This Will Never Work

I remember one time I was interviewing for a position about a world-wide transformation that started with a remark somewhat like this:
“Most people in this company think this project is going to fail. It has never worked and it will never work.”

That was a little bit of an odd conversation and in the end I am happy it never led anywhere.
Just think about it. A common piece of software was to be rolled out globally and the Program Manager/“master mind” behind it is fully aware of the slim chances of success and let’s you know right from start.

Is that an act of brutal honesty? Should I have tried much harder to get the job because it would never get any more honest than that?

Well, what it really shows is what a big divide within the company was going on at the time. (And maybe still.)

Here are some very likely stances present in the overall project context.

Don’t change my ways

Changing software is not really an emotional act, changing ways of working however can truly step people on the wrong foot.
While the project was all about streamlining, efficiency and transparency the people running the show in the markets have little interest in changing ways of working and existing processes.
Some of them might be the architects of these ways of working and processes. They could not be afraid of anything more than “looking bad”. Looking bad is even worse than “doing bad” because it might leave stains on white velvet vests..

It’s not even a rational thing, really. Yet change management has a big emotional side to it and changing processes is a tough one.

It’s not all that convincing

The reasons for starting the project are certainly sound and understood all the way up, yet there is one catch.

That idea was stuck somehwere on the higher floors of that skyscraper. Despite the belief of the ones at the top the message never made its way through the fabric of that tower.
The compelling story told up there did not get that echo it needed - for whatever reason. Maybe because the ones following did not get the story really.
Maybe because they were just not the right sound carrier to echo the story and only transported some bits and pieces they thought to be important.
Whatever happened, the story was way distorted by the time it reached some small local managers.

And there it ended up not all that convincing. That might appear not much of a deal. Yet it sets the tone for a long time and pure rationale will do little to help.
If ego and fear of loss of responsibility tag along it gets only exponentially worse.

That’s a brutal run-down isn’t it?
Not much more brutal than stating that there is almost nobody in the company who’d believe in success.

I was a little bit surprised that there is no English counterpart for the German word “Killerphrase”.
Kill-joy is headed somewhat into the direction. Yet what it really means is making statements that are more or less idea killers.
Not always intentionally, but the way they are constructed they only head towards destruction.

That was what I thought hearing when I was told:
“Most people in this company think this project is going to fail. It has never worked and it will never work.”

This is just like recapping all the resistance and lack of understanding you were facing.
The natural thing to do is to get to a clean with all stakeholders - or at least the ones open for reason and with the power to make decisions.
Starting a project like that with a starting situation that is poor at best is asking for failure.

Coming back to the opening of that interview this article started with. Here is what the opening statement was actually really saying: Hi, I am just looking for somebody taking over all the responsibility on my behalf. I have little intention setting the scene for success myself because that might be uneasy and it could get dirty.
A sound response should be: I understand. And this type of approach has never worked. Good luck. (Here we go, playing idea killer bingo! ;) )