Wednesday, April 25, 2020
The Psychopathic Organization
Part 2 of a series on the illnesses of today’s organizational cultures
A psychopath is a person suffering with a personality disorder resulting in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse. A psychopathic organization is one where aggressive, cruel, dishonest, or twisted behavior is allowed without any concern about the consequences or impact on others. Being psychopathic means, essentially, having no discernible sense of morality or ethics. It’s the most common kind of organizational sickness today.If you encountered a person who displayed overt aggression, treated others with callousness, manipulated them for his or her own profit without any sign of remorse, and practiced daily amounts of dishonesty without any feelings of guilt or anxiety—save for the concern not to be caught—what would you think? Would you praise their behavior as displaying sound values? Would you hold them up as a positive example to others?
I doubt it very much. People like this are typically diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder and treated, sometimes under compulsion. Most mass murderers are psychopaths. They are often charming, cunning, arrogant, manipulative, and extremely hard to catch. Even when apprehended, most show no sign whatsoever of remorse or even recognition that what they have done is wrong.
Sadly, very similar behavior is common in organizations today. Not so extreme, of course. Organizations don’t commit murder (usually). But many do display no discernible sense that manipulating others, exploiting the weak, increasing profits by various forms of unethical behavior, or even some levels of dishonesty (providing you don’t get caught), are wrong in any way. Worse, some of these psychopathic organizations become the darlings of Wall Street and the financial press, simply based on the vast profits that they generate for their shareholders and managers.
How do you recognize a psychopathic organization?
- There is no interest in anything other than making profits and winning out over the competition. Just about anything that achieves this end counts as “fair,” regardless of its effect on others. Anyone who shows scruples is dismissed as “weak” or a “pinko.”
- Cunning, devious, and manipulative behavior is seen as “clever,” so long as it leads to benefits for the organization. Rules are there to be circumvented. Laws are more often evaded than honored. The only “sin” is being caught.
- “Spin” is important; the truth is not. Fine sounding statements are made with a nudge and a wink to insiders. Lying in the “good cause” of corporate profits is treated as normal. There is little or no sense of remorse about virtually any behavior that improves the bottom line, however unpleasant, callous, unethical, or borderline dishonest.
- The organization is run by a clique who play by unwritten rules. Offending against those rules is unacceptable. Making the true motives and methods of the organization public—being a whistle-blower—will get you fired right away.
- The organization protects those who serve it best. You can get away with almost any behavior, just as long as you continue to turn in the results expected. Any investigation of such favored individuals will be suppressed. Those who don’t meet their targets receive no protection or help.
- There is a pervasive atmosphere of “us against the world.” Insiders can earn enormous sums of money. Progress and promotion depends on being seen as “the right sort:” someone who will play the approved games and close ranks against nosey outsiders—especially the authorities or any pressure groups that appear hostile to the organization’s single-minded pursuit of what it sees as its interests.
Can these corporate psychopaths be cured? I think that they can, but only as a result of massive external pressure, and usually only after almost all the existing top management has been replaced. Leadership habits formed in a psychopathic atmosphere can be very hard to shake off, especially since the typical psychopath’s charm and cunning is deployed to make everything seem fine on the outside. Wall Street typically isn’t too particular about how profits are made, so long as no one gets caught out and the money keeps rolling in. That’s why organizations like this survive and seem to prosper.
The Roman emperor Vespasian was the first to raise money by putting a charge on public urinals. When some senators protested, he took a coin and waved it under their noses, saying: “It doesn’t smell, does it?” Today, quite a lot of corporate profit stinks to high heaven—but almost no one is out there sniffing.
Tuesday, April 17, 2020
Antidotes to Hamburger Management
How to rid yourself and your organization of poisonous management.
Hamburger Management is management based on always doing whatever is quickest, simplest, and (above all) cheapest. Hamburger Managers provide the kind of leadership that is best described as: “Never mind the quality, look how fast it goes, and how cheap it is.” Sadly, this approach is being forced on a great many otherwise perfectly reasonable and responsible people by the continual demands of those at the top to meet inflated expectations of short-term profit. If you have been forced in the past into Hamburger Management approaches, can you find a way out? Are there antidotes to purge you of the poison? There are. Here are some of the best.Is there hope for Hamburger Managers? Can they go to re-hab, like politicians and media stars, to be returned to society as reformed characters? Is there a de-toxification program? Indeed there is, and it doesn’t need you to stay in some remote resort or engage the services of a shrink. Let us reveal all.
One of the best antidotes to Hamburger Management is kindness in leadership and business dealings. That was the basis of my article: Is the Worm Turning? Macho, grab-and-go management styles, like Hamburger Management, are universally callous towards anyone who gets in the way of creating maximum (personal) profit in minimum time. In a civilized society, that really ought to be intolerable. If your words and actions are always marked by kindness, you cannot fall into Hamburger Management ways. It’s not possible. Be kind, always, and you’ll be free of the poison at once.
Check your ego at the door when you arrive each morning. I’ve long held the belief that the best way to “inspire” bosses to act in civilized ways would be to make any other behavior socially unacceptable. Nothing would change hearts and minds quicker that the prospect of being ostracized at the golf club; or no longer being invited to dinner by the “right kind of people” in the locality. Egotism is an intrinsic part of Hamburger Management. These macho management styles are sold to people on the basis that getting things done, even when it all seems impossible given the limited time and resources, will make you look good. And egotism is all about me, isn’t it? My career, my targets, my job security. If, instead, what you experienced was being shunned by all reasonable people, no one would stick with Hamburger Management for a week.
In a past posting called Take Any Two From Four . . ., I explained that work can be quick, cheap, innovative or good—but you can only have two of those qualities at any one time. Good, innovative work isn’t going to be cheap or quick, because it takes time and resources to break away from the dead hand of conformity. Quick, cheap ways of doing business (the hallmark of Hamburger Management) more or less ensure that the work done won’t be good (too expensive) or innovative (too slow and risky). That’s how good businesses go downhill, by focusing on short-term profits instead of lasting value. To remove the poison of Hamburger Management from your systems, as well as your own approach to leadership, make sure that you concentrate on long-term approaches whenever you can. Sort-term actions should flow from long-term strategies, not the other way around.
Hamburger Management cannot exist in the presence of genuine respect for others. The surest way to alienate and demotivate others is to deny them respect. Macho, grab-and-go management does this all the time. People are treated as “human resources:” depersonalized objects that are simply costs, tolerated only as long as there is no cheaper alternative. If you can do without them, fine. If you can’t, but can outsource the work somewhere where people will work for much lower pay, also fine—even if those people are little better than slaves in some Third-World sweatshop. The minute you feel that you can find a cheaper way, forget any soft ideas about loyalty to your workers. As Circuit City showed recently, with a Hamburger Management approach you shouldn't waste time considering the possibility that what you’re doing is barbaric and marks you and your business out as *ssholes on a massive scale.
Nothing slows business down more than time spent in pointless meetings, but it’s not the kind of slowing down we advocate at Slow Leadership. Too many meetings have absolutely nothing to do with communicating information—and still less with listening to other peoples’ thoughts and ideas. Here’s a very quick list of the most common—but almost never acknowledged—reasons for holding meetings:
- Demonstrating your power and authority by proving that you can call people together, regardless of how busy they are—just because you want to.
- Giving yourself a platform for pontificating and polishing your ego.
