Outstanding Organizational Culture: 7 Reasons to Not Whack Moles

We recommend that you forward this piece to your colleagues and boss to create meaningful dialogue. 

Question: Does “free speech” exist in our organization?


Resting in a Colorado field, these bales of straw possess a beauty that stems from their “alikeness.”

The characteristic of “alikeness” can be of great value when the market wants and expects consistency. McDonalds comes to mind. Buy a Big Mac in Sochi, Russia at the Olympics and it tastes exactly like the one you consumed a few days earlier in Paterson, New Jersey.

But what can be positive about alikeness in straw bales or the food we purchase, can be very negative in our organizational cultures.

In Toronto to speak on “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” I got out for a long walk and passed by this building with its profound proclamation:

Great Minds

Cotton Candy, Inc.

When I saw “Great Minds Thinking Differently,” I thought, What a cool place to work!

Why? Because it beats being employed by the organization that plays Whack-A-Mole when people dare to think and speak differently.

Employee: “I’m not sure we’re on the right path here.”

Management: WHACK!

Employee: “I recommend we consider a different strategy.”

Management: WHACK!

Employee: “I fear this new system isn’t going to work.”

Management: WHACK!

Employee: “I’m thinking a better course of action might be … “

Management: WHACK!

Employee: “I have an idea for improving our … “

Management: WHACK!

Note to the Politically Correct: I’m surely not calling anyone a mole; nor am I implying that management actually whacks people in the Jimmy Hoffa sense. 🙂

Anyway, get the picture? Good.whack2

But do you live this picture? Meaning, are you in an organization that disavows the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: Free speech!

In Outstanding! we have three chapters essentially related to organizational “free speech.” Here are the chapter titles, each with a brief explanation:

Value Ideas Over Politics — Being less concerned who said something than what was said. In other words, the idea put forth always trumps its source.

Speak Up! — Managers don’t punish people for saying what’s on their mind and the individual takes personal accountability for being bold enough for doing so.

Don’t Speak in Code — No “spinning the message” or twisting truth. Just speaking plainly. Calling problems problems, not “opportunities.”

An outstanding organizations not only allows these three concepts to come to life in their culture, management and employees fight for them. They do so because they know these six benefits will occur:

  • Increased creativity
  • Enhanced “employee engagement”
  • Greater productivity
  • Faster problem-solving
  • More joy and fun
  • Intensified loyalty to and belief in the organization

Oh, here’s a 7th:

A lot less whispering, “When are they going to tell us what’s going on?” at the water-cooler!

Personally, I’d rather have a bunch of good minds thinking differently than a bunch of great minds thinking alike.

Because, as my grandmother (born in 1895) used to say, “If we all thought the same, someone wouldn’t be needed.”


Is your organization one of free speech or mole whacking?

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19 Responses

  1. John,

    I grew up in Bulgaria during the time the communists, present-day-socialists, thought it was a great idea to make every person fit the same mold of thinking, talking, and behaving. The problem was, someone had to dictate what the mold will look like. Instead of creating a uniformed society, we got a sick version of perverted apathy, paramount distrust on all levels of life, and a whole generation that was crippled in their best asset ever – their hearts’ ability to dream and create a better world!

    Jimmy Hoffa? That’s nothing in comparison with the 250,000 political enemies that the commies killed in the late 1940s! That’s a lot of whacks for a small country…

    Great post and a great thought that will now make me smile every time a great mind tells me, “Oh, great! Great minds think alike!”

  2. John,

    Having worked for a “whack a mole” company in my past you are spot on! One’s quality of life suffers as does sense of contribution. Home life, especially for the cat is suspect. Thank goodness for change on my terms and other career opportunities. I went to work for a manager and a company that lives the QBQ. Take care – matt

  3. Wow, John, apparently you were the fly on the wall in my office as I was having a related discussion with my boss (who is a great boss, but falls into this trap). I work at a college that seems frightened to death of making waves, innovation, etc. Deviation from the traditional path of doing or thinking is usually shut down pretty quickly. I’ve also found this odd for an organization with a mission of molding young and innovative minds. Sometimes I think a little light-hearted controversy would do the organization good. Keep people on their toes! 🙂
    Always enjoy your posts and food for thought!

  4. After the new CEO of our Fortune 500 company spoke to a group of employees I sent him an e-mail providing my feedback. I received a very nice reply from him. At that point I didn’t think too much more about it. But my coworkers found out, and their response astonished me. They were horrified at the thought of what I had done. Most sad to me was hearing, more than once, “You did what?! I wouldn’t do that to my own supervisor!” It was clear their QBQ/PA mute button had been pressed.
    My experience is that upper management actually tends to be more open to diverse thought. But as you go down the managerial chain the mole hammers get bigger.

  5. Add this to the “good minds thinking differently” idea: Great minds thinking for themselves! Living the QBQ each and every day!

  6. Ours is one of free speech as long as it is done professionally, with respect and courtesy. An employee actually just choose not to work here because of what he thought of as free speech. It was done very disrespectfully 9 times. I don’t think he was every going to get it. I as the president was told that “You don’t know what your doing!” “Everyone on the shop floor hates you” when coaching and asking for examples, he couldn’t give any. There was a lot more said that was very unprofessional and employee moral was going down becuase he told his people they were stupid. After coaching for 3 months and getting no where, he made the choice to not work here. We had to tell him that was his choice becauce he wasn’t willing to change.

  7. Great ideas I agree with. Only thing is, most offices don’t have water coolers anymore. I would suggest substituting “copier” or “printer” for a more contemporary phrase.

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