Rule 4: Never Question Anything

A friend of mine recently recounted a story at her work that sums up Unspoken Business Rule #4 very well: never question anything.

She works at a large format printing company. They do things like bus banners and big signs for trade shows. Stuff like that. So, their biggest expenses are paper and ink. Her company received a file from one of their biggest clients. The client wanted them to run 500 large format prints. However, the client accidentally sent them the wrong file – it was a much lower resolution than you would use for a large format print. My friend walked by the high-tech machine that spits these things out and noticed that the prints were extremely pixilated and didn’t look high quality at all. She asked the manager if he was sure the client had given them the correct file.

Okay, the stage is set. Multiple choice question now. If you are print manager what do you say?

  • Yeah, I called the client because I thought this looked pretty lousy, too. They said this was the right file and they wanted a pixilated effect.
  • Yeah, I called the client because I thought this looked pretty lousy, too. They thanked me and said that they had, indeed, sent the wrong file and would email a new file asap.
  • The client? Who’s that? This is the file the dude gave me. I assumed this is what they wanted.

Since this is about never questioning anything, I’m sure you’ve guessed that our friend, print manager, responded with (3). In the end, the file was the wrong file and it resulted in thousands of dollars of lost time, paper, and ink on a job for a key client. The client took responsibility for their error in sending the wrong file but wondered why someone couldn’t have just picked up the phone and verified that this was the correct file.

Though you probably don’t work in large format printing, I bet you can identify with this story. This kind of nonsense happens every day at organizations large and small. Why didn’t print manager just pick up the phone and call the client?

  • He didn’t feel empowered to make that sort of decision
  • He only does what he’s told
  • He’s never been rewarded for giving his opinion
  • He doesn’t really care

It’s probably a combination of all of the above but the key is (2). This combination can be lethal to your organization and can easily be mistaken for apathy; it’s actually much worse. This is a person that has been conditioned to never question anything and to do only what they are told to do. “I was just following orders” has never been acceptable in the military and shouldn’t be acceptable in your business. Yet this behavior continues to prosper and even be rewarded. To understand why this behavior would be tolerated and promoted, please see “Unspoken Business Rule #2: Mediocrity Is Rewarded”.

The bottom line is that you have employees that never question anything. The reasons for this could be similar to those reasons outlined here or they could be very different. The first step is to understand where this is happening in your organization and quickly take action to fix it. Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team identifies several of these patterns and even supplies some answers to why. I highly recommend this book as it may help you navigate the sometimes difficult waters of human psychology. Do you see these same patterns going on in your organization? Here’s is Lencioni’s answer to why:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results