“Why Assholes Fool Themselves”

1. You and your organisation are effective despite rather than because you are a demeaning jerk.  You make the mistake of attributing success to the virtues of your nasty ways, even though your demeaning actions actually undermine performance.

2. You mistake your successful power grab for organisational success,  The skills that get you a powerful job are different – often the opposite – from the skills needed to do the job well.

3. The news is bad, but people only tell you good news.  The ‘shoot the messenger’ problem means that people are afraid to give you bad news, because you will blame and humiliate them.  So you think things are going great, even though problems abound.

4. People put on an act when you are around.  Fear causes people to do the ‘right’ things when you are watching them.  As soon as you leave, they revert to less effective or downright destructive behaviour – which you don’t see.

5. People work to avoid your wrath rather than to do what is best for the organisation.  The only employees who can survive your management style devote all their energy to avoiding blame rather than fixing problems.

6. You are being charged ‘asshole taxes’ but don’t know it.  You are such a jerk that people are willing to work for you and your company only if you pay them premium rates.

7. Your enemies are silent (for now), but the list keeps growing.  Your demeaning actions mean that day after day, you turn more people against you, and you don’t realise it.  Your enemies don’t have the power to trash you right now, but are laying in wait to drive you out.

– from the book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” by Robert I. Sutton.

Get it wrong to get it right.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that some academic has learnt that people who make a mistake, learn their subject better.

No surprise there.

There are occupations where most of the training involves knowing what to do when things go wrong.  Be it train driving, flying an aircraft, or working as an IT shift supervisor.  Or as I like to put it:

Frog diamagnetic levitationAny monkey can sail through calm waters.  It takes knowledge and experience for when things go wrong.

I’m surprised it took research for an academic to realise this.  I’m off to see if the folks at Ig Nobel have heard.

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A price to pay

Note: I wrote this in March 2007, but didn’t publish it at the time.  As far as I know “George” is still working for my previous employer.  There was a price in saving George.


The day started at 6am, with me speaking with a USA based co-worker.
The day finished at 9pm with me speaking with a UK-based co-worker.

I love working for a Global IT company, NOT.

I do have a couple of work practices that I try and live by:

  • always try and have a "win" on Fridays.
  • avoid those people who schedule meetings on Friday afternoons, they are a waste of space
  • OA5, which was something I picked up from a Dilbert book.
    Out at 5, where all staff should be out the door, and on the way home to their families.
  • POETS day is Friday.
  • Never give bad news on a Friday.

So when my boss rang Friday and said "We can’t afford George anymore, we need to let him go", I was p*ssed.

George is one of the nicest guys I’ve worked with. He’s a fine, righteous gentleman who’s nearing retirement. A quiet achiever.

"Bugger that", I thought.

After having a think about George, I suggested that it would be poor form to sack George, as he’s:

  • one of us, and we should look after our own.
  • working on a sledload of customer issues.
  • we recently gave him an award for outstanding customer service.

Boss advises today (Tuesday) that George has been saved.

I’m happy, (but it’s not a Friday.)

And there will be a price to pay for saving him, I wonder what it will be.

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Performance Management, the one where we pay lip service to the concept.

The GPARS Performance Cycle At my last employer, there was a focus on “Performance Management”.  I always felt, even as a team leader, that we paid lip service to the whole process.
eg.  we were going though the motions.

Performance Management has many goals.  The primarily one is to ensure that the team is working towards/contributing to the objectives of the business.  The credibility of such objectives would be shot by the employer producing the objectives 6 months into the business year.

It was also shot like a lame duck, when one of our Human Relations people, was giving us a update on the Performance Management programme.  A couple of chaps were discussing a point which was raised by the HR person.

SHUT UP, I’m giving a presentation

bellows the HR person.

I can’t remember the substance of the programme update, but all the attendees remember “Freida Nurk” as the HR person who told people to shut up.

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“You don’t need to be a cow …

DCIS Outsourcers Port, 26 June 2001 to know where milk comes from.”

