Guy Kawasaki has a post on why he believes “Smart
People Do Dumb Things.” I agree with some of his diagnosis but disagree on one.
I agree with the following:
Lofty ends can justify all sorts of weird and inappropriate means. Look
no further than the quests for peace that produce mayhem and violence.
Or, the desire to make a profit (something that is genuinely good for
shareholders and customers) that warps a company’s code of
ethics even though the company is made up of smart, honest people.
Companies trying to achieve a lofty goal can start believing that any
means to achieve it is okay.
Arrogance. This is greed’s twin brother. Arrogance sets in when
a company claims success as if it’s a God-given right.
Arrogance also means that a company believes it’s above the
law—that no one and nothing has claims against it.
Say, believe, and act in a way that convinces employees that differences of
opinion and diversity of thoughts are good things. Frankly, a couple of curmudgeons is a good thing for a company.
Spell things out. It’s not enough to say, “Plug this leak in our
company” and assume that it will be done legally. You should say, “Plug
this leak in our company by using only legal, ethical, and reasonable
methods.” That’s when you’re done.
Squash arrogance and greed. I’ll be honest: I don’t know how to do this. If I
figure it out, it will be the topic of an upcoming blog.
I disagree and will discuss the following:
Move the crowns.
When employees go around saying, “We need to do it this way because
Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants it this way,” you’re
in trouble. It means that employees are making decisions based on what
they think will make kings and queens happy—as opposed to
what’s right for the customer, employees, or shareholders.
Good CEOs put the crown on the heads of customers, not themselves.
This is one of those “Yes, but.” kind of things. First, it assumes you know better than the CEO
what is right for customers, employees, or shareholders. To the extent
that you are wrong (and arrogantly so) and the CEO is right is the
extent to which this prescription is not only not usable, but
potentially disastrous to a company.
This can breed infighting and management at cross-purposes. Such an environment is not healthy for
employees, customers, or shareholders.
Yes, businesses and government should focus on its customers (Who the customers are is a
slippery concept because there are usually multiple classes of customers – internal and external. But I digress.). But that is far from saying the customers run the business.
Show me a company run by its customers and I’ll show you a collective out of business. Well run
businesses are run by good managers and employees working in a healthy
To actively work against what Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants, based entirely on what you interpret your
customers want, is in my opinion pure arrogance (see above), is called
insubordination, can lead to the ends justifying the means, and group
think as deadly as coming to a quick consensus.
To say the customer is king is, I think, giving an unbalanced view of the answer. Surely somebody within the organization has to take charge. Somebody has to be responsible. Somebody has to be accountable. Somebody has to lead. Somebody has to make the hard decisions that the customers can’t or won’t make. If that somebody who
has the authority is Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry, but you feel otherwise, perhaps that is your signal to leave the organization.
Yes, the customer is king. But. That doesn’t mean the king is always right.
Remember the king can cut off the heads of those he so chooses.
Smart people keep these things in mind when they hand out crowns.