How to see through your assumptions about your people

By Andrew Bass | Articles, Newsletter

Tags: Andrew Bass, BehaviorArticles, Newsletter

Have you ever been stunned to learn a fact about a coworker that shattered an assumption you had about them? Here are some of the ones I've come across:

  • A gentle policy researcher whose hobby was white-collar boxing.
  • A school administrator who had long jumped for Great Britain.
  • A clinical psychologist who had toured internationally as a backing singer for acts such as Paul Weller and Foreigner.
  • An engineer who lived on a smallholding where he bred sheep.
  • An introverted computer scientist who played lead guitar in a rock band that regularly played to hoards of tattooed Harley-Davidson-riding bikers.
  • A banker who, despite no formal training in the subject, was a regular and active participant in weekly astrophysics seminars at one of the world's top universities.
  • A temporary secretary who solved the final clue in a cryptic crossword that had baffled two computer science professors.

My conclusion: THEY are not like we think they are.

Here’s why it matters.

You'll find no shortage of consultants and software vendors exhorting you to provide a "seamless end-to-end customer journey", and offering methods and apps to magically make it so. Yet everybody who has to deal with an internet/phone/tv provider, or a bank, knows how hard they seem to find it. Don't they know the tools? Haven't they got the apps?

Tools and methods are helpful, but they’re not enough. There's a missing factor. Call it: "Us and Them."

When managers are blaming engineers, or sales is blaming production and everybody is blaming IT, legal, or finance, the whole business suffers.

Every story of business failure included caricaturing groups of people who are actually supposed to be colleagues. You know the sort of thing: “All those 'Geeks' are like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.” “All those 'Suits' are like the Alec Baldwin character from Thirty Rock.” It's natural to buy into the caricatures – that's why those shows are funny. 

After all, a lot of comedy is about laughing at dysfunction.

That’s fine for entertainment after a busy day at work, but not so good on the job. Leaders have to challenge themselves to see past the “Us and Them” caricatures. 

That’s why I started with the list of real people who challenge the stereotypes. No doubt you can make your own list. It's a fun and valuable exercise: start chipping away at the assumptions that get in the way of running the business.