- Playing office politics. Meetings are a great forum for practicing one-upmanship and humiliating political opponents.
- Holding fake consultations so that you can claim others were party to some decision. A great way to cover your butt if things go wrong.
- Demonstrating how busy and important you are (because you have to attend so many meetings).
There are only two genuine reasons for holding a meeting:
- Sharing information when you are willing—and able—to answer any questions immediately; and when the subject matter is such that large groups of people need to get identical information at the same time.
- Situations when you are willing to seek genuine ideas, thoughts, and feedback from the participants and listen to what is said honestly and with an open mind.
Instead of cluttering up people’s time with silly meetings, constant phone calls to “check progress,” foolish demands for progress reports, and other childish activities based on your own suspicions and fears, why not try trusting your subordinates to do their jobs? Give them the space, time, trust, and support to make it happen. If more corporations tried that approach, I believe they would discover they have plenty of time to get everything done, without all the stress and long hours. All they need to do is to free themselves from pointless reporting, useless meetings, the collection of meaningless statistics, petty rules, the preparing of endless PowerPoint presentations with justifications for any and every minor action, and all the other common means of covering those so-delicate executive butts.
Good business is not about being quick, simple, or cheap. It’s about being better at what you do than anyone else. And that includes service, quality, and innovation too. That’s why Hamburger Management is ultimately self-defeating. Rushing, cutting corners, compromising quality and innovation to get quick profits, sacrificing long-term success for short-term gratification, strutting around like an oversized rooster, feeding your already-inflated ego, and pretending that you are John Wayne are the marks of an immature mind and a crippled personality.
That’s not business, it’s personal display, like a stag at the rutting ground. Save it for trying to impress other gullible idiots. The rest of us already think you’re a total jerk.
Friday, April 13, 2020
Whose fault is it anyway?
Making yourself responsible for what you cannot control makes for a miserable life.
Are you accountable for your actions—or responsible for the results? Can you be held responsible for making something happen—or only for the way that you try? Get the answer wrong and you’re setting yourself up for a good deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Sadly, Hamburger Managers habitually confuse accountability with responsibility, especially when it comes to pressuring their people to serve up unrealistic targets. It sounds tough and practical to say that winning is all that matters, but it’s still nonsense. No one can control events or outcomes, not even today’s ultra-macho managers. Yet many are half-killing themselves by trying.Yesterday, I wrote about the negative role played by an overdeveloped ego. Now I want to consider a related issue. Many organizations and executives treat accountability and responsibility as the same. More demand specific results and state that someone or other is being held responsible for getting them. By doing so, they’re causing stress and confusion on a large scale. Keeping the meaning of these common terms clear is essential for proper leadership; as is understanding what someone should rationally be held accountable for and what they certainly should not.
If you’re accountable for something, it means that you are the person who is liable to be called to account for progress, success, or failure: to “give an account” explaining what happened, what you did in response, and why. It doesn’t mean that you need to do everything associated with that project yourself. Nor that success or failure ultimately depends on your actions. Most of what happens in the world does so by chance, or due to such a complex tangle of causes and related effects that it is impossible to determine the exact reason (if there was one). To be accountable means that you have to answer for your actions (or lack of them). It does not mean that you should be blamed for every failure or congratulated for every success. Most have nothing to do with you. Whatever you did had no effect on them.
This is tough for many people to accept. As a species, humans like simple, clear causes that produce obvious effects. Our brains are programmed to try to find them. The human sub-species that works in the media is especially prone to inventing simple reasons for every event. You need only listen to the pundits discussing the day’s trading on Wall Street to hear an impossibly complex set of global financial interactions reduced to some bland statement that trading was up or down due to something simple, like a speech, one set of figures, or “nervous investors.”
To be responsible for something is generally understood to imply that you—and whatever you did or left undone—were the direct cause of whatever happened. It’s all down to you to control people and events to bring about the desired result.
Thinking like this is giving yourself ludicrous airs, but the ego loves it. It puts you right at the center of events. It makes you important, critical, essential to success. Egotistical Hamburger Managers typically make this kind of claim, pointing to positive outcomes and saying: “I did that.” But if you’re the cause of the good things, you have to be the cause of the bad ones too. Now that’s not so nice. Of course, people are quick to attribute failures and messes to others, to unexpected events, and to simple chance. All true. But if the failures are down to chance most of the time, won’t the successes be due to the same random combination of events?
Smith is responsible. Blame Smith. Quick, clean, simple. And wrong, in the vast majority of cases.Treating other people as responsible is also tempting because it sounds tough and makes life simple. If Smith is responsible for sales and sales fall, fire Smith. It’s his or her fault. There’s no wasting time trying to find out what went wrong. No potentially embarrassing inquiry that might suggest others above Smith had some part to play in the failure. Smith is responsible. Blame Smith. Quick, clean, simple. And wrong, in the vast majority of cases.
You can see this attitude all around us. The corporation is in trouble? Fire the CEO (with an enormous golden parachute) and hire a new, higher profile one (with a huge signing-on bonus.) And if things get no better afterwards? Fire the new CEO—then repeat as required.
Does anyone ever reckon up the cost of these repeated restructurings? Or ask why so few of them appear to work? These people may have been accountable for some or all of the business, but they are rarely (if ever) personally responsible for what happened. Firing them is a purely emotional response: a wish to see someone suffer (though the golden parachutes make it the kind of suffering most of us would love to volunteer for!). It has no logic to it. What’s needed is to take the time to find out, if possible, what the real problems are and correct those.
If this was only about fat cat executives, most of us would find it tough to care. Sadly, it applies at all levels. Bosses hold subordinates responsible (not just accountable) for all kinds of events outside anyone’s capacity to influence. Worse still, people hold themselves responsible: accepting the blame for past failures and tormenting themselves with guilt and regrets.
I wince when I read nonsense like the idea that each of us is somehow responsible for what happens in our lives, probably through some magical psychic transference. It’s total rubbish. We are accountable for our actions—always—but we cannot affect large parts of what happens in our lives and careers in any way. All we can do is react to events as sensibly as we can.
It’s time to leave behind this childish, simplistic view of cause and effect that owes more to superstition, revenge, and primitive religiosity than any logic.It’s time to drop the silly, Hamburger Management nonsense that claims people must take responsibility for events that are wholly, or even partly, outside their control; time to leave behind this childish, simplistic view of cause and effect that owes more to superstition, revenge, and primitive religiosity than any logic. Superstition believes that unrelated events effect one another (the stars and events on earth). Lynching someone because bad things happened is the response of a primitive society. And there’s no evidence to suggest that the gods, let alone a supposedly loving God, spend their time messing up peoples’ lives as punishment for various sins.
By all means let us hold those in positions of power accountable for what they do—sensible, stupid, or corrupt—but forget feeding their egos (and our desire to hit back) by pretending that they are personally responsible for every outcome. Luck plays a huge part in the career of every successful person. Few executives, even CEOs, have much personal power to do more that torment their subordinates.
Stand back, slow down, and accept that most of life’s problems will take careful exploration to understand properly. Action without understanding is foolish. But then, Hamburger Management is the most foolish approach of all.
Thursday, April 12, 2020
Of Expansive Egos and Hamburger Managers
Can organizations afford what corporate egos are costing them?
"To have without possessing,
do without claiming,
lead without controlling;
this is mysterious power."
Tao Te Ching, Lau Tzu (tr. Ursula K. Le Guin)
Ego and egotism are endemic to Hamburger Management, but fatal to good leadership. Egotism causes over-optimism, over-confidence, and arrogance. Big egos inflate people into domineering monsters focused on petty personal victories, who wreck relationships and rush to take on too much, in the erroneous belief that they’re the only people sufficiently capable. Then such people demand too much from their teams to sustain their crazy, inflated Superman or Wonder Woman images. Giving up that ego would cut everyone’s stress—and transform their leadership too.Buddhists have long claimed a false belief in the ego is a principle cause of human suffering. I’m inclined to agree with this. In the Buddhist view, there is no ego. It’s a mental concept without true substance, generated by incorrect thinking and a poor grasp of reality. Because it isn’t something that can exist on its own, it must be constantly fed with the three elements in the quotation at the head of this posting: possession, claims of personal “ownership” of events and outcomes, and delusions of control. Exactly the same behavior characterizes most Hamburger Managers.
What happens when a leader can’t have without possessing? Everything becomes his. It’s his team, his authority, his areas of responsibility and command, his decisions alone. No one must be allowed to share his power—or his rewards—so no one can share the burdens either. Any questioning of his decisions becomes a personal attack and proof of disloyalty. To take anything of his away threatens his very existence.
This is a quick route to paranoia and dictatorship. The leader who can’t let go of his ego-driven urge to possess everything can’t accept colleagues, only subordinates. He can’t allow others to do whatever they can do as well—or better—than him, in case that makes him look insufficient. No one can help him, no one can truly support him, because he cannot share anything. In his crazed urge to possess it all, he sets himself up to lose it all instead.
Similarly, the leader who claims every success, every gain, every useful action as hers frustrates all those around her. She cannot do without claiming. It’s all hers—except the failures, of course. She won the order (though she never met the customer); she had that great new idea (after someone else explained it to her); she’s the one solely responsible for exceeding the budget and cutting costs (though her team created the plan, implemented it, and bore the burdens of overwork and long hours).
In reality, all that she’s responsible for (but never claims) is alienating her people, irritating her colleagues, and becoming so filled with inflated ideas of her own importance that she’s a universal pain in the butt. Why is there any need to claim anything? If it’s done—and done well—what more is required? If someone else did it, give them the praise they’re due. Only peoples’ needy, insecure egos demand constant reassurance it’s all down to them.
Good leaders don’t need to exercise control as they lead. People follow them because they want to; because they like, respect, admire, emulate, and even love the leader. There’s no call for rules, enforcement, punishment, and informers: all the paraphernalia of the typical command-and-control, macho culture of many organizations. They have to operate like police states because the leaders’ egos crave the false reassurance that they’re in control. The more any leader resorts to commands and enforcement, the less he or she leads. The ego is calling all the shots.
I’ve drawn these pictures in harsh outlines, but we’ve all suffered under leaders who show some—sometimes most—of these destructive behaviors, at least in less extreme forms. Egotism is a pervasive curse. The claim that all power corrupts is a direct consequence of the malignant ability of an inflated ego to turn a previously pleasant, competent manager into a leadership monster.
True leadership sometimes seems to be a mysterious power—but only because the leader doesn’t appear to do anything except be herself. It looks effortless, yet it’s powerful beyond expectation. She gives away authority, power, position, and recognition as if she has no interest in such possessions—which is true. She also hands out rewards, praise, respect, and support to all who merit them; then receives more in return than she gave away. She has everything, yet claims nothing for herself. She gets everything done, yet points to others as the ones who did it. Ask them and they’ll tell you she was the one responsible. They did it for her, under her oversight, to meet her specifications. She never appears to control anything. There’s no need. Everyone rushes to what what she asks. Better still, they strain to anticipate her wishes before she ever articulates them. They love working for her and they love her. Why? Because she makes them feel wanted, needed, and valued.
Let go of your ego. It’s a burden that you don’t need. Besides, it doesn’t really exist—unless you act as if it does. To achieve the power that enables, not corrupts, stop possessing, claiming, and controlling . . . and try caring and leading instead.
Friday, April 06, 2020
Jam today . . . or caviar tomorrow?
Business leaders used to be compared to robber barons. Now some of them are more like greedy children or small-time gangsters.
Instant gratification is a hallmark of many of today’s organizations, headed by a slew of people following the shabby tenets of Hamburger Management. Sadly, there’s no sign that these organizations will grow out of their obsession; or that the financial institutions that fund them will encourage them to do so. This type of infantile behavior isn’t seen for what it is—a pathological prolonging of childish attitudes. In fact, people are encouraged to see it as perfectly normal. Why?David Maister raises some interesting questions (“The Long Term”) about people’s inability to get past their urge towards instant gratification to do what is best for their own long-term interest. He writes:
In much of my recent thinking (and writing) I have observed that our biggest barrier, as individuals and as organizations, is the difficulty in doing what is in our long-term best interest, not just what provides immediate gratification . . . it is part of the human condition that we can know what to do, why we should do it, and even how to do things for which we fervently desire the benefits. None of that actually predicts that we actually are going to do what we absolutely know is good for us.To say that this is equally, if not more, true of organizations is to state the obvious. The insane emphasis on quarterly earnings as almost the sole measure of business success is all about instant gratification. What may be in the longer-term interests of shareholders and the organization itself scarcely comes into the picture.
For organizations and individuals, it’s hard to resist the lure of “jam today” in favor of some future benefit that is, probably, far less certain. Taking the longer-term view used to be seen as a mark of maturity. Only children were expected to grab for immediate rewards. Adults saved money for the future, invested in pension plans, and considered short and long-term consequences before committing to some course of action.
What went wrong?
I suspect that much of today’s infantilism stems from a trend towards a consumer-based economy. Marketers and sales people don’t want customers to wait and think about their purchases. They don’t want them to set aside money in savings, when they could be spending it—right now—on buying products. From time to time, governments and financial gurus shake their heads over the problems caused by easy credit, but it’s really all their own doing. In the urge to sell more and more consumer products, credit is essential—and the easier the better. People quickly exhaust their current income (some still has to be spent on food and other necessities). Then they must either wait to save enough to make the next “big box” purchase, or borrow money to do so. Borrowing money not only makes the sale right away; it’s also a further opportunity to profit through the interest charged on the loan.
Somehow the consumer society manages to combine a puritanical obsession with working with a totally hedonistic devotion to getting whatever you want in as short a time as possible.Yet capitalism itself is all about putting off gratification for the sake of greater long-term profit through investment. Instead of taking all their cash and having a truly memorable blow-out in some exotic location, entrepreneurs and capitalists are expected to invest their money and wait for bigger rewards some time in the future. Instant gratification is also the antithesis of America’s favorite attitude to life: the Puritan Work Ethic. If you truly accepted having it all and having it now as your goal, you would never go to work. Somehow the consumer society manages to combine a puritanical obsession with working with a totally hedonistic devotion to getting whatever you want in as short a time as possible.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of a consumer society, it was, of course, inevitable that the attitudes produced should spill over into the rest of life.
