“We have to end racism.”

I’ve heard and read this sentiment countless times. Believing it might just be the, or at least a reason George Floyd is dead.

And yes, what follows matters to you as a business leader and manager. Bear with me.

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I grew up in a Chicago suburb that was so Jewish, as a child not only didn’t I know anyone in the world was anything else, I didn’t know there was anything else for them to be.

When an older me did encounter antisemitism, I found it quaint and comical. Serious, violent antisemitism was, I thought, something everyone had grown out of, except, perhaps, for some laughable yahoos who were barely worth ridiculing. I’d thought it was like smallpox — eradicated except maybe for a few lab specimens.

Now, it’s a growth industry.

If we still haven’t eradicated antisemitism, why would anyone think we can end racism and other bigotries?

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Nobody is a bigot. Nobody looks in a mirror and sees a bigot looking back out at them.

Where I see bigots, the bigots might see themselves as protecting a way of life against an invading force. They might seriously believe they’re fighting a secret cabal that runs the world … never mind that they hated the group that runs the cabal before they ever heard of the cabal.

They might believe, with evident sincerity but no knowledge of population genetics or cognitive development, that racial mixing is a thing, and a bad thing at that.

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In just the past few weeks we saw the videos of Amy Cooper and Ahmaud Arbery. Now we have George Floyd, who followed Eric Garner as a black man choked to death by police officers. If you’re a young black man, to you the police are exemplars of lawlessness. If they don’t have to obey the law, why should you?

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Imagine you’re Medaria Arradondo, the chief of police here in Minneapolis. You aren’t stupid or unperceptive — you know racism and other forms of bigotry are entrenched in the local police culture. Heck, your entire career depended on you having a thick enough skin to shrug off the occasional tasteless race-oriented “joke.” Or not so occasional; these things aren’t generally reported.

You know you have a problem with bigotry in your workforce. You know you need to fix it. You also know you can’t just fire all of the 800 police officers who work for you and start over. It would be a bad idea even if you weren’t the city’s first black police chief and weren’t willing to deal with complaints about reverse racism.

What’s your plan?

What your plan isn’t: Tell everyone to stop being a bigot. Even if your plan is to tell them over and over and over again … “And I mean it!” you might say … there’s no point. Nobody looks in a mirror and sees a bigot looking back out at them.

Which is why I blame “we have to stop racism” for George Floyd’s death: Trying to end racism is futile. It wastes energy and accomplishes nothing. Better to focus on what can work.

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Let’s get to it: You aren’t Medaria Arradondo. You probably don’t have 800 armed employees reporting to you, nor do you have to deal with a history of your employees killing other people in questionable circumstances.

If you’re leading and managing a workforce of any size, what you and Arradondo probably do have in common is entrenched bigotry. Telling everyone that bigotry isn’t okay won’t accomplish anything for you either. And for you, like Arradondo, identifying even the worst bigots in your workforce isn’t easily accomplished. Nobody wants to be thought of as a whiner or a snitch. A minority employee who already feels like an outsider is even less likely to complain.

It’s your workforce and your problem. What are you going to do about it?

Organizations run on trust (see Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, Chapter 4: “Relationships precede process.”) And as trust and bigotry can’t coexist, bigotry will hurt your organization’s productivity.

So even if we ignore the question’s obvious ethical dimensions, doing nothing is still the wrong answer.

The right answer? I’m not a fan of zero-tolerance policies, so how about a one-tolerance policy: If an employee says, or even hears something and doesn’t say something, and you learn about it, that’s one. One earns that employee a spot on your You Can Think What You Want but You Can’t Say What You Want task force.

If overt bigotry happens again and they’re in earshot, that’s two.

But it’s your workforce and your problem. What are you going to do about it?

Please share your thinking in the Comments.

You’re managing a project. What can go wrong?

Well …

Scenario #1: It’s hard to overcome the CEO

A friend managed a business transformation tied to a large software suite (I’m not allowed to be more specific). Her client was a multinational concern that wasn’t wise in the ways of project management. She had a strong team, the right work breakdown structure, a good working relationship with the vendor, and a committed executive sponsor.

But then the CEO happened. All by itself, just one restructuring would have driven quite a bit of re-work into the project. Multiples multiplied the impact.

And that’s before the ritual laying off of several people the project couldn’t do without. As The Mythical Man Month makes clear, replacing these key staff slowed things down even more, as the effort needed to acclimate the project newbies to the project and their responsibilities exceeded any benefit they could provide.

My friend got the project done, but it got done much uglier than it needed to.

Lesson learned: Include a list of specific critical personnel in your project Risks and Issues reporting, and make sure that reporting is visible at least one layer higher than the project’s sponsor. It won’t completely prevent the chaos, but it might reduce it.

Scenario #2: A filter that should be a conduit

So you say your executive sponsor cares deeply about your project’s success. You say he’s assigned the right people to the core team, and has let everyone else know they should support the project when their support is called for.

And … he’s a busy guy, so he’s delegated day-to-day sponsorship to a trusted member of his team, who is to be your primary Point of Contact. His busyness also means he has no time for regular face-to-face updates.

But not to worry. Your PoC meets with him weekly, and will keep him informed.

As the project progresses, unexpected discoveries drive a number of course corrections. Taken one at a time, none seem particularly controversial, so you and your PoC make the decisions and move on.

A couple of months later, though, with a major milestone approaching, you bring the sponsor in for a briefing. That’s when you discover that what seemed minor to you seems less minor to your sponsor, and the decisions you and your PoC to resolve the issues weren’t the solutions the sponsor would have chosen.

This is when you find out your PoC either hasn’t embraced the “bad news doesn’t improve with age” dictum or also didn’t think the issues in question were important enough to mention in his weekly updates.

And, it’s when you first figure out the sponsor defines “handled correctly” as “how I would have handled it,” and “handled wrong” as “all other ways of handling it.”

So now you have an irritated sponsor and a project schedule that’s in recovery mode.

You can’t entirely avoid this. What might at least help is, prior to your PoC’s weekly meetings with the project sponsor, rehearse the topics to be covered in the project update.

Scenario #3: EPMO — enabler or bureaucracy

Congratulations! As a result of your many well-managed projects and the value they delivered, you’ve been promoted to the Enterprise Program Management Office — the EPMO. In your new role you’re responsible for ensuring all project investments are worthwhile, and providing oversight to make sure they’re well-managed by project managers who aren’t you.

And so, guided by “industry best practices,” you establish a governance process to screen out proposals that don’t make the grade.

Then you start to hear those governed by the EPMO use the B-word in your general direction. No, not that B-word. Bureaucrat.

Which, if you think your job is to screen out bad proposals, you’ve become.

First and worst, a bureaucrat evaluates proposals. A leader evaluates the ideas behind the proposals.

Second and almost as worst, if you expect to see dumb ideas you’ll see dumb ideas, because most people, most of the time, see what they expect to see. And anyway, if what you do is screen out dumb ideas you’ll pass the proposals that don’t give you a reason to screen them out, not those that give you a reason to keep them in.

So take the B out of your job. Starting tomorrow, the EPMO’s job is to help good ideas succeed.

Followed by your stretch goal: to help turn good ideas into great ones.