‘God Syndrome’ and how it affects your organization

One banana skin for the Entrepreneur and Senior Executive is the “God Syndrome” as I call it.

Let me explain. Have you ever played computer games? Amongst many modes in which a user / player can play a game is in the ‘God’ mode. Wikipedia defines this as “In health-based video games, god mode, infinite health or infinite life, is a game mechanic or cheat that prevents a playing character from being harmed, sustaining damage, and ultimately, dying. By contrast, invincibility or invulnerability is a usually temporary instance of this effect, obtainable in games with it as a power-up.” In other words, you are infallible. You cannot make mistakes.

Now converting this to a corporate scenario, the “God Syndrome” is a malaise, mostly from the entrepreneur or a very senior / knowledgeable resource, where (s)he gets stuck in the “I cannot be wrong” vortex. Now you’d say, this can be a good thing; conviction is a positive trait. Right?

Let’s just step back a little. Conviction and the God Syndrome are not the same thing, though an extreme sense of conviction, allied with the power to implement what ‘you’ feel is right, can lead to this sense of infallibility. Especially for an entrepreneur.

You are the visionary, you have the idea, you have got the funding, have built up the organization from scratch… this breeds arrogance. This diminishes, and in time completely erodes the ability to listen. To learn, too. And as we know, the organization that has stopped learning, is the organization that has stopped growing.

Also, this demotivates other innovative people, who one day were attracted to your vision and flocked to work for you…. If you are always right, the only ones in your organization who will live and prosper will be order-takers. The disruptives, the game-changers will either get demotivated, or move out. For the creative and the innovative, a job done well is not enough of a stimulant. Salary, big bonuses are not enough of a stimulant. You, the leader, would absolutely require to let them think on the job, and allow them a platform where their ideas are heard. Heard for the quality of the idea, rather than other factors… rank etc.

Entrepreneurs should be wary of this. At times, all that others in your firm want is to be listened, and to be given their due importance. Listening does not demean the leader, listening makes a leader a better leader. Also remember, most importantly, listening is not the same as buying in. John P Kotter, in his book ‘Buy-In’ speaks about passive agreement, which sometimes is worse than disagreement. You can see disagreement, therefore you can work on it. Passive agreement is a malaise you cannot see. And you, as an entrepreneur would rather have disagreeing voices than passive agreements.

Cognitive Biases and Management Decision Making –part 1

During a performance appraisal session, one of the managers in the room was promoting his employee. This individual employee had completed his most recent assignment before the deadline and to the liking of the customer. The person certainly deserved credit and most in the room, rated him high. However, no one ever questioned whether the employee was a consistent high performer over past one year.
Most managers, being as human we are, ( some may debate that about his/her direct supervisor) are prone to such behavioural biases. In the earlier paragraph, the entire term suffered from what we call as “recency bias”. We get carried away by more recent events during our decision making process.

In this discussion, which I intend to write as a short series of articles, I would like to touch upon few of such behavioural biases and how they impact managerial decision making. So let us get going.

We tend to hold on to our losses for too long and cash our gains very quickly. Why not cut our losses quickly ? We believe that the loss making propositions will magically become profitable one fine morning!! You have probably experienced it… while debating whether to sell when the stock market tanks and goes for a nose dive. Is it the same reason why managers hold on to projects that are not going anywhere? They continue to invest company’s resources in projects which yield nothing until they are forced to shut them down. Such “loss aversion” or “escalation of commitment” could be completely avoided only if we did not suffer from such inherent biases as humans.

Let us shift gears and discuss about delivering bad news to our people. How would you communicate layoff decision for a large group ? Do you do it in one go or tend to deliver small doses of it hoping to ease the pain? Imagine the nurse slowly pulling out the bandage from a dressed wound. Thankfully they pull it off in one go. The rapid pull triggers a sharp spike of pain. But isn’t making it a slow process more painful? We tend to often pull the bandage slowly by spreading the layoff over multiple months or quarters. I am not arguing against cases where you may want few people to stay for some time for an ongoing project!! Often management inflicting such pain to the organization over long period results in a sick organization with low motivation and energy.
In the next part, we will look at influences of biases such as “halo effect” and “framing”.

