Today’s wonderful Dilbert strip got me thinking about how easy it is to use words that mislead, manipulate, and generally obscure the truth. In Lake Woebegon, where all the men are handsome and the children are above average, we dance around performance issues, letting the person in question think that things are going pretty well when, in fact, we’re already planning how to get rid of them via those convenient transfers, promotions and “special project.” With work plans and estimates based on unachievable assumptions, we cross our fingers and make a wish over how long and at what real cost that ERP upgrade will be done, perhaps protected by the thought that such projects are invariably rescoped/repositioned/restaffed before they’re completed — or at least after we’ve left them for the next project. Confronted with the unpleasant task of balancing unbalanceable budgets, building sales plans to support unsupportable growth targets, creating pie-in-the-sky marketing plans, swallowing hard to swallow organizational changes, and the list goes on, we avoid the hard work of telling it like it is and cloak our discomfort in the weazle words of paradigm shifting, innovative differentiation, the “cloud” will handle those details, and Chief Whatever Officer. As in so many things, Dilbert has our number.
Renaming the job of branch manager to President of the Fort Myers area (where there’s only one such branch in the Fort Myers area) does not increase by one jot the decision-making authority or autonomy of the new, so-called President. Calling time and attendance software, which does the heavy lifting for hourly workforce scheduling, wage calculations, and timesheet-based labor distribution, talent management software does not make it so. Claiming that the 22% maintenance fees paid by licensed/on-premise software customers are being used entirely for the benefit of those customers, is only believable by those folks still buying swamp land in Fort Myers (where we have no swamps for sale, not even in this depressed market). Having a corporate values statement that says that our workforce is our greatest asset defies credulity when the organization just did a 10% across-the-board layoff because they didn’t know enough about their work or workers to know what part of the workforce asset was most important to retain. And calling single tenant software that the vendor hosts and for which the customer subscribes your SaaS offering is intentionally misleading. So why are these practices, and many more like them, so commonplace?
The easy answer may be that human nature abhores plain truths, shies away from unpleasantness, avoids being the messenger who may get shot after delivering the bad news, and is riddled with similar character flaws. Or it may be that we love the plain truth but only when it’s spoken “off the record,” “without attribution,” or “for deep background only.” I’ve built something of a reputation for being blunt-spoken, for not shying away from conveying the hard truths (at least to the best of my knowledge and, hopefully, with enough humility to know the limits of same), for pushing myself, colleagues and clients to do more and do better, and for calling out those who don’t, at least in my little corner of the world. That reputation and behavior have certainly closed doors, and I’m mindful that I’ve had the luxury, as a solo, of not needing the clients and projects on the other side of those doors to feed a large team (or a family) as I did before I went solo.
I’m convinced that the next big leap at the crossroads of HRM and HR/IT will come not from any breakthroughs in either but rather from the impact that social networks and networking are having on our continued ability to mislead, manipulate, and generally obscure the truth in both areas. Just as customer service fails, product quality issues, and new movies are discussed openly and in real time on Twitter, so too are the full range of HRM and HR/IT issues, products, services, vendors, providers, individual leaders, etc. No place to hide anymore. Doing a layoff? Everyone knows very quickly? Crap software? The word is out. Fluffed-up LinkedIn profile? Someone will notice. Not in Lake Woebegone, Fort Myers or wherever you dwell are all the men handsome or the children above average, and today everyone knows it.