Pride and ego, a sure recipe to block improvement

Let’s consider a scenario: This one company hired me as head of program management to roll out agile. When I tried to set up cross-functional teams for better delivery, my boss, the Chief Product Officer (CPO), told me that my job was to make sure her organization, Product Management, looked good. When something went wrong, as long as her group dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, they could confidently point their fingers at others. When I continued to help these cross-functional teams, she was outraged. She told me I was supposed to help her group, not engineering. She explicitly forbade me to talk to engineering and later on extended to anyone outside of her group, including her own boss, the Executive VP.

Have you ever experienced such outright resistance to agile from an executive? Did you notice how you or the rest of the company perceive and react to that kind of behavior? Do you ever wonder why they resist? These questions are important steps to figure out how to engage with the executives and even change their resistance to endorsement and active involvement. 

For that company, people saw this executive as highly political, that she only cared that she looked good, and she didn’t mind throwing mud at other groups to achieve it. Some people in her group cringed and wanted to get away from her. I was one of them. The rest of the company were in CYA mode (cover your “behind”). Yet, some people in her group liked her style, and thought she was a good example for success. Since she had a checklist for everything to ensure her group was blameless, it’s easy for people to follow the list and claim they did everything and confidently point their fingers at others.

So, why would an executive behave this way? Simply put, power, status and empire building. 

It doesn’t matter what ethnicity or nationality the person is or what geography the person is in, these politically motivated outcomes come from pride and ego. If we dive deeper into the politically motivated outcomes, we may realize that some of them pursue those because that’s what they are conditioned to do. That’s what the schools taught them, and that’s what they have seen their predecessors did. They are to focus on competition instead of collaboration. They don’t know there is a different way of working, and they are uncomfortable to admit they don’t know everything. They get promoted by what they know, and they do not want to look like an idiot.

I have also encountered senior management who get promoted only because they play politics well. They are afraid that people would find out they are not competent in their craft. They would rather play politics than improve their competency because they are afraid of people noticing their weakness and would exploit it.

Before we figure out a solution to engage or even change their resistance to endorsement and active involvement, I’d like to know if you agree with my assessment on why executives would behave that way. Drop me a note below. I love to hear your feedback.

On October 29, together with my colleagues in the UK and US, we’re doing an encore, USA edition. We’ll be sharing our stories about resistance to Agile that comes from senior executives. Are we going to find the problems divergent across the pond, or are they ubiquitous? Would we be able to find the same solutions to the senior management resistance problem? Come join in the discussion.

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