Author: Nicholas Xecanas
When reflecting on our careers to date, there are always certain projects or stakeholders that remain in our memory, long after the final project handover. A recent catch up with an old mentor prompted a discussion about a peculiar behaviour that many of us have observed in organisations over the years in a variety of professional capacities.
We are sure there are probably a variety of management books on this theme, though we could not find it explicitly referenced. So we decided to write about it ourselves. It is important to note that this article is not meant to cast dispersions onto certain organisations, merely it is just to share our team members’ experiences with this particular workplace behaviour.
The behaviour in question has no official title that we know of; we simply refer to it as ‘shining knight’ behaviour. The behaviour, in our experience, is where a company stakeholder (often internal) creates a situation of doubt and concern about a product or project, with the intention of solving the issue they have manufactured. The more significant they make the issue appear, the greater the hero they will be perceived by other stakeholders, both internal and external.
Why do these people create this situation? From a psychology point of view, we are sure there are wide and varied reasons that attribute to this mindset. From our own experience, we suspect the mentality behind shining knight behaviour falls into four broad categories. A stakeholder who is using this behaviour may wish to:
- take credit for the great success of the product, project or service, despite the perceived odds
- decommission the product or service/stall the project, probably to introduce an alternative in the future
- draw attention to themselves by being perceived as the ‘hero’
- deflect attention away from another problem they may be having to resolve
To be fair, there is generally a significant event that takes place as the impetus for the shining knight behaviour to be exhibited. Whether this significant event is manufactured or real (we have observed both), you can be assured the significance and scale of the issue will be played up the once the impetus has occurred.
The broader organisation will react in different ways, ranging from minor reviews, restructures, to intense scrutiny and discord. How this occurs is based on many factors and influences. These can include the visibility of the project, product and service both internally and externally to the organisation, the intimate understanding of the situation by the decision makers of the project, product or service, and potential value to the organisation (not necessarily in financial terms).
From an organisational perspective, team members need to be vigilant when monitoring for shining knight behaviour, as it could cause significantly organisational damage. This holds particularly true if the team member perpetrating the behaviour then delegates the actual situation reviewing activities to others. If this occurs, those responsible for reviewing the situation are now operating on instructions, rather than specific or intimate knowledge. They are delivering on an agenda; they are tasked to deliver an outcome based on the shining knight’s direction, and therefore they could be blinkered to the real facts.
However, this is not to say that shining knight can’t be of benefit to the product, project and or service under siege. In today’s financial climate, organisations typically have to do more with less. Business units within struggle to obtain funding to make substantial or wholesale changes to products and services. In certain instances, the shining knight behaviour can be leveraged to promote the identity of the project, product or service and be a catalyst for an allocation of funding. Companies considering this tactic need to be cautious—with additional funding on offer, the appeal (and risks) of displaying the shining knight behaviour increases, especially if the team member displaying this behaviour is in a position of authority.
A complicated concept on many levels, there is no hard-and-fast answer or solution to the pros and cons of the shining knight behaviour. Though at Integral we have experienced this behaviour a handful of times, our team is certainly not in a position to offer guidance on this approach, outside of discussing it in this blog post. In our humble opinion, the only pieces of advice we are prepared to give are:
- “play with a straight bat”
- remember it is not personal
- ensure that conversations that take place as part of the review are based on fact (not fiction) and without emotion.