Dysfunctional Momentum can Undermine Your Company’s Values


I was recently struck that Volkswagen’s goal has been to be the #1 car company in the world. This was also Toyota’s goal in the period before its recalls in 2010. Countrywide had a similar goal during the mortgage boom.It seems that each of these companies came up against a simple truth of human behavior: dysfunctional momentum eats values for breakfast.

First defined by safety researchers Michelle A. Barton and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, dysfunctional momentum occurs when people persist in working toward a goal despite evidence that their course of action will fail.This is more than greed or incentives. Many factors, including time pressure, groupthink, mental shortcuts, “normalization of deviance,” and “goals gone wild,” can take over people’s better judgment.

For leaders who are serious about embedding company values in action, this opens the door to some troubling risks.

  • Do your employees understand where to draw the line?
  • Would they tell you if they felt they were being pushed to compromise?

In this post on strategy + business, Dysfunctional Momentum can Undermine Company Values, I explore why a “values-in-action” culture matters more than ever in turbulent times, and offer several solutions leaders can borrow from the field of “high-reliability organizing.”

How well does your organization recognize and address dysfunctional momentum? What are the benefits when you do? The costs when you don’t?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

About Elizabeth Doty

Elizabeth Doty is a facilitator, author and coach with 25 years’ experience helping leaders mobilize positive momentum through commitment, collaboration and action. She writes and studies about how companies can improve their ability to keep the commitments that attract talent, retain customers, enable execution and build public trust. Her book, The Compromise Trap , helps leaders act with courage and shift the momentum in their organizations.
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