Management practices are not immune from this process. Training and developing staff can be a long-term business—far too long-term for your average Hamburger Manager, who demands that everyone should “hit the ground running” or suffer the consequences. Developing sensible organizational strategies takes much more time than putting up a Powerpoint presentation of slogans and platitudes—or, better still, copying what some other, supposedly successful, organization is doing. Imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a hell of a lot quicker than crafting ideas that exactly fit the needs of your own organization. Raising short-term profits by cutting costs provides almost instant returns, even if the longer-term impact may be dire. Raising them by improving products, service, or competitiveness takes a whole lot more time and effort—never mind that it’s the only way to create a sustainable future.
Only those that set aside infantile ideas of instant gratification and short-termism will make it through to influence and shape the future.Maybe what we are seeing is Darwinian evolution at work. The mass of short-term, grab-and-go organizations and managers won’t have the staying power to survive. Only those that set aside infantile ideas of instant gratification and short-termism will make it through to influence and shape the future. For the rest, extinction will come far sooner than they expect—and much, much sooner that they would wish.
Short-termism is an infectious disease that has been slowly choking the life and creativity out of our organizations. There's only one cure: to slow down, take a careful look at risks and rewards, and stop the slavish addiction to managing by numbers alone. Growing a business is like growing anything else. It takes time, and rushing it is more likely to produce a disaster than something that will go on growing. The attitudes of Hamburger Management have more in common with the methods of gangsters than entrepreneurs: get in quick, grab as much as you can, and get as far away as possible before trouble arrives. Is that what we want to see in boardrooms and executive suites?
Tuesday, April 03, 2020
Hamburger Management and the culture of fear
Dictators always suppress dissent. Corporate ones are no different.
Few things in this life are black-and-white, however much some managers try to make them so. Unquestioning loyalty easily becomes ethical blindness. When it does, it is no loyalty at all. Sometimes what the boss most needs is to hear the truth, before he or she says or does something that will bring harm. Besides, our freedom to question and to disagree is too important to be sacrificed in the trivial cause of helping to free our organizational masters from the discomforts and challenges of being questioned and held to account.
Is loyalty to the boss and the company always admirable? In today’s business climate, positive rebellion may already be essential if you’re not to lose out in global competition. Too much emphasis on loyalty can stifle creativity and dull people’s willingness to tell the truth about themselves and their work. Competitors ought to love overly loyal organizations, because no one there will be ready to rock the boat by pointing out how fast they’re becoming sluggish and obsolete.
Here’s the problem. Too much disloyalty is disruptive and destroys trust; yet unquestioning loyalty usually means that important issues may be suppressed until it’s too late. Getting the right balance between the loyalty necessary for corporate cohesiveness and the dissent that has to be encouraged to stimulate personal initiative isn’t as simple as it sounds. Tightly-knit teams are good for support, but very bad for encouraging initiative, creativity, and truth-telling. We need those people who are ready to look with different—even potentially disloyal—eyes and bring uncomfortable reality into the open. Without them, corporations and leaders get fat, dumb, and happy—until the dam breaks and disaster is all around them.
If the boss is already harassed and stressed, he or she is likely to be much more intolerant of opposition or questioning.Dictators—political or organizational—are always surrounded by “yes-men” eager to prove their loyalty by saying whatever the person in power will find most acceptable. In such circumstances, the pressure to fit in and suppress unpleasant realities can be overwhelming. Haste and speed also put pressure on dissent of any kind. Instant acceptance is quick and easy. Coping with questions, objections, or alternatives takes time and effort. If the boss is already harassed and stressed, he or she is likely to be much more intolerant of opposition or questioning. And that’s without the added pressure of an organizational culture that is itself hostile to questioning of any kind.
Hamburger Management is obsessed with speed, simplicity, and managerial power. Hamburger Managers typically require unquestioning loyalty, and prize team players far more highly than individualists, whose curiosity and innovative thoughts may force those in charge to defend their decisions. Dissent of any kind is uncomfortable in such a culture. Skeptics who challenge whatever the boss has come to believe is expedient will soon find themselves moving elsewhere. Such irritating people deserve it, in the view of those in charge, because they waste time questioning things that the rest have already decided—or maybe don’t want to look at too closely.
When a culture prizes “loyalty” above all else, fear becomes the dominant emotion. Fear of doing or saying anything that might draw down punishment. Fear of “rocking the boat” or speaking out of turn. It’s too easy to brush objections aside on the spurious grounds that “there isn’t time” to consider anything else. Too easy to suppress individual freedom to think and speak in the cause of quick profits and the minimization of delays and costs. Organizations that have become badly infected with Hamburger Management produce exactly such a culture. No time to think, no time to deal with questions, no wish to consider alternatives, so closed-minded that dissent can no longer be tolerated.
Organizations full of “yes-men,” run by leaders obsessed with personal power and profit, are interested only in the most immediate results and so throw themselves headlong down today’s typically competitive, uncertain business path, beset with problems and difficulties, with their eyes tight shut. Mostly they deal with difficulties by either ignoring them or trying to blast through them by a deadly combination of brute force and willful ignorance. They’re tough guys, aren’t they? They stop for nothing . . . until something stops them—dead.
There is a way to reconcile loyalty with openness to uncomfortable truth. It’s based on requiring ethical choices, not unthinking or unquestioning loyalty.Before all the unthinking assumptions built into Hamburger Management cause the organization to buckle, then break, under the combined weight of problems ignored and changes sidestepped, there may still be time to draw back and avert disaster. What it takes is slowing down enough to think. It also needs enough trust and tolerance for eccentricities that people become willing to draw problems to the boss’s attention in time to make a difference. Those “disloyal” whistle-blowers who reveal hidden corruption and deceit are important and valuable folk, often moved by a stronger sense of ethics and duty than the rest of us. they shouldn’t be suppressed or punished. They should be seen as the “canaries in the coal mine:” a vital early-warning system of a build-up of dangerous corporate gases.
There is a way to reconcile loyalty with openness to uncomfortable truth. It’s based on requiring ethical choices, not unthinking or unquestioning loyalty. When people work through the ethics of trust and support for boss and peers, it’s possible to see where the balance lies between being honest (even if that involves dissent) and being truly disloyal.
Loyalty has long been prized by leaders. To be disloyal to one’s superiors is typically seen as offensive and culpable. The more authoritarian and dogmatic the leaders, the more they tend to prize loyalty above other traits in their followers. Hamburger Management often produces a culture where loyalty is so obsessively demanded that it produces a culture of fear: a place where anything other than total, unquestioning obedience to those in charge is seen as intolerable. And that, I believe, is not the least of its many curses.
Monday, April 02, 2020
Decision making by data collection isn’t management. It isn’t even sensible.
The current-day obsession with data and measurement is part of a supposedly “scientific” approach to management and decision making. Yet our equal obsession with speed and cutting corners ensures that choices are often made without taking enough time to weigh all the evidence, test it for validity, or even consider its true meaning. To parody Sir Winston Churchill: “Never in the history of human leadership has so much been measured by so many for so little resulting clarity.”We live in an age that prizes data and measurement to an almost obsessive degree. Computers have increased our ability to collect and process information by many orders of magnitude. Almost every special interest group, from political parties to social action groups and trade associations, trot out yet another slew of survey results whenever they wish to make a point or attract the attention of the media. No one seems to stop to ask what use we are making of all this data. Do we even know if it’s correct? Or what it means?
The media report all the often conflicting survey results with gleeful interest. Survey stories fill air-time and column inches. You can nearly always find some nugget in them to create a jaw-dropping headline. Never mind that today’s survey contradicts yesterday’s. The public attention span is assumed to be too short to care—or maybe even to notice.
