You may have been introduced to the concept in business school, you have been practicing it your entire life, especially when you were younger, and now you find its use as common as grass. It is called the filter. Cleaning up our dirty laundry, skewing the meaning so as to cushion the blow; “We did not have a fire Sir, rather it was a small thermal expansion event, and it was nothing!” The amount of energy that is wasted by maintaining the filter in the average American Corporation amounts to very little, and if we were able to regain all of the energy that is used up by keeping the filter alive, it would be negligible!
Come on …do you really believe that? Of course not!
So if this exercise is robing us of our resources (which hopefully equates to profits in your organization), why do we keep doing it? Is it custom, is it habit? Is it useful?
Here is a thought, I am willing to bet that most individuals will filter their news before it is presented because of fear that if their boss was to know the truth, he/she may just overreact and cause a bunch of extra work. Their manager is Reactive. Yes, it’s true; we place the filter between layers of management like a sandwich cookie so that we might diminish the amount of Reactive behavior that exists in the company. So it is fairly easy to see that Reactive Management is a cause of the filter being present, and it promotes the organic growth and spread of the filter, but does it in turn promote Reactive behavior? Is this a vicious cycle that tailspins into the heart of corporate communication? If so, can we ever pull out of the damning stall?
I argue yes on both counts, and here is why!
By filtering, we are actually conditioning. It is the same concept used to train dogs, and we turn right around and use it on our bosses. It exists at every level from the factory worker all the way up to the board of directors. When we filter information, we present a picture, a truth…a false reality in which our manager lives and breathes. Whither they are naive enough or not to know that they are being feed utopian poison cookies doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that they have now been conditioned to a reality, fact or fiction, which does not truly exist. So what do they do with this reality? They dress it up in ribbons, plaster it on their report, spreadsheet, email, etc. and send it to their boss so that we might hoist this falsehood up the ladder.
This usually causes problems in only abnormal situations. Lets examine product recalls for instance. There is not a single product recall in the modern manufacturing world that does not have the filter and Reactive Management to blame for its size and lack of timely adherence! Every time one of these investigations is conducted, it always turns out that some low level engineer found a defect and reported it to his/her manager who then dressed up the problem and “kinda reported it” to their director, only to find that 300,000 units and two deaths later, “Hey, maybe I should have told somebody?”
“Well, we have to meet our production quota, and Bill, well he worries to much, I will just tell the director in a small memo that I will write on a napkin so as not to leave a paper trail, that we have some small concerns but are diligently working through them and obtaining our production goals!” Bravo Mr. Filter Mouth! You are the cause for three lawsuits and millions of dollars of lost profits, a never-ending mound of paperwork that will be required by the guy that has to fill your position (because it won’t be you anymore), and a tarnished corporate imagine that will haunt the company for the next ten years!
No wonder when these upper level managers find out the Truth, they over react, they haven’t seen it. They can handle it, remember, they have been conditioned to live in an easier reality.
Now obviously you, the reader should not go to your manager and confess all of your problems. After all, they are your problems and you are paid to solve them, but, your manager should have the stomach to handle the truth about your project or production situation when the time comes. If we had more truth and less filter, perhaps we could work in a company that is truly less Reactive!