I’ve always done reasonably well in school, that is why it was a shock when I received a D- on a paper I had written. Now it wasn’t my favorite class (administrative law) and only counted as a small percentage of my overall grade. I went through the expected cycle: shock, denial, anger and depression. I then, as usual, began looking for the underlying reason, not only to my abysmal grade, but why I, and others it turns out, reacted with such emotional clamor and oh yes there was clamor.

The reason for the mental distress is the same reason a crushing defeat at the last minute in football stings so much or why movies that lead you through a spectacular build-up and fall flat with a mediocre ending leave you dejected. It is called the peak-end rule, a mental heuristic we all possess. Take the case of Yahoo researcher, Cameron Marlow,

In the case of my vacation, the last high-point of my time in Europe was in Florence, followed by one brief day in Copenhagen. Not that there’s anything wrong with Denmark, but that day ends up coming up in more of my conversations than the rest of the trip because that is how memory works (that and blood jello is really, really disgusting). If you’re planning any trips soon, make sure to end on a high note, because you will be the one telling the stories.

In my situation, the feeling that everything was going well was partially rooted in the lack of direction and expectations set by the professor. When the grades were received, those who misinterpreted the scope of the assignment were obviously distressed. Since these concerns were addressed with the professor following this initial assignment, everyone proceeded with a clear understanding going forward.

Unfortunately higher education is not the only place this lack of common direction exists, supervisors and managers are guilty of the same actions. Goals are poorly set with few guidelines, leading to an atmosphere were employees become complacent or pursue the wrong development plans. Some managers go so far as to ask employees to set their own training objectives with little support, then chastise them when they fail to live up to the internal expectations the manager initially had conceived but failed to communicate. When a performance review is finally conducted, generally every six months, employees are left confused and irritated with diminished morale.


“The Synergies are Working”

I have two colleagues with whom I discuss various management issues. Both work for the same organization and within the past two years have encountered a buy-out and a merger. Of course job security is an issue, but I am more impressed with the communication plan instituted. This past week on two different occasions both told me independently “the synergies are starting to work.”

That’s right, they pulled out one of the 1990’s million dollar buzz-words. You remember those right, paradigm, synergy, boundarylessness (thanks Jack). The words that were high value until they were put in the hands of bad management. This reminded me of cobuyitaphobia, the term referenced in the Dilbert episode, The Merger.

Asok: Why don’t we merge with a company that is less dysfunctional than we are? They could spend the money for us.

Pointy Haired Boss: A merger? Hmm. That might get us some synergy!

Asok: I didn’t realize Alice suffers from cobuyitaphobia.

Loud Howard: I know what that is. No, I don’t.

Asok: It is the fear of synergy.

– Management Recylcing –

Just like bell-bottoms and micro-minis, bad management styles have a tendency to recycle and since change is happening at a faster rate than ever, we can expect these instances to occur more often. Adrian Savage points this out in his post, Beware of Management Fasionistas.

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.

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.

I experienced this first hand with a prior manager. Unfortunately what seemed to start out as a fresh new business model ended up being written from a 1990’s consulting playbook of spin-selling. This also meant that a majority of information which was being contributed on foreign markets was also from circa 1996. Even life-long learning and development struggles to keep up with the rehashing of old fads. We all know the old adage that those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. Sadly by the time most employees have cut through the clutter and glitz, figuring out the repackaged goods, it’s time to move onto ‘the next big thing.’

Best practices definately need to be followed and emulated while at the same time groupthink, not-invented here (NIH) and bad management need to be kept in check. Cost-cutting can only get an organization so far and following the leader is not an appropriate strategy. Figure out what you are offering, the process to get it to the customer, put the process in the hands of the right people then stand back and watch the real synergy. Of course, that’s the real trick isn’t it?

From Slashdot,

“New survey data suggests that Americans are split over whether Blackberrys are chaining them to work. While people who own Blackberries feel ‘more productive’, those with Blackberrys are more likely to work longer hours and feel like they have less personal time than those without. A Director of Marketing Strategies who owns a Blackberry pointed out that many employees feel obligated by employers who have handed out the devices. ‘While being always on in a social context is a natural for young people, many of those in the 25-54 age group with families and corporate jobs are struggling with work-life blending. There is a need for the mainstream workplace culture to offer ways to counterbalance.'” Is the constantly connected, often mobile nature of the modern workplace a good thing, or not?

At the height of juggling two projects, I learned to sleep with my Treo next to the alarm clock a few feet from my head. Often waking long enough during the night to check my email once. Colleagues would often tell me and others they would be available 24 hours a day. It became almost impossible to enjoy a meal whether it be breakfast at 7am or dinner at 8pm on a Saturday evening.

The amount of stress associated with being constantly connected is well documented. Work-life balance is severely diminished and the ability to make rational decisions, when inundated with constant communication, decreases. The nature of information for the 21st century has also increased productivity expectations beyond what is attainable. Could this lead to our inability to concentrate or perhaps something more?

From Dr. Richard Restak’s, The New Brain,

“The demands upon the human brain right now are increasing,” according to Todd E. Feinberg, a neurologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “For all we know, we’re selecting for the capacity to multi-task.”

Feinberg’s comment about “selecting” gets to the meat of the issue. At any given time evolution selects for adaptation and fitness to prevailing environmental conditions. And today the environment demands the capacity to do more than one thing at a time, divide one’s attention, and juggle competing, often conflicting, interests.

To not surprise, this has been associated with the growing prevalence of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) among younger populations, but could it also be once step in approaching the competency for chaos?

Related Articles:

Want Results? Frame Your Work – from lifehack.org

Take a Poll at Lifehacker.com

Here are some good time wasting quizzes courtesy of Fortune and CNN Money. My personal favorites:

What kind of manager are you?

Are you a good decision-maker?

How good a boss are you?

Surviving office politics

What’s Your EQ (emotional intelligence) at Work?

Of course you can’t base your management strategy solely on a quiz and they are only effective so far as you don’t figure out the methodology, but, if honestly answered, they could provide some general insight into your management and corporate environment. Of course if you want honest feedback you should ask subordinates, superiors and friends. If you work in an organization where such things are frowned upon, that should tell you something.

I will admit there are some things of which I was just not aware. I read Dilbert fairly regularly not just for the humor but also as a window into corporate culture and, yes, sometimes it does boarder on depression. Today however, Catbert, Evil Director of Human Resources, speaks about Employee Appreciation Day. I was unaware this even existed. Apparently it is the day (March 9th) you are supposed to thank your employees and inspire them to keep up the good work. This runs counter to everything I have advocated, but apparently you only need to encourage your employees once a year (in case you didn’t pick that up, yes it’s sarcasm).

Here is a brief list of some ‘appreciation days’

Administrative Professionals (formerly Secretary’s) Day – April 27th
Boss’s Day – October 16
Nurse’s Day – May 12th
Doctor’s Day – March 30

The fact that we have so many of these “Days” is a direct reflection of how appreciated some workers feel, or perhaps Hallmark is just working overtime. Just one note, thanking your employees or team is not something that can just be scheduled, it must seem genuine. I had one boss, who every week typically around the same time, would walk around and thank everyone. After a while it just became another meaningless exercise.

I wanted to take some time out to speak about the best team I’ve worked with thus far in my career. We are continually shifting to a team based environment. With this change in organization so must we develop better ways to rate and reward teams for the accomplishments. Throughout his career, Deming alluded to the detrimental impact of direct competition with those we need to cooperate and Liz Ryan at BusinessWeek describes this force ranking of employees in todays workforce.

Ranking people is not like organizing screwdrivers in your toolbox by size. Andre might be a good worker, but teamed with Rajeev, he becomes a great one. The leadership talent that inspired you to put Tiffany, Gretchen, and Thuy together on the product-launch team has made all of them stronger contributors and brought great benefits to the company. What the heck could be the benefit of ignoring these interdependencies, and lining your team up in a zero-sum game of “Who’s Better Than Whom?”

The team (below) I worked with was only capable of meeting project objectives by maintaining a structure which assured mutual respect and understanding. This could not exist under a Best, Good, Average, Poor Likert rating that exists in many organizations.

(From Left to Right: Anthony Riley (me about 30 lbs ago), Gene Hodges, Dave Davis, Greg Carreon, and Tompie Hall)

In addition to project specific knowledge, individually our backgrounds included management consultants and school principal, a restaurant manager, IT manager and real estate. While this may seem like an unrelated series of skills, collectively we possessed the following traits and competencies developed from our various experiences.

  • Ability to work and communicate in multiple locations virtually
  • Respect
  • Ability to laugh at ourselves
  • Manage conflict
  • Distributed and shared knowledge

When you have several people all vying for the top spot, either trying to be number one in the department or fighting for the biggest bonus, teamwork eventually breaks down and people start hording information often to the detriment of the department and eventually the whole organization. Traits like those above disappear and the concept of the team becomes nothing more than lip service.

Related Articles:

Deal with ‘bad apples’ before they spoil your team

Most might assume I’m talking about Twitter. The site that asked that very age old question, that no one seems to care about. Despite being a fairly basic concept, there are ways to productively use this site. Unfortunately this is the mantra of several managers. Constantly popping in and asking what you are doing.

On a recent project, the engagement manager simply ran out of ideas, so every thirty minutes one or more of the team was asked, “what are you doing? Are you working? Make sure you document that.” No wonder the project took twice as long to implement as other locations where the manager was not present. I even recall an incident where we were chastised for taking a two hour celebratory lunch on the last day of the project, that incidentally came in one week ahead of schedule and under budget.

Many, including Alvin Lim, call this slave-driving.

I’m sure most of you have heard of the term “slave driving“. It’s a term widely used in our world today, especially in the IT industry where competition is stiff. All the companies want to deliver a project in the shortest time possible to please the clients. However, the only way they can do this is to “force” their employees to work more and longer period of time….which means “slave driving“.

In some big corporations, “slave driving” is a norm. It is something they used to measure an employee’s commitment. I used to work in a company where going back on time is not encouraged. Everyone will be looking at you whenever you choose to go back at 5.30 or 6pm…..including your bosses who might be taking some “personal notes” as you walked pass. Well, as expected, I didn’t do well in the company because I was considered not committed enough even though I used to work > 14 hours a day for them.

It seems incredible that we have to develop management tools and fads like the FISH principles not to mention the writing of countless management how-to books to remind everyone that you should treat employees, clients, and yes even consultants like human beings. Of course we have structured our systems to make this 1980’s Command-and-Control style a safe-haven for the sociopathic and narcissistic managers.

The lack of institutionalized strategic planning, integrated processes, and the development of necessary infrastructure has plagued the implementation of several organization change projects. In an era where technology should promote the sharing of ideas across functional departments to facilitate the response to changing conditions (Hamlin, 2005), processes remain anything but seamless and operations are still extremely manual. Departmental silos are dense, usually by design, and virtually impenetrable, making interoffice communication and coordination nonexistent. Department heads within the same divisions do not speak to one another; staff members are not consulted about goals nor are they given an opportunity to share strategies with key decision makers. Inferences are made in a vacuum with staff quickly becoming victims. Morale plummets and motivation to improve is driven by a survival imperative rather than thoughtful, data driven decisions.  It’s time to get back to common sense managment, and most of the time that can’t be found in a book.

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