Curing the Addiction to Placating

Oct 28th, 2002 by Tony in QSM3

Placating occurs when self-esteem is low. Raising self-esteem – through management style, training, and affirming feedback – can help to block placating, but in itself cannot prevent it. For instance, IS customers often have high self-esteem, but not in the context of computers. Feeling technically incompetent, they must humble themselves to the sole source of technical help.

To understand their situation, picture yourself stranded in a remote hotel, and suppose that each meal offers a menu with only one selection. Having no other choice if you don’t want to go hungry, you eat what the chef has prepared. If the chef is rude to you, you are polite to him. If he is rigid, you are accommodating. If he demands a high price, you bite your tongue and pay. This no-choice restaurant more or less describes the situation of the captive customer or an in-house software organization.

There is no particular reason for a restaurant with a captive clientèle to maintain its excellence, which leads to the following principle: To prohibit placating, give customers alternative sources of services.

Although this principle is the foundation of American capitalism, it seems to unhinge the mightiest managers of internal IS organizations. They certainly agree with the principle, but always for the other guy. The know (extending the dining metaphor) that if the customer ever has an alternative she may try to retaliate for the rude chef. In the IS world, when the customer finally decides to retaliate, she pronounces the dreaded word outsourcing. Outsourcing is to IS managers what a silver crucifix is to Count Dracula. But contrary to the internal manager’s trepidations, outsourcing may be the best thing that ever happened.

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 3, Chapter 13

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