Surveys and statistical studies have long been the stock-in-trade of academics. You publish your results, others test and criticize them, and—slowly—knowledge inches forward. If what you report fails to stand up to analysis and replication by your peers, it is rejected. You are an expert writing for experts. They demand solid evidence and unshakeable methodology. This process is the foundation of the scientific method.
Thanks to Powerpoint, presentations contain carefully chosen summaries—little more than headlines designed to produce an emotional reaction, not an analytical one.In organizations, much of the data is collected and analyzed by amateurs. The methods used are often poorly understood. Once available, results are use more politically than scientifically: to justify individual points of view, support pet projects, or wave in the face of opponents. What supports a case is seized up. Often there is no one to question it, since any “inconvenient” findings are quietly hidden away. Thanks to Powerpoint, presentations contain carefully chosen summaries—little more than headlines designed to produce an emotional reaction, not an analytical one.
It is the aura of scientific respectability that makes the day-to-day use of numerical data and survey results so attractive—and so dangerous. The results printed in the media, or reported in tens of thousands of Powerpoint presentations in corporations every day, are not delivered to be checked, questioned, or challenged. They are to be believed. All the scientific (or pseudo-scientific) trappings are used to foster an unquestioning acceptance of the supposed findings. The hearer or reader is subtly reminded that they are ill-informed amateurs being addressed by experts possessing all the data. This isn’t science. It’s marketing and PR “spin” wrapped in scientific garb. It’s a very aggressive wolf trying to pretend it’s a harmless, scientific sheep.
In today’s hyper-competitive climate, no one wants to admit that they understood barely one word in five . . .In the workplace, more and more data is demanded, processed, and used to justify various points of view. Do those making decisions based on presentations of this data understand it? Do they have the knowledge, or the time, to question its validity—or even reflect on what else it might be pointing to, in place of whatever they have been told to believe? Is there any opportunity given for fact-checking or attempts to replicate the findings?
The answer to all these questions is usually “no”. Haste is endemic. Executives are expected to make virtually instant decisions. Most of them are too overwhelmed with data, let alone all the other demands that they face, to do more than accept what their “experts” tell them. In today’s hyper-competitive climate, no one wants to admit that they understood barely one word in five; or that they have virtually no grasp of statistics and can be bamboozled by almost any set of plausible-seeming figures.
Worse, yet, many of the “experts” producing and presenting this data are consultants, and expensive ones at that. When you pay millions to get a report from a consulting firm, you aren’t usually disposed to question or reject the results. And the more that you’ve paid for the consultants’ findings, the less willing that you are even to consider that your money might have been wasted.
What does it take to make sure of a sensible level of fact-checking, critical analysis, and consideration of all this data, let alone the conclusions that you are told that it supports?
In management decision making, all data ought really to be presumed false or misleading until proven factual.It takes time and the willingness to regard all proposals, however enthusiastically presented and wrapped in “scientific” analysis of data, with initial skepticism. In our judicial systems, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty (though try getting the media to respect that). In management decision making, all data ought really to be presumed false or misleading until proven factual; and all proposals supported by data, however superficially convincing, should be the subject of deep suspicion until proper independent evidence is produced.
Time and skepticism: the very heart of Slow Leadership. Without them, managers and executives are almost helpless against manipulation by special interests and confusion by data overload. A glut of macho Hamburger Managers, all primed with endless ambition and eager to appear decisive, coupled with silly workloads and a corporate obsession with instant gratification, is a terrifying prospect. It’s like putting a group of manic two-year olds in charge of your trust fund.
Hardly a recipe for sound, truly scientific decision-making, is it?
Friday, March 30, 2020
Taking the time for complexity
Over-simplification and management by slogans threatens to drag us all into mediocrity
Hamburger Management is big on simplicity—and speed. It tries to find quick and simple answers to everything, since there’s no time available to develop a proper understanding of often complex situations. True experts in a topic can often make something extremely complex seem understandable by anyone, but that comes only as a result of decades of deep thought and experience. What Hamburger Management offers is simply the Disneyfication of leadership.
We live in a complex world. We’re complex creatures, full of complex thoughts and emotions. Nothing about us is straightforward, from the trillions of trillions of connections our brains can make to the way we’ve taken something as necessary as the continuance of our species and turned it into a maze of hopes, desires, fears and opportunities for righteous condemnation. Many of today’s organizations are massive—financially, geographically, and in terms of products handled and people employed. It’s probably fair to say that much of modern life, but especially business life, has never been more complex, interconnected, and far-reaching in its effects.
And still, despite all of this, managers and business leaders remain hooked on the notion that there’s a simple, quick answer to everything.
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness.We’re urged to “keep it simple, stupid.” Complex projects, requiring decisions that may result in investments of millions of dollars, must be reduced to an “elevator speech” of thirty seconds or less. Opinions on matters so difficult and involved they almost defy comprehension are delivered in fifteen-second sound-bites. The Powerpoint presentation—that modern obsession designed to reduce every communication to a list of bullet points—has replaced any kind of reasoned argument, or careful explanation of options, evidence, and risks. Executives rush from meeting to meeting, rarely allowing themselves the time either to consider what they are about to decide, or reflect on what they have just accepted or turned down.
In an atmosphere like this, it become impossible to learn anything. The very best that can be done is to apply simplistic rules of thumb and take mostly emotionally-based decisions. Thoughts and the weighing of evidence take time. Emotional responses are virtually instant; plus they come with an impressive feeling of certainty, even if that feeling is based on almost nothing tangible. Is it any wonder that, in an age of news broadcasts reduced to slogans and sound bites sandwiched between far more extensive advertising, discussion programs aimed at producing confrontation rather than insight, and the written word reduced to books hyping “The Secret” and other panaceas for every known situation, few people even grasp the pressing need to slow down and allow yourself time to sort out fact from fiction and carefully-constructed spin?
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness. Wishing doesn’t make the wish come true. Panaceas rise and fall with monotonous regularity, each one making a fortune for its proponents, then sinking almost without trace—only to be reborn a few years later in a fresh format. There is no credible evidence that the universe responds automatically to our thoughts and wishes, let alone the business world. Intention may help focus your thinking, but it provides no guarantee of success. Simple answers are simple for a very good reason: most of them have sacrificed understanding and reality in favor of sounding good.
Facts will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question.It’s a sad failing of the human race that we nearly all want something for nothing—to be able to enjoy the fruits of success without the effort (and the time) that it always takes. Since civilization began, there have been glib snake-oil salesmen peddling easy, no-fail answers to life’s problems; just as there have been gurus of every kind assuring their followers that all it takes to win happiness and salvation is obedience to their every word and a few simple “spiritual”or mental exercises—known, of course, only to them.
Embrace life’s complexity. Don’t fall prey to the naive illusion that there is a simple, easy answer to every problem. Go beneath the spin, the presentation, the marketing, to the meaning below. Demand to see the evidence. Then demand the time to test and check that evidence fully. Facts and sound logic will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question. Don't be hurried. Speed is usually a principal factor in disasters of every kind. The person in a rush is the one who misses all the warning signs, cuts all the corners, and jumps to conclusions without any real evidence to back them up.
