Why Do Organizations Fib?

Accountability Communication Organizational leadership


Key Point: Why do organizations consistently choose to replace versus helping people adapt and improve? Most companies convince themselves that they want to coach and develop folks based on timely, direct, caring feedback. While well intended, this statement is actually… Ok, I’ll call it as a I see it – an organization fib. I’ve watched this dishonesty thrive over the last 40 years. Why do we too often prefer to fire and hire someone new, rather than have the tough conversations involved in real development coaching?

Maybe you know this person? At some time he/she is designated a “keeper” in the organization, and perhaps even placed on the high potential list (that most companies claim do not exist). They likely even received some company award or recognition along with a number of promotions. Then, somewhere or time, they become very replaceable and are eventually asked to leave the company. Frankly, some of these folks do fail to personally grow, and become complacent, or even entitled. And they probably do need to exit. However, I wonder if leaders become “psychologically lazy” when it comes to really helping people reinvent themselves. The hard truth is that giving meaningful, caring, tough minded feedback is very challenging. Tasha Eurich in her great book, INSIGHT, describes how most people would rather tell a white lie than the painful truth. Hence, too many people think they are doing just fine in a job, even great, and then they get called into that meeting room, where the boss and HR person are sitting with a glum look and a closed folder on the table in front of them. The formerly excellent employee suddenly realizes they’re going to get fired.

I talked to one of these fired people this past week. A month before being dismissed, a review from his/her leader stated that although results were not perfect, things were going in the right direction. The employee’s impression leaving the review, was that overall they were doing ok. My belief: His/her leader was not directly and explicitly frank, and the team member was not very astute reading between the lines. Result: Fired one month later. Could this have been avoided? I think so.  The sad truth is that this person’s replacement will likely be a “star” for a while, and eventually experience the same outcome. Organizations repeat this nonsense too often, and somehow talk themselves into a belief that they are “upgrading the company.” I have my doubts. (We need some more research to test this premise).

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Please, if you’re a leader, be explicit and direct with people reporting to you. Point out where they are doing well with specificity. Where they are not, tell them exactly the behavior that’s out of step. And when they are at risk of losing their jobs, DO NOT SUGAR COAT IT. Tell them that exactly. And then ask them if they understand the situation. No improvement equals no job.
  2. Never assume that what you’ve done in the past is a gateway to future employment. Constantly reinvent, develop yourself and confirm you are meeting or exceeding your leader’s expectations. Ask them directly for that confirmation. Be constructively paranoid (not fearful).

Less fibs in personal leadership,


One Millennial View: The problem with riding on the “no news is good news” philosophy that I believe many Millennials would prefer, is that we are likely not going to be told any bad news before it’s too late. I think there’s a lot of ego and pride with not expecting or asking for any feedback at work. After all, we’re simply just doing our jobs. But when it comes down to your professional livelihood, it might be best to just check and see once in a while how your boss feels about your recent performance. Maybe at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis