In the late 70s there were menacing news stories and ‘documentaries’ about the imminent arrival of killer bees in Canada. It was terrifying (to the under-10 set anyway). Something was happening that was causing the swarms and swarms of evil bees to move north. It was only a matter of time before we’d be chased to the North Pole or sporting bee-beards.
It is more than 30 years later and the killer bees still have not arrived, and in fact there was a minor bee crisis where the little stingers were dying and no one knew why. Interestingly, no one has come forward to explain why they were wrong, or even to admit to it. No one likes to admit mistakes, of course, and we all have the ability to rewrite history, a new history, where we made fewer mistakes.
People in the finance end of the business – accounting, credit, treasury – are oftentimes more cautious than their marketing or sales counterparts. Risks loom larger in their minds, and sometimes the worst case scenario plays out in their every day. In short, they are more susceptible to “killer bee syndrome”: the tendency to predict dire consequences from some change or event.
If you are one of the caution-ridden types, how can you avoid the killer bee syndrome?
- The syndrome is many times an outcome of fear of change. If you are a supervisor or manager, the killer bee syndrome is a predicable issue, and it can be managed by keeping yourself and your staff informed, and keeping the communication channels open.
- Work to manage predictable surprises: good processes and well trained staff will manage most of what comes their way. Even if the change is bad, and the killer bees start arriving, very likely your people and processes will cope, at least long enough for the underlying bad idea to be addressed.
- Keep your eye on the future (and on your future). There is a fine line between identifying, discussing and managing consequences of change, and telling anyone who will listen that the sky is falling. Your credibility hangs in the balance.
- When change comes that you don’t agree with, make your concerns known (respectfully), ask lots of questions, work with the change agents, and do your level best to make your piece of the change work – remember that you do have influence over the change! If the change fails, “they” will remember your efforts.
Killer bee syndrome is similar to “flying car syndrome” – where people more positively predict that ultimate salvation will result from some change or event. The advent of flying cars has been predicted for decades (perhaps the subject of another post) but disappointingly we still have to deal with a daily pothole-ridden commute. The two syndromes are opposite sides of the same coin, the first makes you blind to the positive outcomes of change, and the latter makes you blind to the negative outcomes. Both can be deadly to the change, the organization and to the individuals involved.
Supervisors and managers dealing change in their organizations need to raise questions and concerns, but they also have an obligation to support and implement the change they are directed to implement. Supervisors and managers are expected to manage change, which includes tempering killer bee predictions from both themselves and their employees.