Meanwhile let us continue with our effort to behave both human and rational beings….

How do you ensure you have the right strategy?

Are Strategy and Execution two different things? How do you ensure you have the right strategy? How do you ensure that strategy is executed well? If a great strategy produces poor results, how can we argue that it is great?  Are execution problems symptoms of trouble upstream in the strategy-development process?


Of course, Strategy and Execution are two different things, but let us start with the last question – Yes, to a large extent, execution problems emerge due wrong strategy (*** Don’t jump on to conclusion that right strategy exists). Some leaders argue that a non-executable strategy is not a strategy in essence; this is little too harsh statement for the most admired business concept “Strategy” – A Strategy that seems non-executable for one organization, can do wonders for others; it is just identifying the right catalysts while formulating a strategy. Right Catalysts?

Right Catalysts – Go back to the old school thoughts, core-competencies/ capabilities. It is important first step to identify your capabilities to start developing a “Capability-Based Strategy” – In reference to the given questions, I will term it as the Right Strategy. Then analyze the capabilities based on your identified target market/ pond to fish (Remember capabilities can become weaknesses if right “Pond to Fish” is not selected). Another important factor to consider here is organization’s strategic landscape i.e. does the management want to make a short-term strategy and let the company emerge from its current position or the focus is long-term destination (*** Changes in the Strategic Landscape can make the right strategy wrong – After making a short-term strategy, it is insane to define long-term gains).

Execution Excellence is a vast subject, but at the core, it heavily depends on organizational culture and structure e.g. in a fairly horizontal organization where many people at different levels are empowered to take decisions regarding the pieces of strategic initiatives, the only drive could be integrating/ aligning people and process to achieve excellence; in other environments, there could be other drivers such change management.

Great Strategy, Poor Results – Not a right fit!

Q …. Is it possible in advance of an integration or organisation change, to tell if the integration or change will be possible, successful and what actions will be required ? If so How ?

Q > Is it possible in advance of an integration or organisation change, to tell if the integration or change will be possible, successful and what actions will be required ? If so How ?

A > I would be more concerned about the long-term value, rather than focusing on justifying the Integration Success Criteria. Success of an integrated unit is directly proportional to the merger of two cultures to create high-performance new team. “Team” is the operative word here. Leaders fail to realize that integration of people who represent completely different cultures due to different sets of beliefs and corporate stories/ DNA is not a short-term task.

Corporate Story creation is a very important first step i.e. how does the CEO see new company after N years; how would the CEO transform new company to desired state within N – 1st statement signifies Vision, and 2nd statement refers to the identification steps to achieve targets. Two things are very important here: 1) Defining N, which will represent the pace at which integration or transformation should take place 2) Continuously telling the corporate story to all the stakeholders – Remember, it is an integration of cultures, so continuous communication to every level of the organization will not leave any scope for doubts that could be detrimental (under communication vacuum, people generally discuss worst case scenarios).

Having said all of the above, it is important to define success criterion and measurement technique; remember, measurement needs to take place continuously during the integration process, and not just at the end of defined period.

The “Rich” vs “King” analogy

If you, as an entrepreneur or a budding entrepreneur, do not read Noam Wasserman’s blog, you are missing something.

Do read this piece on the “Rich” vs “King” concepts for entrepreneurs. You know, neither Rich, nor King, as concepts, are poor unless they are not in tune with the nature of the organization or its founders.

What you should remember, my entrepreneur friend, is to ensure that the monster you are creating, is your monster. Find out your true vision about yourself behind setting up the organization, stick to it, and build the organization from that starting point.

And no, you cannot have your pie and eat it too.

You are a decision maker, you claim.

So Decide!