The Cost of Defensiveness
How much does defensiveness cost? How much does it take out of your
budget at work? How much is it, costs and all, tolerated in your organization?
Besides defensiveness being a source of frustration for others, you might
be surprised, maybe even shocked, if I told you that I believe most
organizations would experience less of a loss if they had an increase
in internal theft of 10%, than 10% in defensiveness.
Does defensiveness really cost that much? What if we all had a meter
that monitored our defensiveness with others and we had to pay for
the cost incurred… what would that cost look like? A dollar a minute,
$10/minute, sometimes $1k/minute, if you’re high up in an
organization it looks like $1m or more/minute.
Can we really afford it? Although sometimes it’s easy to point the
finger at management when it comes to assessing the cost impact of
defensiveness, defensiveness can exist at all levels of the organization.
It exerts its cost at the top and the bottom, at the decision making
and at the implementing phase.
What does defensivess look like? It may feel frustrating or comforting,
based upon whether you are on the receiving or giving end. I encounter
defensiveness a lot in organizations. You may as well, if you’re responsible
for improving processes and projects. To me it regularly looks like a
blocking function, that reduces the ability to get things done. To be
defensive is to block, not integrate new data points; to stop listening to
feedback, to block what’s uncomfortable or that which we don’t want to hear.
I run into it partly because I’m involved in presenting and deploying new
management tools and processes as part of ManagePro. It happened
this last week. Gourville’s research at Harvard, predicts that
people I present to, will have the tendency to over-rate the current
tools and processes they use by a 300% factor, in the process of
defending why they should stick with the status quo and the costs of
doing business in a manner that’s comfortable for them. He also predicts
that the presenter of new ideas and processes will have the tendency
to over-rate the value and ease of the new solution by 300% if they”re
In the situation I was in, status quo means managing by email,
meetings and paper and pencil. There’s lots of unnecessary costs
incurred with those legacy tools. I’ve seen it run into the millions on a
given day. Were the people who were defending, and staying with their
defended position, blocking moving ahead… costing the company money?
You bet. Stealing?… interesting way to look at it. Might make
everyone have a different level of tolerance for defensiveness.
Defensiveness can look like a lot of things; blocking innovation,
over-valuing the past, the current, and what’s comfortable, even
exaggerating the value and benefit of change. In every situation
it looks like two things to me, no three:
1. It looks like a departure from being realistic and to the extent
others are prompting for more realism, not listening and arguing
with those voicing that perspective, and in so doing, blocking progress
and plugging up the works.
2. It looks very expensive. I’ve worked with two multi-billion dollar
companies recently. Both have people in high positions, making
defensive choices that block progress with very large, but obscured,
3. It looks undiscussable. Most organizations don’t talk about it.
In fact I’ve never run into an organization that talks about it or has any
idea of how much the tolerance for defensiveness costs their profit margin
each year. It’s not addressed, not measured, very costly and pervasive
in many organizations. Interestingly, making defensiveness discussable,
and directly addressing the costs, though obscure, is often the important
first step in lowering the impact and prevalence in the work place.
Defensiveness is very expensive and an all-to-often pervasive trait in the
work place. Gourville has even quantatized the effect of defensiveness
as it relates to the introduction or blocking of new software tools. If
we had any idea of the cost involved, if we really saw it as stealing,
I don’t think we would be nearly so tolerant of it. Making it open for
discussion and beginning to track the cost of it are two important steps
for reducing its impact at work and the ability to get more done.