Hamburger Management urges us to operate in a multiple-choice manner in a business world full of long, complex essay questions. To be genuinely simple takes long periods of time and enormous effort devoted to understanding issues in their full complexity—plus outstanding intelligence. To be simplistic takes neither effort nor thought nor time to consider and reflect. Slow Leadership isn’t slow for no reason. It’s slow because it takes time to get complex things right. Anyone can make a mistake in a heartbeat.
There’s power and interest and potential in complexity. Why throw it away to accept today’s shoddy, simplistic alternatives? Why take the risk of getting things badly wrong, just to save time in the short-term? Won’t those hurried mistakes mean that you’ll have to spend even more time later to try to put them right?
Thursday, March 29, 2020
By their fruits ye shall know them
Bad decisions reveal bad leaders, whatever the excuses they make
How can you gauge the quality of leadership in an organization? There’s one, simple way: by looking at the decisions they make. When short-term decisions are the norm, greed is everywhere, and ethics are either ignored or seen as something to be “got around” for the sake of profit, you know that the leadership has become so riddled with Hamburger Management that it has reached rock bottom.Two news stories in two days brought home to me just how far down the scale of basic leadership competence organizations can go. One was about a company that allowed secret military information about night-vision equipment to be provided to companies abroad, including some in China. I say “allowed.” That’s too weak a word. According to a spokesperson from the US Justice Department, some of the organization’s executives not only knew that they were breaking the law, they tried to work out the best ways of doing it, so as not to be caught. The United States attorney, John L. Brownlee, said in a statement. “The criminal actions of this corporation have threatened to turn on the lights on the modern battlefield for our enemies and expose American soldiers to great harm.”
Why did they do it? To save money by outsourcing, so inflating profits.
The other story was about Circuit City. It seems they are planning to lay off more than 3000 experienced, higher-paid people and replace them with new recruits at lower wages.
Why? To boost the bottom line.
This time, even some of the financial analysts expressed surprise. The New York Times quoted one as saying:
While we view these cost cuts as clearly good for near-term earnings, they are not necessarily the way to drive longer-term operational success. It stands to reason that firing 3,400 of arguably the most successful sales people in the company could prove terrible for morale.Yet, despite this clear statement that management were making a decision that mortgages the future for short-term gain, the company’s shares rose by more than 2 percent. It seems that Wall Street still can’t manage to raise its eyes beyond the next quarter. Never mind that customers will now, presumably, be served by newer, less qualified and experienced staff when they want to buy an expensive flat-screen TV or some other expensive electronic gizmo. Who cares about providing quality service when there is money to be made?
. . . he found it incredible that a business would endanger the lives of American soldiers, just to increase their profits by a few percentage points.Short-termism is the essence of Hamburger Management. Yet how staff behave, especially towards customers, is telling the rest of the world—very clearly and loudly—how good the executives are as leaders. When I see poor staff, I know the leadership is crap. And don’t give me all that rubbish about blaming the quality of the people available. If management employs the cheapest people that they can hire, there’re getting what they deserve and telling potential recruits that they would rather fire you than reward you properly. As a result, good staff soon won’t be seen dead working in their organization. Worst of all, management obviously don’t care. Only the cheapest is right for their customers. Never mind the quality, feel the profits. However they slice it, it’s clear who will be to blame for the long-term decline of the business. There can be no excuses.
What about the ethics of decisions like this? Is it right to break the law and send military secrets to possibly unfriendly countries to make a buck? Is it right to fire good employees, just because you may be able to hire less good ones more cheaply? I listened to a US government official saying that he found it incredible that a business would endanger the lives of American soldiers, just to increase their profits by a few percentage points. I want to ask him what world he was living in. There are executives out there who would sell their children into slavery to boost the value of their stock options.
Civilized societies don’t foster unbridled greed.It’s high time we took a very long, careful, and objective look at the kind of business communities we in the West are allowing to develop. Do we want truly unfettered capitalism, where everything is fair and all that matters is how much profit the company reports each quarter—and how much cash the executives take away as a result? Do we want the pursuit of money and power to become the sole arbiter of what is acceptable? Do we want our business leaders to put personal greed before the public good?
If we don’t, it’s time that we found ways to rein back the less acceptable forms of corporate behavior. Civilized societies don’t foster unbridled greed. They don’t condone law-breaking in search of better-looking figures. Nor do civilized organizations. I have yet to hear that anyone involved in these dubious decisions has been disciplined, let alone fired.
“By their fruits ye shall know them,” it says in the New Testament. What do these decisions tell you about the businesses involved?
Wednesday, March 28, 2020
Accept it: you can’t concentrate on two things at once
Multi-tasking isn’t a solution to soaring workloads. It’s a huge part of the problem.
There are some topics that it’s worth returning to periodically; some myths that are so deeply-rooted in our culture that eradicating them is like getting rid of couch grass—you know that it will take many, many applications of weedkiller to do the job. One of these topics is multi-tasking. The more stressed people become, the more they attempt to do several jobs simultaneously. Yet research (and commonsense) strongly suggests that the human mind simply isn’t designed to work that way. Here’s another dose of anti-multitasking “weedkiller.”What is multi-tasking? It’s a process of mental juggling with tasks or thoughts: trying to handle two or more tasks simultaneously, switching constantly between tasks, or jumping through several in rapid succession. It’s become a staple of macho styles of management, especially Hamburger Management. So much so that people don’t just rely on this supposed ability to handle their crushing workloads; they boast about how many disparate jobs they can handle at the same time. It’s another case of: “I’m better than you are, because mine (my mutli-tasking) is bigger than yours.” The kind of infantile boasting that we fondly think is confined to adolescent boys, but turns out to be just as prevalent in middle-aged ones, especially after several drinks.
Of course, organizations have come to rely on this supposed multi-tasking ability to allow deeper and deeper cuts in staffing to save cost and boost short-term profits. So people pile on the work, constantly switching between tasks, while being distracted by all the e-mails, phone calls, BlackBerry messages and the like that they imagine they have to handle to prove their management and professional ability. Since there’s no time left in normal office hours for real work, what with all the pointless meetings as well, they take work home every evening and weekend, telling themselves that they’ll be able to do it then in peace and quiet.
That doesn’t work either, of course. There are domestic and family matters to attend to. Perhaps the television is on in the same room, or nearby. Other people interrupt with questions, comments, or futile requests for attention. After a day spent juggling half a dozen tasks and distractions at once, the evening or weekend is devoted, in large part, to the same thing. Stress is piled on stress. People lose sleep to work; and when they do get to bed, their brains are on hyperdrive, so sleep is patchy and interrupted.
Multi-tasking isn’t a solution. It’s a vast and growing part of the problem.Research shows convincingly that doing more than one task at a time, or jumping between tasks, especially complex ones, takes a heavy toll on productivity. This macho approach to handling greater workloads turns out to make the people who use it less productive, not more.
The truth about multi-tasking is simple. You can never have more than 100 percent of your attention available. Split it across two tasks and nothing changes. Still 100 percent. Only now each task has 50 percent—or one has 70 percent and the other 30 percent, however you choose to share out your attention. Even if you “oscillate” between the tasks, each gets only 100 percent for a limited time, before you switch back to the other one. Maybe not even that, since it is known that it can take the mind up to 15 minutes or more to get back to full attention on the task that you previously dropped. Take the average attention devoted over any period and it must be less than 100 percent (remember all the gaps with zero, plus the “warm up” periods?). Now suppose you’re multi-tasking between three or four tasks. How much of your attention will each one get? You do the math. Of course, this assumes you are ever able to put 100 percent of your attention on any task. In most organizations, that’s rarely possible, what with meetings, phone calls, e-mails, and all the other distractions.
