Babies, Bathwater and Buzzword Bashing

Babies, Bathwater and Buzzword Bashing

The amazing practice of blaming the last thing

Buzzword bashing – categorically dismissing a management paradigm, approach, process, fad, or previous initiative – is a go-to change strategy for many organizations (though most won’t say that).  It is also a sign that you’re likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

“Agile (or OKRs, or lean, or some other paradigm) doesn’t work here.”

“We’re firing all the product owners and scrum masters.”

 

I’ve heard many versions of these statements from very senior leaders, and I’ve read them in quite a few articles about large companies making significant changes.  The specific paradigms have changed over decades, so feel free to replace the word “agile” in this article with any paradigm of your choice that was attempted in your organization.

Buzzword bashing is awesome

Categorically dismissing the old thing can be really effective. 

  • It can provide closure for a challenged past.   It’s like having a shipping container dropped off outside your office building – into which you can put all the things that give you a hard time.   The container is sent away somewhere, and with it, your problems (right?). 

  • It can unite your people around a common enemy and create an impetus for the next change.

  • It can cut costs quickly. You will be able to let go of everyone with a related role or title, and in some cases get rid of an entire group.  Is there a better way to show your effectiveness as a new leader than a significant cost savings?  You mean business. You get results. And in the process, you’ll get rid of any opposition.

  • It can buy you time, pointing attention away from the nastiest of your organization’s problems for a while. 

  • And, it’s easy.  Just name the thing and start bashing.  Others will follow suit. Everyone loves a scapegoat.

 

Buzzword bashing is usually throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Unfortunately, however, buzzword bashing has significant negative impacts. Most of these impacts will only be felt over time.

Like the metaphorical baby being thrown out with the bathwater, significant value, learning, and potential change impact is lost with buzzword bashing. 

  • It sweeps under the carpet incredible learning opportunities about the organization and its tolerance for change.   

  • Some of the people you got rid of might actually have the skills and behaviors your organization needs more of.

  • It preserves the status quo and solidifies your problems by allowing only those who represent the old ways to stay. The people remaining are smart – they will remember what happened and be expect the same to happen with the next “flavor of the month”. 

This gets us to the worst problem of all.  Your organization is likely to repeat the same mistakes when the next buzzword surfaces.  The problems haven’t been fixed – you’ve just bought some time.  If one thing has improved, it is your people’s ability to surf from one paradigm to the next, and your organization’s resilience against change. 

 

Change leaders don’t distract with a smear campaign

Be wary of buzzword bashing and of people resorting to it, especially when they are change leaders. Leaders of lasting change and improvement extract value, learning, and insights from past efforts. They build upon these things, rather than destroy them to start from ground zero and the status quo.

For those who really want to enable sustaining change and great change leaders in their organizations, the next post will explore this topic further. For example, how easy it is to make a compelling case for it, how it prevents learning and extracting value from the past, and what can be done instead.   Knowing these things, you can hopefully head it off, and at the very least try to keep the baby.