Saturday, January 25, 2014

Stupid Management Tricks

We at have to work for a living, if that was not clear to you already. We are not rich and we get no income from the blog. (You may have noticed the complete lack of advertising on the blog so far.) We have very little time during the week to work on the blog because we have to keep our jobs. Therefore can only be a kind of weekend hobby at this point, but it is also much more than that to us. It is a life's work in progress.

We mention this because even though we are not managers and never have been, we have worked for many managers over the years. We have come to see management and its systems in a sense as the source of most of our economic problems. That is, our economic problems are the result of bad management and bad managers in systems that encourage these things. This applies to governments as well as to private businesses. After all, what is government if it is not a huge gang of managers, often bad ones?

The fact that our managers and management systems need an overhaul and upgrade is why we have criticized management before and will do so again today. It is also why a major part of the tosoc plan is to improve the relationship between management and the people. But that is not our focus today. Today we will just present some stupid management tricks.

In general we have found that managers are simply company or government hacks. Their reality is in the realm of perception, not physical reality, and they get their realities from their own managers. They just have to look good to their bosses; they do not have to be good. Since another part of their job is to manage people, they have a tendency to want to keep employees who know how to look good, too, but who are not necessarily good at what they do. The danger is that they and their fiefdoms of workers build a dream world that has no relation to physical reality. That works great until reality steps up and smacks the whole system in the face.

This happens in government more, and more seriously, than in private business because the government is rich enough to maintain its fantasies and delusions much longer than any private concern. The most famous recent example in the US is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, or "Obamacare"), which was a great fairy tale until it was shredded by contact with the real world. As another possible example, it seems likely that the implementation of Dodd-Frank will suffer a similar fate. We think that because the bill was created with all the serious consideration and forethought that went into the ACA. Dodd-Franks' likely failure will be quieter, however, because the public does not have much interest in that fairy tale.

Aside from departure from reality and surrendering one's critical faculties to one's boss, another important management skill is damage control and managing expectations. This is the process of turning lies and failure into a kind of truth and success. For example, we feel quite sure that despite the ACA disaster, bits of its intent will survive for a long time. Therefore, after a few years and after the hubbub dies down, suddenly we will see reports about the bits that survived, and we will be told what a great success the ACA was.

At a lower and more personal level, here are some examples of real-life stupid management tricks.

First up is "commitment." Managers always want workers to commit to deadlines, even when the deadlines do not make sense. As much as anything else, the purpose appears to be to give the manager the moral high ground when workers fail to meet the deadlines. In fact, sometimes it may be that managers intend for workers to fail. If they need to buff up the paperwork to justify getting rid of some personnel, "Failed to meet deadlines" makes good copy.

Another side of "commitment" is that people have lots of commitments—to their loved ones, friends, and communities. Managers therefore sometimes demand that workers commit to unreasonable deadlines as a sort of psychological test. Which workers are willing to break their personal commitments in order to meet their commitments to the company? Some managers feel that the best employees are the ones who will stiff their own children in order to climb the corporate ladder. It is not clear how widespread this kind of thing is, but it raises the questions whether this should be our vision of the future and whether we should make leaders out of those who will break promises to their loved ones, and encourage others to do the same, for the sake of an unfaithful corporation. This may be a major contributor to the number of bad managers that we have.

Second, there are kindergarten-style motivational tactics, like gold stars or candy. One of the most childish and offensive recognition programs in our experience had one of our managers dropping candy bars in selected workers' chairs early in the mornings. What did that really mean? If all the reward we got for above-average productivity and extra effort was a candy bar, then management must have thought we were overpaid anyway. It was the kind of "reward" prograrm that would increase resentment of workers toward management, not reduce it. Who can feel good about working extra hard only to get a candy bar in return?

Then there is polishing the management resume. One worker told us this story: A manager hired a worker for his group, but there was nothing for the worker to do. (Note that this was a high-tech position, not unionized.) When asked, the manager unexpectedly told the truth about his motivation. As the manager's twelfth employee, the manager had reached the "next level" so far as his resume was concerned. Having managed at least twelve workers, he could apply for the next higher-level management job somewhere else.

If some of you readers out there are saying to yourselves, "What's wrong with that? It was the smart thing to do," then perhaps you are part of the problem. The problem is that we may be selecting our leadership in this country from those who are faithless to their own managers and obligations. This may be another major contributor to the number of bad managers we have.

Finally, there is "ownership." Managers these days often exhort their employees to "own it" or "take ownership" or "act like you owned the company." For many workers this may just drive home the fact that we workers do not own anything of significance. Also, this could be interpreted as saying that the workers get to own all the problems but none of the wealth. We get nothing but our regular salaries in return for "owning" the problems of the company and resolving them. The real owners get a lot and they get to own everything, too.

And what are we supposed to say when we are asked to "take ownership" of some problem and resolve it? Because we need to keep our jobs, we cannot tell the truth and say "Look, I will help you and work hard to resolve this problem because that is my job, but please; I do not own anything here, especially not the problems." Instead we have to lie like a manager. We have to smile and say, "Sure! You can count on us to get it done!"

At the risk of being repetitious, when managers ask you to "take ownership" of a problem, they are really asking if you want to keep your job. If you say anything other than that you will be happy to take ownership, then you are on your way to unemployment. (Notice that they always want you to "own" some unpleasant problem. They never ask you to take joyful ownership of a pile of money.)

This has been just a smattering of stupid things that managers do, things that increase the unexpressed anger and resentment of the people. The danger is that this is a negative feedback loop, where the workers lose faith in management because of its lies and betrayals, and where, after having forced the workers to lie to them and fail them, after firing the workers who tell them truths they do not want to hear, management loses faith in the workers. At that point, in a poisoned atmosphere of mutual mistrust, there can be no real cooperation. Getting anything done will require the use of force in some form, if only to say "work or starve!" Our leaders may be taking us to just this kind of society.

One reason they might do that is that it is always easier to rule than to lead. It is easier to give orders than to negotiate and convince. It certainly makes life easier for the managers, especially for lazy and stupid ones. On the surface, ruling may also appear to be a more efficient and profitable way to run an economy. However, history shows that leaders are more effective in the long term than rulers, and that rulers tend to impoverish their economies ... if anyone cares about the truth and the long term anymore.

One very brief way to express's plans is to say that we want the people to take the actions necessary so that no manager can threaten anyone's livelihood. We should not allow our managers to control our basic livelihoods. That is too much power to put in professionally faithless hands.

The way capitalism should be.

Socialism for the socialists and capitalism for the capitalists.

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