People who believe they can multi-task effectively share a dangerous delusion: that paying attention to several things simultaneously actually increases their available attention above 100 percent, so they can still focus fully on every task. This is logical nonsense. It’s like saying you can spend your total income on food and housing and have the same amount available to spend on an expensive vacation. Of course, some people even believe that. It’s called “getting hopelessly over your head in debt.” But there are no banks or credit-card companies available to lend you more attention, even at racketeering levels of interest. However you divide up your attention, you’re stuck with the same overall amount. Just 100 percent, never more.
If you still don’t believe me, look at this research published in the extremely prestigious scientific journal “Nature.” Putting attention on something necessarily means taking it away from something else. Every distraction consumes attention. Every extra task takes attention away from all the others.
A study of brain activity in subjects performing a task in which they were asked to ‘hold in mind’ some of the objects and to ignore other objects has revealed significant variation between individuals in their ability to keep the irrelevant items out of awareness. This shows that our awareness is not determined only by what we can keep ‘in mind’ but also by how good we are at keeping irrelevant things ‘out of mind’. This also implies that an individual’s effective memory capacity may not simply reflect storage space, as it does with a hard disk. It may also reflect how efficiently irrelevant information is excluded from using up vital storage capacity.Or how about this article in the New York Times [via] ? Or this one in TIME magazine?
Our total awareness is limited to only three or four objects at any given time. We can concentrate fully on only one.Because of this “extreme limitation,” people need to control what reaches their awareness, so only the most relevant information in the environment consumes their limited mental resources. Try to fill your mind up with too many things (e.g. by multitasking) and your “limited mental resources” will be as surely overwhelmed as they would be by all those irrelevances. It will be like the party where you’re holding a glass in one hand and a full plate in the other when the Chairman comes along to shake your hand. You just know something is going to drop!
How long will it take to convince everyone, including the grab-and-go organizations and macho Hamburger Managers out there, that true multi-tasking isn’t possible? That what they are doing is lowering productivity, raising stress levels, and turning creative, productive people into semi-idiots?
I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure it won’t be a quick fix. In the meantime, for the sake of your own sanity and health, refuse to join in the whole multi-tasking nonsense. Slow down. Only check e-mails at set times. Turn off your cellphone whenever you can. Don’t attend pointless meetings. Keep right away from inane activities like Instant Messaging people all the time. And if your boss asks you to take on still more work, ask him or her which existing items you should drop to make room.
But above all, never, never, join in all the silly boasting about how much work you can handle and how well you can multi-task. Killing yourself for your career means you won’t be around to enjoy your success, while your organization will. Remember the Latin phrase, much beloved by mystery writers, cui bono? (who benefits). Organizations benefit from multi-tasking and Hamburger Management, not employees. Why should you go along with that? Besides, as the research proves, multi-tasking makes you less effective and productive. If you’re under pressure, multi-tasking is trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
Monday, March 26, 2020
What a difference a word makes!
Why “improving motivation” is rarely, if ever, the answer.
Current ideas about motivation are a prime example of management theory and jargon twisted into the service of Hamburger Management. “Improving motivation” has become a group of impersonal techniques, to be applied to people in the way that you might apply a technique to herding cattle. What if we changed the words? What if we dropped all the talk about motivation used the word “encouragement” instead?Motivation is all the rage. It’s often seen as a universal requirement for everyone, whether they are expected to motivate themselves (as many self-help gurus proclaim), or to motivate those that they supervise (as legions of consultants and corporate trainers advocate). But what is motivation? Can it live up to the exaggerated claims now being made for its almost panacea effect?
At its simplest, motivation simply means “moving.” From there, it has come to mean moving towards some goal or end point. Self-motivation (as in: “Fred is able, but lacks self-motivation) is moving yourself in some definite direction. Elsewhere, it means little more than displaying energy and enthusiasm: a willingness to take positive action and utilize skills and abilities in the required direction. And in much official and business communication, the complex and abstract phrase “lacks motivation” is preferred—as more politically correct—to the simpler English “lazy” or “indolent.”
Motivation is also used in the sense of “making others motivated.” The verb “to motivate” is a staple in management jargon. Leaders are required to motivate their people—which means to cause them to do what the leader (and their organization) wants. How is this done? Typically, by application of the age-old process of “carrot and stick.” To get the donkey (or employee) to move where you want, you must either dangle a carrot in front of its nose (an incentive, bonus, or reward desirable enough to cause forward movement in that direction); or apply a stick to the other end of the poor beast’s anatomy (disciplinary action, punishment, withdrawal of privileges) to urge it forward in that way.
I am far from the first to wonder whether any leader can actually motivate another person in the way motivation is usually seen. Incentives (actually bribes) work for a time, but are subject to rapid inflation. Today’s incentive is tomorrow’s expectation. Punishments may produce movement, but they are hardly likely to produce enthusiasm. As has been found with the use of torture (or “strong interrogation methods,” if you prefer), people will say or do many things to stop the pain, but rarely mean any of them (or offer the truth, if something else will do just as well).
There is a fundamental problem with all the talk of motivation: it ignores or glosses over a search for the real causes of poor progress. Like so many other “techniques” that have become part of Hamburger Management, it’s a flashy, superficial, supposedly simple answer to an enormous range of largely unknown problems. What if we changed the word? What if leaders were expected not to motivate their people, but to encourage them?
Encouragement is a warm, natural, human activity; motivation is cool, detached, mechanistic.Encouragement (literally, filling someone with courage) has little to do with either the stick or the carrot (save when it is used as a euphemism). To encourage someone, you must get to know them, find out their strengths, help them overcome their fears and the obstacles that hold them back, praise their achievements and support them through bad times. Encouragement is a warm, natural, human activity; motivation is cool, detached, mechanistic. Self-motivation could be replaced by self-encouragement: the process of helping yourself by building greater self-confidence and recognizing when your fears are the real obstacles to progress.
When someone fails to make progress, or appears indolent and disinterested, there has to be a reason. It could be something in that person’s character. It could be that he or she is in the wrong job, or having personal problems, or feeling unwell, or missing some essential skill or experience, or is fearful of making a mistake, or lacks the confidence even to try. The list could go on and on.
Sadly, the typical Hamburger Manager has neither the patience nor the inclination to discover the truth. So a panacea—a catch-all solution—is quickly applied: motivation. First the carrot, then the stick. Then, if that fails (because willingness to move was never the problem), the person is labeled “unmotivated” and swiftly removed in some convenient way. It’s as if you got into your car, found that it would not go faster than 20 miles per hour, and either filled the tank with the highest octane fuel that you could find or kicked the bodywork hard as a solution to the problem. When both failed, you would next abandon the vehicle on the side of the highway and go buy another.
Wise managers see improving motivation for what it is: a simplistic group of quick-and-easy “answers” to difficult problems. Instead of joining in the frenzy, they step aside and do what great leaders, great teachers, and great mentors have done since humankind began. They take time with each person and encourage them to clarify, then solve, whatever it is that is holding them back from what they can and should become. They don’t do anything to the other person. They don’t apply a technique. They neither run ahead of the other, waving a carrot, nor press on them from behind, wielding a big stick. They walk beside them, seeing what they see and helping them to understand it in ways that shift a negative and frightening prospect into something positive and inviting.
