Dr. Alice Goffman introduced me to the word “riding”; in her ethnography “On the Run: Fugitive Life in America “, I learnt that “riding” is helping a fugitive evade the police/court when pursued. Riders and riding have many strategies, all spelt out in Goffman’s fascinating book.
Organizations have “riders” too. Borrowing Goffman’s term (actually borrowing the fugitives’ term), organizational riding is working to cover up an organization’s lies.
When an organization lies, it needs a whole set of riders to keep it safe. Following is an example of how riders assist organizations to lie.
Chris (CEO) told Johnny (Head of R&D) that he must release the new product fix within 2 months. Johnny knows that nothing “releasable” will be available for 8 months. Yet Chris issues an email to all key clients promising the new fix mentioning that Dr Johnny is in full alignment with the realistic commitment.
No one, not one single person, believes that this commitment is doable. The product “fix” will be delivered 9 months late, and even then, the fix will be very partial. Yet the organization was never exposed, assisted by riders.
How did this happen? Take a look.
1-Amibiguous language was a key rider. “Pending unexpected difficulties; contingent on the purchase of new software; as things stand now”. All these terms kept the lie afloat.
2-HR muddies the water, blowing smoke up peoples’ ass. HR, the ultimate rider, puts plans in place to improve engagement, perhaps, in the future; a new work-life algorithm is put in place, which shows the ups and downs or hard work over a 15 year period. Ok, bust your ass now, but one day you will be saved.
3- Bullshit progress reviews are often delayed and cancelled, or bogged down in detail. The documentation of these riding-driven meetings is fuzzy at best and lacking in most cases.
4-There is creeping de-scoping of the eventual “fix”, de-scoping being a key rider allowing organizations to lie.
5-New, ambitious, fake riding- superheroes push top talent aside as they promise to deliver what old guard apparently cannot deliver.
6-New swear words appear: nay-saying (truth); risk-evasiveness (honesty); negativistic (integrity) .