Exclude or Excrete

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 11/6/2013 | 25 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
In every organization there are things that aid productivity and things that are toxic. To succeed, you must exclude or excrete.

OK, stick with me, here. One of the constant factors on a tropical coastline is the mangrove tree. Red mangroves and black mangroves each live with their roots in salt or brackish water. They're absolutely essential to the existence of marine swamps, and they share a common trait with most other trees: Salt is toxic to them. So how do they cope?

If you're like most senior IT executives you have made jokes about being up to your [hips] in alligators in an organizational swamp. In fact, though, "draining the swamp" is less about fighting off big toothy reptiles and more about getting rid of the toxic muck that surrounds everyone (including gators) that live in the swamp. Politics and "palace intrigue" are poisonous to everyone in an organization -- how do you cope?

Red mangroves keep salt at bay by excluding it. The red mangrove's bark is impervious to salt, allowing water to slowly seep through the bark's membrane structure while keeping the salt safely out in the swamp. Black mangroves, on the other hand, allow salt water into the tree but have special glands on the leaves that excrete the salt, leaving safe water behind.

One need (for fresh water) and two strategies for trees that live in salt water swamps.

Some executives cope with a toxic environment by shutting out the harmful aspects, surrounding themselves with those who agree with their management practices and refusing to allow any bad information or attitude to enter their management practice. Things may be falling apart around them; nay-sayers and schemers might fill the overall organization; but these hardy individualists will refuse to acknowledge anything that doesn't support and strengthen their point of view. They can be magnificent in their isolation, but a hard exterior can become brittle if not carefully tended and maintained.

Not all executives feel the need to exclude disagreeable or toxic themes. It's possible to listen to the challenging and even toxic ideas of others, examine them for value, then excrete the bad and hold on to the ideas and practices that can be of value. They're left with something of value, but they don't have to maintain that tough bark.

The excretion tactic can leave you with far more that's of value, but there's a cost: You must be willing to develop a process or practice that can safely examine, identify, and dispose of the toxic load that may accompany anything of value that comes from the office environment. It's hard work that can easily become overwhelmed if there's too much toxin in the environment.

When things get tough (or the level of toxicity gets too high) then excluding can be the only way to safely deal with all the daily muck and garbage in the environment. In that case, you must pay attention to the excluding layers -- you simply have to make sure you're also taking care of the processes, programs, and culture that keep the bad out while allowing nothing but good into the departments you control.

Which are you: and excluder or an excreter? Which of the mangroves speaks to you? I'm looking forward to your answer and to talking with the community about the best direction for future management. Let us know -- the swamp is going to be here for a while.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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tekedge   Exclude or Excrete   11/30/2013 11:09:16 PM
Exclude or Excrete
@Curtis Well said! I think the both the techniques used together effectively will work for the organisation! But again learning both these processes to work hand in hand will need a lot of thought  and straining of information. Sometimes I wonder do we have the time to do all this conciously!
kstaron   Exclude or Excrete   11/22/2013 5:07:36 PM
a little bit of both
I imagine the best way to deal with this is to do a little excluding and a little excreting. Being on the employee side of things I have worked at companies where entire teams seems to be toxic due to sub par management, inter office politicking, and toxic coworker behaviors. yet somehow, the team I was on had none of that. I'm not sure if my manager was more likely to exclude or excrete, but whatever it was she did it well and we were happy productive employees for her that enjoyed our jobs and serving our clients.
SunitaT   Exclude or Excrete   11/21/2013 12:51:08 AM
Re : Exclude or Excrete
The most important question that should be asked here is: when a department is facing tough internal politics, how to manage it? Politics will always be there and the way to resolving them is to keeping those who are having an attitude that will help the company. It is not always easy to pay attention to your surroundings. And moreover, firing an employee can come as a setback, both operational and economical.
Susan Nunziata   Exclude or Excrete   11/12/2013 2:05:14 PM
Re: Not everyone's a "people" person
@Cyrus: yep, you're spot on. And there are so many individual factors that will motive people to change -- it really is deeply personal. I  believe some people are highly sefl-motivated to grow and change and get past their comfort zones, while others need to be pushed, and still others will dig in their heels no matter what.

For those in the latter two categories, changing the expectations and accountability of a person's core job could go a long way toward encouraging them to change.
Henrisha   Exclude or Excrete   11/10/2013 7:45:48 AM
Re: Can you be both?
You're right. I think in situations like this, it's more of a balancing act for executives. You really have to make sure people are working at their full potential while exerting pressure, yet holding back at the right moments. It's a tough balance to find. Most never really even manage to.
Sara Peters   Exclude or Excrete   11/8/2013 2:28:56 PM
Re: Not everyone's a "people" person
@Cyrus  Oh I don't disagree. You're definitely right, that being socially awkward is more acceptable in some positions than in others -- and historically that was true of IT. My point is simply that it seems that the IT industry is now requiring more people skills than it once did. As IT begins to view itself as an internal service provider, the personality needs to change.,
Cyrus   Exclude or Excrete   11/8/2013 1:03:48 PM
Re: Not everyone's a "people" person
@Sara I realize my statement was a blanket one and that it's based purely on my experience, albeit with some very large organizations that you might think would operate differently.

While there certainly is accountability to people that serve at executive levels, often those individuals are aware of folks that are, shall we say "difficult," but from which that behavior is tolerated based on their skills.

Just to cliarify, I'm not in any way saying IT people are the only ones that exhibit these traits. I've run across them extensively in attorneys and other professionals. As I mentioned earlier, it's often seen in people who are very bright, have very specific skills, but don't really like dealing with people that much. They'd rather just do their job as they view it, and be left alone.
Sara Peters   Exclude or Excrete   11/8/2013 12:15:58 PM
Re: Can you be both?
@xcecrf456  Hmmm. Do you really think this is true? "but executives try to be in a peaceful environment s as well as will put an effort to eliminate or to reduce the politics situations." Certainly some executives want a peaceful and productive environment, but I don't think that it's an identifying characteristic. 

There was one executive I worked for who admitted that she thrived on conflict -- so much so, that she often stirred up conflict and controversy just because she enjoyed the excitement. It made for a very unpleasant environment and also had an ENORMOUS impact on productivity. 
Sara Peters   Exclude or Excrete   11/8/2013 12:11:27 PM
Re: Not everyone's a "people" person
@Cyrus Now this is very intriguing: "Even with all this capability, the big determiner is whether a person is willing to change. And my experience has been with IT, often they're not because they're not because historically that's not a function that has seen itself as accountable outside its function for the service it provides." I imagine you're right, but this is changing, certainly, isn't it?

SaneIT   Exclude or Excrete   11/8/2013 8:03:18 AM
Re: Not everyone's a "people" person

@Curtis before moving to Florida it was very common to use the term "drain the swamp" when we were purging old methods and trying to clean up bad habit.  After moving here and getting a real taste of what a swamp is that phrase has different meaning to me.  It's not simply a matter of just dumping all the crud and starting clean, there are certain things that might be scary or dirty but they serve a purpose and purging them might mean messing up the whole ecology.  I find that excluding works better better than excreting many times but that the exclusion is more or less a fencing off of the necessary evils.  If you've got a nuisance gator they don't come and kill it, they move it to a safer spot.  IT needs to take that same tact in the business process.  When you have a nuisance individual or process you do what you can to move it to a place that is safer for everyone but lets the process live on doing what it was intended to do.  It's a tough balance for sure.

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