Half Truths: Exhaustion, Vacations and Lipstick

Leaving to spend time with family and hospitalized for exhaustion. Recognize these as code speak? In the business world, an executive is “fired” but the reason is given as spend time with family. A celebrity parties to hard or has a drug overdose the reason is the half truth of hospitalized for exhaustion. This is positive publicity to cover a negative situation. It’s “spin.” In December of 2014, Tesla said it missed 4Q deliver predictions because customers were on vacation and could not accept delivery.
Imagine a new person come in and with no other detail than we missed numbers because people were on vacation and could not accept delivery. The new person would pitch “virtual delivery.” When your car arrives, our concierge will take you through a visual inspection of your vehicle and use an e-signature to accept. or deliver directly to you. Specify where you will be and we’ll bring the car to you for your acceptance then ship to you. Basically introducing new complex projects that address the spin that cover up the more probable problem a manufacturing capacity issues.
In March of 2015, Macy’s said it’s sales were low because their typical shopper …likes going to the off-price retailers because she doesn’t have to put lipstick on,” What would happen if a new person in charge of sales comes in and hears this and nothing else except the root cause of the problem is shoppers don’t want to wear lipstick. Queue up a huge campaign that invites women to shop without lipstick, we don’t care how you look, we care how you buy, come shop with us, Oh wait, we have to spin that, we embrace your inner beauty, let your skin breathe and your essence glow. Enjoy our judgment free beauty zone for your shopping experience, Now it starts to sound downright silly.
With Macy’s and Tesla, there is a good chance no one acted to solve the “spin” problem, those are rather obvious. But, what happens on a smaller scale, internally? What happens when organizations believe the spin? It obfuscates the problem and sends people working on non-existent problems while the real issues get worse. Why? No one wants to report bad news and when a group finds a clever way to say, cut costs, they aren’t going say, hey, we just slashed our budget by 50% by putting our work on someone else. No they build a business case that starts the spin cycle. Think about self checkout. Wow, the spin is, get out of the store faster, do it yourself. The true business value saves the store money, it may or may not save you time.

This week, I saw two different projects at work with the “spin issue.” The project leaders are new to the organization and don’t know what to ask. While there are moments when things do seem a bit confused, the new people tell themselves, this is because I’m new and I don’t fully understand all of this yet. The fact is, in one case, an application went away without a replacement. Of course,it wasn’t presented that way. The business case presented beautifully laid out a scenario, so clever over a two-year period and resources changes, it became easy to assume “the details” were being handled by some other group.

If you’re new, ask the questions. Believe it or not, you’re in the best place to see what works and hear what sounds like fiction. If you know the history, you can start to unravel the spin. Trace the history, list all problems and issues. Identify which problems the “spin” addresses and raise questions about the problems it doesn’t. For the retail example, the spin possibly addressed the millennial women, but what about the other age groups who also so a drop in? Finally, if you are leading a project of spin, do the previous step and introduce the root cause(s) so the team has an awareness and examines the data. For example, while it may seem people were unable to accept cars because of vacations, did we miss the delivery date, to begin with? Could that many people have scheduled the delivery of a new car when they had planned to be on vacation? been on vacation? You are going to have to work a little harder to shift the focus from the perceived problem to the real problem. You may not be able to change the direction of the project, but you can document.

1. Document assumptions. Typically, these are things you believe true and if not, would impact the entire project. In this case, you will need to document the things people believe true and have a meeting to validate the assumptions. Determine the impact of those that are false to the project. For example, one assumption is funding is available. If funding is not, document that as an issue.
2. Document risks. Look at all the issues. What is the impact to the project? What is the risk to the success of the project.? Include the probability (very likely, most likely…) and the impact (high, medium or low.)

Bringing the issues and some type of risk mitigation and contingency plan forward to your executive sponsors can at least help you and your team move forward. There are times when spin is out of your control. Acknowledge it for what it is and move on. The spin is out of your control.
Growing up, my mom put a spin on liver. To get my sibling to eat liver, she said liver is meat flavored bubble gum. So my brilliant brother chewed a few times and spit it out because you don’t swallow bubble gum. You don’t ingest the bubblegum and you don’t feed off the spin.

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