Some years ago a good friend of mine sarcastically quipped, "Yeah that scorecard is green, Zombie Green!" It became a running joke on our team because the habit of marking everything green in that organization, even in the face of blatant, massive, undeniable shortfalls in the areas those scorecards supposedly represented, was so pervasive. Years later all one of us has to do is say Zombie Green and we all chuckle and get it. The joke never gets old because we continue to see it even though our close group is now distributed across a swath of commercial industries.
The key element here, of course, is integrity. The author Richard Bach wrote that "the worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves," and that continues to be true. As integrity has fallen more and more into an area we all pay lip service too but few actually practice, the problem has become worse and creates more and more problems across our businesses. Our society, businesses, and business processes are ultimately founded on integrity and we let that slip at our peril.
If you wanted a great modern case study in this I recommend Allen McDonald's book, "Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster." The entire book rests on this issue of Zombie Green, as the dashboard for Challenger was on that fateful morning in January of 1986. For me, the Challenger issues all boiled down to a couple of items. During the pre-launch telecon in which the safety of the o-rings came up, McDonald writes: 'So he (the general manager) turns to him and said ‘take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat’ – and that’s exactly what happened,’ said Boisjoly. ‘He changed his hat and changed his vote, just 30 minutes after he was the one to give the recommendation not to launch. I didn’t agree with one single statement made on the recommendations given by the managers.’ Ever been at a telecon like that? Or seen a report go up to the board with Zombie Green?
McDonald included a short poem late in the book that brilliantly sums it up:
In the beginning was the Plan, and then came the Assumptions, and the Assumptions were without form, and the Plan was completely without substance.
And the darkness was upon the face of the engineers.
And they spoke amongst themselves, saying: “It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.”
And the engineers went unto the lab directors and sayeth: “It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof.”
And the lab directors went unto their center director and sayeth unto him: “It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”
And the center director went unto the local politicians and sayeth: “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”
And the local politicians amongst themselves, saying one to another: “It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.”
And the local politicians went unto the deputy administrator to sayeth unto him: “It promotes growth and is very powerful.”
And the deputy administrator went unto Congress and sayeth unto it: “This new Plan will actively promote growth, and efficiency of the Space Program, in these areas in particular.”
And Congress looked upon the Plan and knew that it was good, and the Plan became Policy.
This is how shit happens.
As we all look at our businesses and organizations, scorecards and dashboards are par for the course. Pay special attention to that shade of green going forward! Is that a shade of Zombie Green you detect? Do you need to ask harder questions? And when you send your scorecard up, apply all your Character, Competence, and Courage in making sure you are addressing the hard issues, and not covering up a future Challenger for your organization with a Zombie Green dot.