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Living In a “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” Culture

Anyone working in a large company recognizes that cultural frictions occur between organizations. Symptoms of organizational friction can be regular escalations and rumors that create “fear, uncertainty, and doubt”. These symptoms all have common causes: conflicting measurements, different values, or unclear deliverables. Unless values, measurements, and deliverables are aligned, conflict will become increasingly acrimonious. These problems are usually what cause large companies to act bureaucratic. Structures are put in place to buffer groups from one another rather than aligning towards a common cause.

Marketing organizations and infrastructure organizations, such as Manufacturing and Technical Support, often clash over goals. Marketing focuses primarily on revenue recognition. They want to get the product out fast to capture market share and are measured on sales numbers almost exclusively. Manufacturing is measured on yield so they ensure that the design is reliable and easily manufactured. Support wants to make sure that the product quality is at a level that will limit the number of field problems. The inherent conflict is between getting the product into the customer’s hands and spending enough time designing the product so that it is manufacturable and of a quality that will not require support. It is rare that companies find ways to measure sustained or follow on sales.

When people don’t try to find common goals they stop caring about each other’s needs. I’ve heard brilliant Marketing people refer to Technical Support as an obstacle because they needed a key feature added to the product that would decrease the technical support burden. Support often accuses Marketing of “not caring about the customer” because of bugs that knowingly get to the field. Different disciplines within a company have to gain an understanding of the various aspects of the business to understand what their colleagues goals are and why. If Marketing and Support start to think of the full life cycle of the product as “ours” rather than “us and them”, they can make business decisions together and serve the customers more thoroughly.

The real conflicts arise when groups are steeped in a diving catch culture that rewards individual achievement, at the expense of teams. These kinds of groups often believe they are the only people that know how to “fix” things. I have worked with a Support group that believed Engineering and Marketing didn’t care about customers. They were convinced that nobody was able to “care” enough about customers to prioritize bug fixes but themselves. We had some of the support folks rotate through Development Testing to give them an understanding of the challenges faced in product readiness. They built relationships with other parts of the business and their attitude changed significantly. Making people walk a mile in someone else’s shoes creates empathy.

Lacking clear organizational deliverables will also cause friction between groups. People are sometimes given high-level ambiguous goals and sent off to add value. They aren’t sure what to deliver so they look to other groups to help define goals or they’ll come up with them individually. Unfortunately, either approach is at the individual level and ensures inconsistency within the group and loss of credibility. In the worst cases, folks will begin to make demands on other groups and complain when they don’t receive what they’ve asked for. Well-defined deliverables are essential to accountability and they also have to have buy in from stakeholders. Open communications is the key. Talk about expectations in specific terms. It’s easier to meet deliverables if you know what they are.

The one common cure for organizational frictions is communication. People have to understand what common goals exist. They also have to have empathy for one another and be motivated to help resolve each other’s obstacles. Common enemies sometimes fill this role, but it is far more positive to identify common causes. Building a culture of positive focus and open communications will make “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” unacceptable.

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3 comments to Living In a “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” Culture

  • Bill

    Couldn’t agree more….failure to truly communicate leads to breakdown.

    Whenever I read about team communications or lack thereof, I’m always reminded of large technical solutions or systems. And how quickly the entire system grinds to a halt when the interfaces between components is not agreed upon, developed against or tested.

  • Keith

    So I believe I understand what you are saying, which means I guess I don’t 😛

    … seriously though… Agree on communication of clear deliverables. But I don’t believe that goals need to be ‘common’ in order to be effective. In fact that can be the death of any X-functional collaboration.

    For instance, one groups reason for existence will have goals that may, as you quite correctly pointed out, appear incongruous with another groups goals (also derived from their valid reason for existence).

    Common goals blur the functional differences between disparate groups, or worse, get lip service and you are back at square one.

    In fact the only effective solution is communication, as you pointed out, but coupled with empathy for other groups goals, and reaching consensus (which does not equal unilateral agreement) on the best way to move forward…

    … but I have probably missed the point.

  • Jashoda

    Communication in this culture, frequently is translated as being able to effectively deliver a message. I wish more people sharpened their listening skills. Actively listening to stakeholders and customers can easily dilute our complex perceptions of a hot issue :)

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