Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cigarette butts in organizations

I was lying on the beach near St Tropez a couple of days ago and suddenly I noticed something that sent me thinking about stuff you don't really want to think about when you are on holidays. Cigarette butts. They were all over the beach - but that was not the only thing that drew my attention. "After all," I mused, "this is France... what do I expect of the French - wrap those in little plastic baggies and carry away with them? I am not insane... yet..." What really amused me was how people were behaving when they found some of those butts next to their beach blankets.

There were three typical behavioral patterns towards the cigarette butts:

  • cover them up with sand
  • shove them off towards their neighbors
  • ignore those and enjoy the sun
How often have you observed similar behavior in organizations when it comes to solving problems that nobody has any desire to face (leave alone to solve). People either try to pretend that such issues do not exist,  cover them up and hope that no one will find out or pass the buck and make it someone else's headache. It's all recurring. If you do not care for making things around you better (more beautiful, cleaner, nicer, simpler, etc), it does not matter whether we are talking about picking up trash after yourself or streamlining business processes. It always boils down to sense of responsibility and ownership.

And here we are facing a dilemma. How do we instill the feeling of ownership into our subordinates, peers and managers? If there is little accountability, you can palpably feel it in the organization. Where people do not care about development of their staff, those chores are being ignored, pushed away or done in a manner that deters others from approaching the subject ever again. It's cigarette butts all over again.

Do you have any suggestions on how to approach the cigarette butts issue?

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