Organizational Insecurity

I was intrigued by a recent NYT interview with Omar Hamoui, founder and chief executive of the mobile advertising network AdMob.  Hamoui argued that organizational insecurity led to deep resistance to discussing problems:

When people are insecure, they just tend to hide and bury [problems]. The bad news eventually comes out, but it comes out all at once, and in sort of catastrophic form. I’m just much more in favor of conveying all the bad news in real time.

He continues:

If everybody at the company can feel that they’re not putting their jobs in peril by relaying those kinds of things, then you really do get a pretty accurate picture.

This manifests in a distinct culture at AdMob:

…we spend a great amount of time talking about everything that’s wrong. Not because we’re trying to be negative. You can only talk for so long about what’s going well and have it be useful. You can be a lot more productive if you spend time on the things that aren’t going well.

But this is atypical in most organizations, and so when others join the conversation, they need to be trained:

When we would have visitors come to our board meetings, I would have to spend time prepping them ahead of time, basically telling them: “Don’t worry. The company’s not falling apart. Everything’s going fine. This is just how we are.”

I often discuss the need to surface problems (here’s an earlier post on the subject), and whenever I do people get nervous about creating a culture of “whiners.”  They worry that if people are encouraged to bring up problems, particularly if they’re not on the hook for the solutions, then discussions will be reduced to toxic complaining about the other guy.  Hamoui has found just the opposite:

… nobody at AdMob is shy to point out a problem or an issue with a product or service, even if it’s a product or service that they didn’t build or they don’t own or doesn’t fall within their domain. People aren’t shy about bringing up these issues and being fairly demanding that we solve them. I think that that’s led to us being very proactive.

Every company has problems. Surfacing those problems and addressing them quickly is the sign of a healthy, secure organization.  It’s also the sign of an effective leader.  As Hamoui demonstrates, spinning reality and covering up the truth may be the more costly and dangerous path.

2 Responses to Organizational Insecurity

  1. Ken Bowen says:

    I am always amazed at how few planes crash considering there are more than 4900 daily flights worldwide. It’s even more amazing when you consider the average passenger jet weighs over 187,000 pounds and is subjected to forces during the flight that are beyond the comprehension of most. I am guessing the failure analysis in this industry must be intense, honest, uncompromised, and without ego. After all, if a failure occurs people die.
    Most companies would do well to adopt such a stringent failure analysis policy to analyze and fix their shortcomings for the betterment of the organization. Instead the “animal farm” mentality in many corporations, where most are unwilling to question, inform or discuss problems for fear of retribution, leads to ineffective businesses mired in the manucia of mediocrity. So let’s conclude: a sense of urgency surrounding this issue is lacking in most companies due to the fact that if processes or service failures continue to occur nothing dies…………except the business. R.I.P

    My hat is off to AdMob!

  2. Ting Cai says:

    It all comes down to how leaders handle the situation. Many leaders are so anxious about fixing the problems but fail to take the opportunity to probe the root causes – people and system, and to educate people around him. Many times, the first person who need to change in an organization is really the leadership himself.

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