The Avoidance Culture

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“I’m just trying to stay off the radar.”

“I’m keeping my head down.”

“I’m not saying anything.”

We generally hear this in an organization where people are just trying to survive. They have come to believe that raising your hand means getting dumped on or having it cut off. The focus is on avoiding risk, avoiding more work, avoiding the boss, avoiding stress and avoiding leadership.

Imagine the energy we burn through avoiding:

-Hours spent rationalizing or complaining
-Innovation wasted on creative excuses
-Reams of C-Y-A documents and emails
-Projects that cycle through endless indecision
-Focus on being right instead of doing right
-Ideas that never see the light of day

It’s amazing how many organizations not only live with this huge energy drain but also sustain it by repeating the same behaviors that led to its creation. Imagine driving down the road with a hole in your fuel tank and then complaining about the price of gas and how often you have to refill the tank.

Then there are the questions we hear from leaders in avoidance cultures. “Why can’t we seem to get any traction”? “Why does everything take longer than it should?” “Why are some of the best people leaving our company?”

When leaders use fear, blame, manipulation, competition, indifference and unrealistic goals, people learn to avoid attention. Not just negative attention, any attention.

The avoidance culture won’t survive in the presence of effective leadership. The key is to break the pattern:

-Declare the problem and the impact it has on the organization
-Provide a compelling reason to change
-Establish values and the expected behaviors
-Start with the leadership team
-Set the example
-Create opportunities for people to test your commitment
-Make agendas visible
-Reward the doers, not the avoiders
-Establish a culture of accountability instead of blame
-Model and expect honest communication

When we move from a culture of avoidance to a culture of trust, commitment, and action, performance will improve dramatically even when there is little change to the underlying operating process or strategy.

Here’s the point, It’s not them, it’s you. Leaders often blame people for being uninspired, unmotivated and underperforming. We wonder where all the initiative has gone? If avoidance is sapping the energy in your organization it’s time to invite the team to get back in the game.

And remember, leaders go first.


  1. Great post Scott! You are so right, it is very challenging to be an organization like that – BUT change doesn’t begin “out there”. It has to begin with us.


    1. Thanks Chery. That’s a great reminder. Someone has to be the catalyst for change, even if it is within a small group or team. It just takes one person to stop avoiding and get in the game.


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