For years, my reason why list stopped at two, but I knew the list was incomplete. Some decisions, I simply couldn’t explain as marketing efforts or avoiding litigation. Logic told me that reason number three existed, but finding it proved elusive.
I tried to make sense out of seemingly random decisions. Why did my company endorse that particular political candidate? Why did Camel retire the Old Joe mascot? Why has business casual attire become so common in the workplace? Why did American Idol finally allow online voting?
Reasons 1 and 2 certainly played a part in those answers. Pending litigation had a role in Camel Joe’s demise. A more relaxed dress code can attract employees (that’s marketing, isn’t it?).
I searched for patterns and then, it came to me in the midst of a bristly workplace debate over summer dress code. We had enjoyed many years of business casual and, over time, the standards sunk lower and lower. Frayed jeans, tees with holes and flip flops became all too common. At times, people were sent home to change. I remember one woman with a penchant for wearing skirts just a bit too short and halter tops showing too much skin. We had a chat and I asked her to dress more professionally. She broke into tears and said that she was trying to dress appropriately. If I didn’t believe her, she said, I should see what she wore when she went out clubbing.
After years of backsliding, senior management (which included me) decided it was time to raise the bar. The proposed new standards outlawed shorts in the workplace and, in general, had less tolerance for exposed flesh. The proposal caused an uproar. To avoid complete mutiny, we modified the proposal. In version two, the stricter dress code was required for management only. In making management the sacrificial lamb, we had stemmed the tide of rebellion amongst the masses while still pleasing the higher ups.
What did our dress code changes have in common with Camel Joe’s early retirement? I’ll tell you what. Lubrication. Grease makes the world go round. Greased wheels, greased gears, greased palms, it doesn’t matter – lubrication helps. A contentious staff needs a reason to calm down. Backing a political candidate can influence legislation which affects future corporate earnings. Supporting the local charity in the corporate HQ’s home town goes a long way towards buying goodwill.
Friction reduces efficiency. Friction causes worse mean time between failures. Friction slows down the operation. Lubrication eliminates friction, literally and figuratively. When reason #1 and #2 don’t suffice, when a decision defies all logical explanation, look for lubrication as the reason. Somewhere, a stuck wheel is becoming unstuck. Somewhere, the noise level is quieting. Somewhere, a compromise is made in the name of progress.
Oh yeah … I almost forgot. Why did American Idol finally allow online voting? You might say they were meeting customer demand. You might call it peer pressure. After all, The Voice did it and so did X-Factor. I call it lubrication. Forcing the public to vote by phone created friction between the show and its viewing audience. In this case, allowing online voting was the lubrication required. The producers obviously decided that eliminating viewer complaints over no online voting outweighed concerns about voter fraud.
So, there you have it, The Three Reasons Why:
– the lawyers made ’em do it
– it’s all about marketing
One of more of these answers will suffice for every business question you can dream up beginning with the words “why did they …?” I’ve tested the theory time after time and it has never failed me. May it serve you as well.
Till the next post, chris