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There is a term people use to imply that the numbers being discussed may, in fact, not be the truth. The term is sandbagging. For example, “I didn’t report the sales numbers quite right. I held back some sales for next month.” This is sandbagging. Another example, “We need to get fifteen units done by noon,” when the real number is 13 but you are trying to “motivate” your people. This is sandbagging. There is another word to describe this sandbagging, lying.

OK, I just offended many readers because you engage in this practice. While you may think you are setting the bar high for your team, or softening the blow for your boss, what you are doing is not telling the truth. This is a lie. Now, I recognize and accept that there are times when we may choose not to reveal the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, this is far different from telling someone something that is simply not true. Let’s look at some manifestations of sandbagging at work.

  • Sales Targets – This version is played when a person or business unit submits their target or budget for next year. Normally they submit a lower number than they think they will really hit. There are two major reasons we do this. First, management always takes whatever number we give them and tacks on a few more percent. So, if I said I was going to get 10% more next year, management makes it a 15% increase. If I said 15% management would make it 20%. In fact this game often repeats itself annually. The second reason we sandbag our sales projections is we want to look good and keep the pressure off. I say I can get 5% more next year, although I really know I can do 10%. No matter what the reason, or excuse for sandbagging your numbers, the result is the same, the budgeting process has no integrity. In scenario one it is a game. In scenario two it is a waste.
  • Production Targets – This one plays out more often than the sales example and it comes in two ways – time and quantity. In the time example, a boss tells an employee that they need a report complete by Monday of next week. The manager doesn’t really need the report until Thursday because she is presenting it on Friday. The employee works long and hard to meet the false deadline. They submit the report and then the manager doesn’t look at it until Thursday anyway. Or the manager does look at it and it goes through several iterations between Monday and Thursday and the employee recognizes the deadline was a false one. The problem with this is the manager loses credibility. Someday they will go to the employee and say I need it now but having cried wolf for so long, they will not get what they need when they need it. In the quantity example, the boss tells the crew they need to accomplish a certain amount of production to meet the original estimate. The real estimate says that the crew needs to get 90 units done each day but the boss tells them 100 units. The boss rationalizes this by saying the crew will not work as hard if they know the number is 90 but when he says the number is 100 they will work harder to get it. What really happens is the crew knows the estimate is not 100, they might not know it is 90, but they know because they have been sandbagged before that it is not 100, so they do less than 100 and end up giving the 90 as originally needed. Again, the real problem comes when the boss says the number is “really 100” this time and the crew doesn’t believe it.

Try this. Tell people the truth. When we sandbag them they figure it out and they think to themselves that we don’t trust them. And if we don’t trust them with the truth then why would they want to work hard for us. What will happen is they will stop working hard for us because they do not feel trusted. The problem is they will keep coming to work. They actually show up every day, they just don’t work hard when they do.

Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at www.beaFireStarter.com. He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or wally@beaFireStarter.com.

"Content was great and on-track for the association. Wally is a not-to-miss speaker. "

Rob Krzys
Trenchless Technology Magazine