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Does Your Organization Use “Placebo Buttons”?


Does Your Organization Use “Placebo Buttons”?

Amanda Setili shares a short post on the problem of “placebo buttons” in the workplace and how to avoid using them. 

Did you know that many “walk” buttons at intersections actually do nothing? Not because they’re broken, but because they were deliberately deactivated when computer-controlled traffic signals were put in place. Even now that I know this, I often find myself standing at an intersection with my bike, pushing “walk” repeatedly, hoping to nudge the traffic light into changing. 

Placebo buttons, those buttons designed to make you feel as though you are in control—even though you are not—are everywhere. Clickable “save” buttons in software, “close door” buttons on elevators, and office and hotel thermostats are all often just ineffectual placebos. 

What worries me more than these examples, however, is the organizational placebo buttons that I’ve observed in otherwise well-run businesses. 

What do I mean by organizational placebo buttons? Activities designed to give people the illusion of control, without actually giving them control. I’ll bet you’ve seen a few of these examples: 

Customer and employee feedback systems in which no one ever takes action on the feedback. 

Innovation sessions which generate lots of good ideas, but then the company fails to invest even a minor amount to test the ideas out. 

Town hall meetings in which management promises action, but even the legitimate issues that are raised seem to go into a black hole. 

Strategy sessions, monthly reports and market research that uncover important threats and opportunities, but no action is taken, because other short term priorities always take precedence. 

Value statements that say we have “integrity,” “compassion” and “courage,” when leaders’ behavior seems to demonstrate the opposite. 

Any process, work or communication that doesn’t have the desired effect.  

These placebo buttons are destructive. Every time that you invent such a placebo system, you are essentially lying to your employees. You are leading them to believe that participating in the activity will lead to positive change. It won’t.


Key points include:

  • Enacting action items
  • Fixing feedback systems
  • Recognizing initiative


Read the full article, Stop Lying to Your Employees–Get Rid of Placebo Buttons, on