Over the weekend, I’ve been watching the fallout from the Lance Armstrong confession with some interest. It wasn’t out of outrage or condemnation, but rather for the important business lesson the saga contained.
Now Old Taskmaster is no great fan of road cycling. While there are unconfirmed rumours of a mountain bike somewhere in the garage of the Taskmaster Ranch, there have been no confirmed sightings of it for decades. Anyone wanting to outlaw spandex for the good of humanity has my full support.
However, the whole saga is a prime example of a topic I’ve raised in a previous article: The noxious effect the bubble of an industry can have – in this example, elite road cycling.
In this case, it appears that within the bubble of elite cycling during the ‘90s and 2000s, a number of elite cyclists (including Armstrong) used EPOs along with other performance enhancing substances. Outside the bubble, however, fans wanted to be entertained with a clean race.
This contradiction between the common practice inside the bubble and consumer expectations led to another ugly aspect of life inside the bubble of an industry: People who benefit from unacceptable practices within an industry will try to perpetuate them.
From Old Taskmaster’s experience, the most sure-fire way to get someone to defend the indefensible is to make their livelihood, including the food on their family table and the roof over their kids’ heads, depend on it. If that means defending practices within an industry that are otherwise indefensible, so be it. The many lawsuits Armstrong filed claiming he never used performance enhancing substances were an extreme example of this.
Similarly, even within a few months of you hiring your first employees, some of them will develop poor work patterns or will replicate outdated work practices from previous jobs. At best, these work practices are inefficient; at worst, these practices can be dangerous, illegal, unacceptable to the general public and can ultimately threaten your business or industry.
When outmoded work practices are challenged, you will hear whatever justification it takes to maintain the status quo. Any challenges to these practices will be responded to with that old, familiar cry “that’s not how the industry works!”
However, the Armstrong saga is an extreme example of what can happen when the poor work practices are allowed to fester in an industry, as well as a warning on the fallout that can come as the end result.
The everyday lesson from the Armstrong saga is simple. If you suspect your staff are engaging in unacceptable work practices, make sure you investigate and intervene. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t tolerate it. Don’t excuse it. Set clear boundaries and enforce them.
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