Is Organizational Irrationality Driving You Crazy?

Countless times I have heard heated comments about the irrational behaviors of others: in business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-government (B2G), it’s the client; within an organization, it’s sales or corporate headquarters or… the list goes on! Others’ actions elicit a response that used to be reserved for Dan Quayle, the former vice-president to George H. Bush, when he once again figuratively shot himself in the foot: “What was he thinking?”

There’s more behind any behavior that has you shaking your head wondering just what the heck is wrong with them?

What’s wrong exactly? They are human.

Dan Ariely, social scientist and New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational, sums it up this way:

  1. “We have many irrational tendencies.”
  2. “We are often unaware of how these irrationalities influence us, which means that we don’t fully understand what drives our behavior.”

Irrational behavior is an opportunity for increasing organizational effectiveness. It is both a symptom and an attribute of being human.

You must create a context that cultivates rational behaviors and decision-making. The first two contributors to context we know well:

  1. Ensure that the objective is clear, and
  2. The evidence for having achieved it is clearly articulated.

Beyond that, task leaders who have observed or whose divisions engage in “irrational behavior” to identify the assumptions informing the decision-making process and to then test those assumptions with other stakeholders. You can bet there will be some valuable insights that revise the assumptions. Those insights, coupled with some surprisingly small process-based changes, can put performance on track.

Task your leaders to be rigorous in discerning whether people are operating from habit based on past conditions. If they are, get them adapting and innovating to respond to emergent conditions.  This is where an external consultant—one who isn’t part of your organization’s habitual way of thinking and doing—can be of value.

Whatever you do, be kind: do not assume other people’s irrational behavior is due to their defectiveness or brokenness. Instead, assume their humanity.

In kindness, however, do not abdicate respect—respect that you demonstrate by assuming their capacity to succeed and by holding them accountable for achieving the business objective.

Here’s to being human!

Update: Making assumptions implicit is so important I wrote the second eBook in the Hidden Solutions series on it! Hidden by Assumptions: Uncovering Solutions for Your Important Business Challenges.


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