The Moral Hazard Of Lazy Thinking

John Lennon quote - artisticleader

I spend a fair amount of time arguing against the trappings of easy thinking, or as I like to call it, lazy thinking. This type of thinking relies on assumptions that sound logical to determine choices, actions, and judgments. It’s a part of human nature, and it’s a problem for managers.

In his post, “Moral hazard and inhumanity,” Seth Godin talks about a form of lazy thinking, moral hazards. The concept is simple enough. It says that without consequences, people and organizations will make choices that may harm themselves and society. Like most of Mr. Godin’s posts, this is pretty short. I recommend reading it.

He gives a few examples, some which show how this is not true for individuals (knowledge of cancer rarely stops smoking, for example). He gave one example that resonated with me:

Waiting for an employee to screw up so we can fire her seems a convoluted way to set a standard for the rest of the team.

I only wish I could say that I have not seen this in real life. Regrettably, that’s not the case. Now, it’s never the case that this approach to leadership was taken specifically to fire someone. Usually, it was masked behind:

  • We’re too busy (or moving too fast) to write policies, processes, and procedures.
  • We only want people who “know” the right thing to do.
  • We’ve never written a handbook so we’ll just address things as they happen.

Let’s be clear. You’re not too busy or moving too fast to write the policies that define acceptable behavior, processes that increase efficiencies, and procedures that ensure preferred outcomes. You’re telling yourself that to either pump your (or your company’s) ego or avoid the work of writing those things.

You may only want to hire people who “know” the right thing to do but so does everyone else in the market. Those people want to work for organizations that have their shit together. As long as you take the stance that you would rather hire people to read your mind than to read your processes, you are going to be a “less than perfect” choice for these candidates. They know laziness in leadership when they see it.

You may not have written a handbook before, but you probably have not built or sold whatever it is your organization does before either. Not having done something before isn’t an effective leader’s excuse for not doing it now. The time and resources you spend investing in a handbook that provides guidance for employees and protections for the organization are worth the investment. Just watch the expression on the face of that new hire when you tell her that you don’t have a handbook. That look will say volumes. (Note: she didn’t ask about it hoping that the answer was “we don’t have one.”)

Leaders of all levels are at their best when they avoid giving in to laziness and model the planning and decisiveness they seek in employees.

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