5150 Business Strategy

Life in the Corporate Fast Lane and Still Remaining Intelligent

Doing the Right Thing Versus Doing Things Right

A very subtle distinction which is lost on many in management and leadership roles. They become caught up in making sure that things are always done right without first seeing if they are actually doing the right thing – doing the wrong thing extremely well but to no avail.

Political correctness sometimes dictates doing the wrong thing even though just about everyone knows it is not the right thing. My mantra has always been that I will not sacrifice doing the right thing just because it is not the politically correct thing to do. Unfortunately there are many others who will turn a blind eye and do the most expedient thing in order to keep favor with upper management, especially if that management rewards those who stay in line at the expense of rocking the boat.

Companies enforcing policies without evaluating the changing environment they are operating in risk falling out of step with changing times. How many times have you heard someone say, “we do it this way because it is our policy”? There is no reexamination to see if the policy fits the current situation, it is done this way because we “want to do things right”. You could provide copious examples of why the policy no longer fits but the policy thumpers will treat you as unenlightened and admonish you for not wanting to do things “right”. Trying to get these wrong headed people to see that something they are doing may not be the right thing is akin to being a salmon trying to swim upstream. Going against the flow by doing the right thing may sometimes be very dangerous to your career.

Obviously, some things are not worth fighting over and you need to pick your battles. I have found, however, that many in management find it easier to do things right since there are no negative consequences. Making the decision to do the right thing can have career limiting implications and the lack of back bone in some managers makes it easier for them to cop the plea, “I did everything right”.

I would venture to say that many of the largest business debacles over the last decade were facilitated by managers who convinced themselves that doing things right was more important than doing the right thing.

Lesson Learned: doing the right thing is not the same as doing things right.

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