The Mmm...Letter
The Mmm...letter Podcast
Face The Music

Face The Music

One Way to Solve a Problem: Experience It

Years ago, a CEO stared down a grim assessment of his hospital; intra-departmental cooperation lagged behind expectations, and the numbers looked rough.

And each department had a head, a vice-president, assigned to overlook their chiefdom and cooperate with fellow department heads.

The CEO found no behavioral problems among his 11 vice presidents in one-on-ones. In group meetings, all heads appeared to sign on to performance initiatives, action plans, and other corrective corporate similes for “plans;” plans to unite their efforts and improve the hospital’s bottom line.

And yet, month after month, numbers fell, cooperation fell, and no one came forward to identify the cause. That’s where you come in.

The CEO has tasked you with resolving this deficiency and is paying you handsomely.

You meet the vice presidents as a group. The atmosphere is tense but otherwise presents no apparent cause for tension. After meeting each vice president, the picture comes into focus.

All but one present the 11th vice president as a concern. He refuses to cooperate with the other department heads, is arrogant, and dismissive of his duties. He also happens to be the CEO’s brother-in-law.

“Oh.” You smell nepotism. What do you do next?

This is a question I faced as part of a workshop led by the consultant, Steven, who lived this story. Everyone in my group, myself included, who attempted to solve this led with the same foot: confront the CEO and present the findings.

In the roleplay, the confrontation would take the CEO aback, and he promised to investigate further. And in each roleplay, this strategy failed to relieve the problem.

To the best of my knowledge, here’s what Steven chose to do and what resulted.

Steven did not reprimand the CEO or his brother-in-law. Confoundingly, he advocated for the brother’s promotion. He convinced the CEO that his brother’s function deserved a special designation that worked directly with the CEO. The CEO agreed.

Within two weeks of his brother’s promotion, the VP was terminated. With his seat replaced, the departments began cooperating, and performance improved.

The politics fomenting at our country’s border in the past few weeks reminded me of this story.

When I first heard it, I recognized that Steven had deceived his client. He wittingly advocated for a change he did not believe in and fooled the CEO into going along with it, all to make a point.

Steven’s solution was undoubtedly clever, and it worked, but was it the right thing to do? Am I jealous that I didn’t think of it myself? Or is my moral compass so juvenile that I can’t distinguish a small wrong from a large?

It’s wrong to mislead your client or your customer. In Steven’s case, it was a morally questionable choice that led to a positive outcome, one from which the CEO, vice presidents, hospital, and community-at-large ultimately benefited. But it could’ve gone another way.

The brother’s promotion could have ingrained him further into the organization, like a tick burrowing its head deeper into the skin.

If that had happened, the hospital would have been worse off than before they hired Steven. Revealing the recommendation as a ruse would have damaged Steven’s reputation and failed to correct the problem, putting him further behind than where he started.

Judging the quality of a decision by its outcome is known as resulting, which justifies or vilifies a decision ex post facto. Roller-blading my overweight 13-year-old helmetless body down a flight of cement stairs was a terrible idea, and it wasn’t made any better by the fact that I survived it: I still did something stupid.

However, Steven did not create the problem he was hired to solve. The person who made that problem was the CEO, who hired a family member without first vetting the appointment.

Over the past year, approximately 2 million migrants were detained crossing the border into the country; unaccounted others made it past the border patrol. These people believed they would find work, prosperity, and open arms in America–a strong justification for undertaking the deadly trip up the western hemisphere.

Open borders they met; prosperity, not so much. Our government relocates these people to small southern towns by the busload. They treat each migrant as a refugee and allow them to roam the country with impunity while they await their trial.

There are few jobs for them, many are likely homeless, and the towns where they reside lack the resources to care for them. And so, a handful of Steven-like governors took it upon themselves to bring the problem to those responsible for creating it.

They relied on deception to coerce migrants onto buses and chartered aircraft destined for cities such as Chicago, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard. Doing so forced the advocates of open borders, who typically live far from the border and in deep blue cities, to face the music.

I like that tune, but should I?

The Mmm...Letter
The Mmm...letter Podcast
This audio column explores the intersection of culture, business, and morality. But mostly fart poop jokes. Welcome.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Stanley Bogode