the Haitians languish. While project managers are frustrated and impotent, those higher up feel they are being quite responsible by insisting criteria be met before funds are released.

The Solutions(s)

Is someone wrong? A better question is, “Why the disconnect?” Staying with international aid, project managers who have resources available may be in a situation where achieving their immediate goal of providing relief may require negotiating locally in a manner that goes against the grain of stated strategic political policies and procedures.

Aircraft maintenance is another example. A mechanic in the field can be faced with a problem not defined in the policies and procedures yet they need to get the airplane functioning and back in service. All this needing to be done with the tools and resources available.

What can develop are two sets of books, one set is informal and spread throughout the maintenance community and the other is the official set used to show compliance with stated methodologies. There is the danger of punishment if caught. Why? It goes against the “truth” as seen by those with power working at a distance (in all its meanings). There’s nothing unusual about this. Readers working in other professions probably have similar stories.

The Challenge

One of the project manager’s jobs is working the interfaces between all those truth systems and doing so in a way their integrity remains intact. It is a classic case of situational leadership. In the next blog we will look at other examples of what can happen when there is insistence from senior management that stated methods and policies and procedures be followed.