I recently got an email from a reader of this blog asking if I’d ever heard of Fernando Flores. I hadn’t – but he supplied a link to this article in Fast Company, which chilled my blood when I read it.
The article opens with this:
Fernando Flores was Chile’s minister of finance — and, later, a political prisoner. Now he teaches companies how to use assessments and commitments to transform the way they do business. The outcome: executives who speak and act with intention.
That’s all well and good. But then comes this description from a session Flores runs with a management team from a global construction company:
The session has only started and already Flores has had enough. He lifts his 6-foot, 220-pound frame from his chair. Imagine a bear rising up on its hind legs: The men are simply not prepared for how big Flores is when he stands — or how fierce. He turns on Tomas, a relative newcomer to Flores’s sessions.
“Tomas,” Flores begins, “tell me: Why is change taking so long here?” Tomas responds: The group is resisting Flores’s approach. To Flores, Tomas’s answer sounds like projection. It is Tomas who is resisting change. Flores invites Tomas’s colleagues to “assess” Tomas. One executive leaps to the challenge. “Tomas, you are blind, egotistical, and inwardly focused,” he says. “I can’t challenge you without your getting defensive.”
The words leave Tomas stunned. “Tomas,” Flores says, “say, ‘Thank you for that assessment.’ ” The words are part of a script written on an easel next to Flores. Tomas tries to repeat them, but he stutters when he gets to the word “sincerity,” even though the rest of his English is nearly perfect. Flores prompts Tomas, “Follow the script, exactly as it is written”
“Tomas,” Flores says, “why this rebel-child attitude? Can’t you answer me?” Flores turns away in disgust. Another colleague uses the script to assess Tomas. “Tomas,” he begins, “you are a bureaucrat. You are married to rules, not to listening.” In fact, Tomas keeps his head down, scribbling notes, unable to look at his colleagues. Flores asks Tomas what he learned from this comment.
“That I have more work to do,” Tomas whispers.
Flores eyes the group warily. “I am using Tomas for one purpose,” he says, “to show you what transformation is not. To show you what it means to be weak and insincere.”
I don’t know what’s worse – the awful methods Flores employs; the fawning tone in the Fast Company article, which makes him sound like a corporate superhero swooping in to save business in trouble; or the fact that he charges companies millions of dollars for his assistance.
To me, this is one of the most disgusting business practices I’ve ever heard of. I’m all for honesty and openness but that is obviously NOT what Flores is preaching. As the first comment on the article says, his methods are sociopathic:
I have visited seminars sponsored by Flores, in Chile, and have known, rather well, several people who were “disciples” of Flores.
Listening to him he struck me as rude, manipulative, AND SOCIOPATHIC. I worked with one person who, presumably, was one of Flores main students, and the guy was, like Flores, rude, insensitive, overbearing, and most importantly ineffective. He actually ruined a business in which I was involved. His partners dumped him.
There are many things wrong with Flores’ methods – here are the top 5 reasons why I hate what he does.
1: It does NOT create commitment and open communication
Flores calls his approach commitment management. According to the Fast Company article, his aim is to teach managers:
to master “speech acts”: language rituals that build trust between colleagues and customers, word practices that open your eyes to new possibilities.
There are proven ways of generating positive, constructive openness in groups – ways that encourage open feedback, receptive listening and mutual support and learning. What Flores does is pretty much the exact opposite.
2: It makes people unhappy and frustrated
I’ve seen the results of these methods myself. I once visited a customer site for a sales meeting – and during the meeting, while we were discussing something completely innocuous, one of the customers broke down crying. Turns out she’d recently attended a similar seminar where co-workers were encouraged to criticise each other harshly and the results had been devastating for her and the team.
3: All disagreement is labeled as weakness or obstruction
You can see for yourself what happens to Tomas above, when he shows the slighted sign of dissent from Flores’ abusive methods: He is ridiculed and made a target for further attention.
This is in fact a tactic used in many cults (e.g. Scientology) where all dissent is punished in similar ways.
If you have legitimate questions and concerns about the process you should be allowed to voice them, not automatically be labeled as “weak and insincere” as Tomas is.
4: It rewards the wrong people and the wrong behavior
Flores’ methods reward two kinds of people: Those who actively enjoy being jerks and those who are too weak to say no. That can’t possibly be good for an organization.
5: It doesn’t work!!!
And here’s the ironic part: It doesn’t even work! The reader who told me about Flores used to work at a company that used his services, and the result was internal warfare on a scale that made all their best people defect to their competitors. Essentially, it put the company in a weakened state, from which it has not yet recovered.
I’m not alone in being aghast at Fernando Flores and his methods. I told some other business bloggers I admire about him and here are some reactions.
Buying into any activity that tears people down, demeans, and disrespects them in the name of “honesty” shows a lack of wisdom and discernment at best and, at worst, a willingness to trade off the health and well-being of employees for a promise of quick results. If you haven’t yet been exposed to these tactics masquerading as “development”, be alert. In difficult times humans are especially susceptible to promises of deliverance.
Here’s a quick and easy test.
Let’s say your mother decides to stop by and cook dinner for you and your spouse. It was made with love but really wasn’t all that tasty. So you show her how enlightened you are in order to create an even closer, more trusting relationship that will help you truly bond:
“Well, Mom, you have no skills…and you are fu_ _ed up when you leave here.”
I didn’t think you would.
What a joke. Telling people bluntly and rudely what you think about them is not a gift or an invention. It’s another fad preached by a “rockstar guru” that promises results to sub-par managers if you follow the One True Way.
If you want your co-workers to improve, honesty is important. But being an asshole has been proven to be an ineffective management strategy. So why even bother beating this drum? 21st century companies focus on outcomes, connections, people, and creativity.
What do you think of this? Have you ever been subject to something similar? What would you do if someone tried to treat you in this way? Write a comment!