Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« The Guy Kawasaki Effect | Main | TCDP: A Censored Version »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

mean boss

How do you leave work at the office?


Let me define a Management System as the set of objectives, outcomes (including steps), resource decisions and allocations and incentives that define acceptable operational behavior in an organization. A good and effective system would start with the core corporate strategic objectives break them down in a structured hiearchy at each level of the organization appropriately, measure the gaps between capabilities and requirements, establish realistic steps and timeframes, measure the gaps and allocate resources and both explain and compensate people for adhering to these goals.

My experience is that almost no enterprise or organization I'm familiar with has such a system in place, nor really recognizes or acknowledges it's advantages or necessity. The closest - and worth your looking into - might be Fedex. BtW - such a system need not be onerous but rather could be as simple as a basic tracking system where each level of management was responsible for building out it's own and reconciling them upward and downward.

A critical element is judgement. One simple fix could also go a long way, over time and with persistence, to auto-correctin political dysfunctions. Simply start each planning cycle with an open meeting where the top-level objectives, resources and commitments are laid out and inter-dependent commitments are made by the sr. executives. This might be what I call a "magic' answer because no matter how political the initial decisions are they are a) in public and b) have to be committed and reconciled.


The Dirty Little Secret of corporate management is that politics is inescapable because there are competing uses for scarce resources and no clear mechanism for choosing between them. All too often resource decisions, budgets, etc. are made to placate the largest stakeholders, e.g. the old division with the aging product, because they have the politcal clout. This doesn't seem to be well documented in the business literature but anybody who's worked in a large organization takes it as a given. I've worked with the largest and most prestigious enterprises in the world and some of the smallest and found it to be true in all cases, to some extent or another.

The challenge is to find a balance between good and bad politics.

The Otis problem, in my arguement anyway, is the result of cognitive dissonance brought about by non-existent management systems. Dissonance in the sense, and several of the comments and blog entries tend to confirm this, e.g. the Citibank example, that what's really expected and rewarded bears no resemblence to the myriad programs, initiatives and directives floating around. They all fail the tests of reality - what incentives do we provide people and do we really give them clear, concise and workable guidance ?

My experience is that most organizations fail these 'simple' tests and, further, that one can examine the front pages of the WSJ for evidence of how destructive it is from Sony to Dell to Ford/GM to Airbus. Having been keeping track of the evidence over the last few years the numbers and consequences are kinda amazing. Yet the underlying realities are so accepted that we build it into our standard repetoire of jokes about work.

There is no magic answer for the dignity problem but there may be, my key and perhaps critical point, for the Otis problem. Which loops back on the cultural change issues one way or another.

Dave Livingston


You've got several themes running thru your blog but two that strike me are the problems with a healthy workplace and dignity (the No-A problem). And the Otis Redding problem with bad operating systems. Both of which are strongly inter-related in my mind.

Now tolerance for Aholes and dis-respect for the individual are cultural characteristics and cultures persist over long periods of time. For example at IBM 65% of the people have been there less than five years yet decision-making, style, are still pretty much the same as when I left in '99; or similar talking to older IBMers from decades ago. Changing them is difficult (Heskett argued impossible) and requires strong, persistent leadership. It's more likely to result from building new behaviors on old, workable values if there, than being created. The questions then become how and why ?

Bad behavior is much more important than it's given credit for because it lowers, potentially to the point of destruction, the efficiency and efficacy of the organization. As a 'model' consider the typical employee who, realistically, might work at about 80% effort. That's a reasonable and sustainable level so let's take it as a figure of merit. In a hostile environment suppose that time and energy goes to warding off Aholes and takes 20% off that and it cascades thru the organization. Let's also further suppose that the Aholes in leadership positions make it clear they're in pursuit of their own benefit rather than the organizations. Then the typical employee will rationally reduce effort for the organization and divert it to watching their backs, staying networked and exploring other jobs. Suppose that results in another 20-40% reduction in effort - which reflects my experience and observations. Then one has .8 X (1-.2) x (1-.4) = .8 X .8 X .6 = .29 or approx 30% dedicated effort after very few iterations.

Bad cultures and bad leadership behavior are very bad business, can be destructive, depreciate the accumulated soft assets of an organization and, effectively, violate the fiduciary responsibilities of the executives to act in the broader interest. That's not an argument that seems to be floating around though one that's really implicit in much of our joint knowledge (jokes, Dilbert cartoons, etc.). Turning it around though it argues that the problems you're addressing are more important than just individual comfort - they speak to the fundamental performance of any organization and are critical to it's survival.

Dave Livingston

The comments to this entry are closed.

Asshole Survival

Scaling Up

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories