If you feel like there’s some kind of weird secret pattern to obstruction of good ideas and acountability, you’re right. Those who should be held accountable (“leaders,” managers, those with power) and refuse to do so follow a pattern of action either consciously or unconsciously.
I call it the “3-D” defence (first unveiled in my 1997 book The Age of Outrage and later in my 2007 book Corporate Personality Disorder). I still see it everyday in politics, the workplace, institution and organization actions, and personal behavior. Here’s how it works and the words spoken.
The scene: You have found strong evidence that change must occur. There is a great sense of risk and urgency. You have solid evidence. Action is needed. You go to those with the power to make things happen. Here’s what you get:
- Deny and destroy: “I don’t see any problem. Your evidence is shaky. Unscientific. This is just the squeaky wheel and a few trouble makers.”
- Deflection: “Okay, so you’ve got proof. Well it’s not my (department or agency) problem. That’s their problem (name another department).” “Well, yeah, I see the problem but we have no control over that. It’s the way the rules are written. We can’t chanage that.”
- Delay: “Oh. I see you have a plan on how we DO have control over change. Things like communication, conflict management, fairness, and respect. These are great ideas. Let’s form a committee, working group, fact-finding team (add more) and let’s really dig into the solutions. We’ll meet every month for a year or if longer if it takes!” (In a government a commission of inquiry, public inquiry, or other bureaucratic entanglement can be named). The idea of a delay is to get as many people involved as possible (labelled “consultation”), and drag things out as long as possible, hoping for in-fighting, divide and conquor and just plain attritution due to boredom and lack of progress.
Self-defence to the 3-D defence
I have seen firsthand the 3-D Defence in my life as a senior bureaucrat in government, with my clients struggling to enact social policy change, and with groups trying to make improvements to workplace cultures, structures, systems and the climate. Here are the self-defence measures you need to know about and use.
- Your facts and research need to be air-tight, credible, and focussed. Stay on target. Part of the Deny and destroy defence is to get you drifting onto other unrelated topics where you don’t have evidence. Remember Sun Tzu said “They who create the battlefield win the battle” (or something like that). A key part to your sharp focus is the vivid, emotionally-laden, and strong picture of what will happen if the change doesn’t occur and who will wear that.
- Your hard facts will also be a counter-measure to Deflection. You must show that yes indeed there are many actions that are within the power of the workplace or organization to make change. The most common and most impactful are changes to communication–how information is shared, heard, and operationalized. This is the root of collaboration, cooperation, and coordination. The good news is that we know from organization research that workplace issues are all interconnect to various degrees. One change can easily ripple throughout this interconnectivity.
- Don’t fall for the “Delay” tactic. It’s a tried and true method of turning marble into mush. Yes, things take time. But set short and sharp deadlines, clear responsibilities and accountabilities. Beware of too many groups or people getting involved. In moving forward it’s often “the more the messier” not “more the merrier.”