Wise managers see improving motivation for what it is: a simplistic group of quick-and-easy “answers” to difficult problems.Don’t try to motivate people. Encourage them. Don’t worry whether or not you feel motivated, Recognize what needs to be done and do it, trusting that you will find the stimulus that you need from the courage and confidence that will build within you as a result. Life is always movement. Trust it.
Monday, February 12, 2020
Beware of Management Fashionistas
Fashionista, noun. A dedicated follower of fashion.
Have you noticed that management has become a fashion industry, like Hollywood, the media, politics, and marketing? No one has time today for dull, slow, and boring activities like looking for the truth, testing assumptions, or waiting to see how well anything works. The rush is on to grab at anything that seems to work and use it right away. It's part and parcel of a suicidal trend towards the shortest of short-term thinking in the executive suite.Following the latest management fashion has several advantages for Hamburger Managers. It looks “hip” and up-to-date. It makes you seem to be innovative, without needing to have a single creative idea in your head. It allows you to look down on anyone not as fashionable as you are. It gives you a new clique to join and a new guru whose words you can parrot. And, best of all, it offers safety in numbers. If it all goes wrong, you certainly won’t be alone. You can then trot out the old excuse that everyone else said it was a great idea, so it seemed sensible to go along.
Fashion setters and followers also help to meet the demand for "something new" in management, when all past approaches seem to fail. Unfortunately, their response is not so much to go back to develop a more fundamental understanding of what has proved unsatisfactory in current methods, but to swiftly take up fresh approaches that differ from the past ones mostly in packaging and presentation. Like fashions in dress, such changes tend to be cyclical and superficial.
Management fashion-setters produce the collective beliefs that certain management techniques are both innovations and improvements relative to the state of the art. These beliefs may be accurate. In such cases, fashion creation involves the invention of a management innovation that is also an improvement over the state of the art in management. Alternatively, the belief that a management technique is either innovative or an improvement may be inaccurate. In such cases, fashion creation may involve either inventing management techniques that only appear to be improvements or rediscovering/reinventing old management techniques that were invented previously and forgotten. [link]
The rise and fall of management fadsAmbitious managers often seize on management fads as a way of demonstrating their “superior know-how” and enhancing their reputation—moving swiftly on to the next fad to avoid falling behind their competition—other, equally superficial and fad-driven players. These managers are often quick to claim solutions to problems that are themselves equally faddish: the problem du jour is approached by the equally instant, fashionable solution. Some of this is, of course, driven by consulting firms seeking to find new ways to sell their time to their clients. But it seems that even internal managers have quickly caught on to the benefits of seeing their careers rise on the crest of some new wave of supposed management expertise that only they, so they claim, are sufficiently up-to-date to understand.
Imitation for imitation’s sake is the essence of fashionSomething sets the fashion and everyone rushes to copy it. The worst sin is to be unfashionable or miss the current trend. “Dated” is a deeply abusive word.
In Hollywood, every successful movie is followed by a slew of pallid imitations. News is indistinguishable from entertainment and “human interest” blots out factual reporting. The same happens in publishing and advertising. Sometimes it looks like a single group of people have designed every TV advert . . . until the fashion changes. Commentators deride last year’s fashions and speculate about what may be the next “big thing.” The meaningless phase “new and improved” appears on any product that’s been on the market for more than six months, maybe three. “Employee Pricing” is followed by “Employee Pricing Plus” . . . and prices stay the same.
In management, look at the rush to benchmarking, comparisons with “industry best practice.” and the way that every public statement contains the same, tired jargon. Values are “in.” Let’s have a mission statement and write it like we’re a charity. Let’s follow political fashion and babble about family values and getting “back to basics.” Work/life balance is fashionable. We’ll establish a fine-sounding policy and guidelines (just so long as we don’t have to act on any of them). Let’s do what everyone else is doing. Who’s setting the fashion? Quick, get on their bandwagon.
Fashion industries breed gurusSuccessful designers, filmmakers, or directors become stars and develop fan clubs who hang on every word and treat their hero’s pronouncements as holy writ. Hordes of fashionistas parrot the views of the latest high-profile leaders and mimic their slightest gesture. As a 1996 article in the Academy of Management Review said (The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 21, No. 1. (1996), pp. 254-285):
Management fashion setters disseminate . . . transitory collective beliefs that certain management techniques are at the forefront of management progress. These fashion setters—consulting firms, management gurus, business mass-media publications, and business schools—do not simply force fashions onto gullible managers. To sustain their images as fashion setters, they must lead in a race (a) to sense the emergent collective preferences of managers for new management techniques, (b) to develop rhetorics that describe these techniques as the forefront of management progress, and (c) to disseminate these rhetorics back to managers and organizational stakeholders before other fashion setters. Fashion setters who fall behind in this race (e.g., business schools or certain scholarly professional societies) are condemned to be perceived as lagging rather than leading management progress, as peripheral to the business community, and as undeserving of societal support. [link]
Successful CEOs become media personalities and appear on the covers of Time and Newsweek, spawning thousands more imitators. Books promising to share the supposed “secrets” of leaders from Genghis Khan to Donald Trump are in every bookstore. TV gets in on the act with “The Apprentice” and the Martha Stewart spin-off (imitation now copies imitation). Management has become the new spectator sport. Stand in a row and say, “You’re fired.” Let’s all be like Enron— oops! I mean . . . (hey, who’s making serious money these days?).
Spin is “in” and style is more important than substance. Management, Hollywood, and politics are blurring into one another. Politicians talk like executives and executives have their own primetime TV shows. Everyone must stay “on message,” even if the message is trite, meaningless or downright deceptive. Marketers openly acknowledge they tell lies, where once they tried to hide their manipulations. “So it’s not true? Hell, it made a better story, didn’t it?” Don’t tell me about your new idea, tell me who else is already interested. Any big names?
Does it matter?Yes, it does. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s an abandonment of reason. In the mad search for answers based on the words or actions of the fashionable, reality gets lost and truth is subordinated to a good plot-line. You’re either a trendsetter, a wannabe or a nobody. What maybe worked for one company in one set of specific circumstances is inflated into sacred dogma. Who cares about the truth? We want soundbites!
There’s an enormous waste of time and resources involved in chasing some fashionable approach that is soon dropped or discredited. It’s fair to say that most vogues and fashions in management later prove to be ineffective, instant nostrums for much more highly complex problems. Many fashions in management are based on flimsy evidence. Changes in executive personnel swiftly lead to sudden re-evaluations in strategy. Each newly-promoted leader leadership seeks to establish his or her territory and power through a new gospel: a fresh truism dusted off and brought out of the closet, then championed with as much vigor as was seen for whatever was the orthodoxy under the previous incumbent. Is it any wonder that, for many organizations, long-term strategy is less a focused progress towards a desired end than a series of unexpected U-turns and diversions.
In Ancient Greece, writers like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides probed the causes of tragedy and the downfall of rulers and heroes. Their understanding was summarized in a single sentence: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”
Management today seems dangerously close to meeting that definition too. It’s time to slow down and allow reason to take the place of mindless imitation, and reflection to take the place of “shoot-from-the-hip” action.
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