So said Sarah Butterworth, newly minted CEO of a (centralised) IT Department.

From my observation, Sarah’s lasting legacy was:

  • rebranding the department
  • painting the department buildings in corporate colors.
  • swanning off to another job.

* the bottle of port pictured is a Penfold’s 10 year old Club Port, which was presented to exiting staff.  I expect that it will be as nasty as the rough end of a pineapple.  I plan to crack it open in 2011.

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This week’s work challenge? – Project Managers!

Project Management - Much work remains remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress. Project Managers are those people who “”manage”” projects.

Sort of like a “stay at home” mum who organises her children’s day. Except the mum is competent, and the project manager isn’t.

Competency is an interesting sideline in itself. If someone isn’t competent, does that automatically mean that they are incompetent?

Actually no. In “training speak”, they are not yet competent. Sort of like how “deferred success” is the new phrase for “failure”.

Where was I?

Ah Project Managers! I’m working with/guiding four of them at the moment.

The competency ranges from: “oh my gawd, how do you manage to tie your shoes laces?” to “able to form five-word sentences in a single bound”.

The projects being managed are all doing the same thing for different customers, so it will be interesting to see which of the biggest losers will succeed. I’m tipping the cute (female) project manager, as she has nouse.

We trained very hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing–it can be a wonderful method of creating the illusion of progress while creating confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

Actually that fellow should work where I do. Two phrases which stop most work requests before they hatch?

“That’s not part of my job description”

and if that fails

“Do you have an expense code for me to charge my work against?”

It’s been that kinda week. Playing a piano in a brothel would be more honest work.

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Some thoughts on leadership

A colleague was writing a presentation on staff morale, and asked for some thoughts.  Here they are:

“Management By Walking Around (MBWA)”
When I’ve been a team lead, I made it my business to find out about the people I lead.  Why?  Because it makes darn good business sense to show interest in the staff you lead.
It demonstrates to your staff that you care about them, which is your responsibility as a leader.
It builds up an “emotional deposit”
My staff knew I would back them when required.

Q: How did you maintain the support of Continental employees when you had to lay off workers after 9/11?
“We were the only carrier that didn’t use (emergency contract clauses) to not pay the severance pay. (Mistreating) your employees is not the answer. When we laid people off, we treated them very fairly. Our people actually like coming to work.

How do you do that? Trust and confidence. Never lie. Even after 9/11, while we were the first to stand up and say we’ve got to cut employees, we didn’t treat them like children either. They understand it, but you’ve got to treat them fairly. I used to be an (Navy) airplane mechanic. Do you know how much faster I could fix an airplane if I wanted to fix it?

The Navy sometimes would have officers, just like we have executives today, who think, “Well, I’m a bigshot, so you do what I tell you and you’re nobody.”

The next time the airplane’s broke, and the guy says, “—– it Bethune, is that airplane ready?” And I’d say, “You know, sir, we (fixed) the wires, we changed the brakes, we changed the starter. But every time we engage it, the breakers pop. I’ll call you when it’s ready.” And I let (it) sit there for three hours.

At $30 a hour, times the three extra hours I let it sit there, it cost $90. Or if I want to fix this airplane for you, I could do it for $15.”
– Gordon Bethune, (former) CEO Continental Airlines
http://sptimes.com/2003/10/23/Business/Continental_chief_spe.shtml

“Catch People Doing Something Right”
While the downside of what I would suggest is “all shall have prizes”:

  • there should be a monthly % of staff quota for Reward & Recognition.
  • the R&R should be tiered, ie. where an employee receives more than more one reward in a year, the 2nd/3rd/4th award should be higher than the 1st.
    otherwise it becomes devalued.
  • As part of keeping workers in the loop, announce these awards to all staff.  <A particular manager> used to do this when they led our division.

Life is not fair … get used to it.

50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School 1. Life is not fair. Get used to it.
7. If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you FEEL about it.
15. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity…

You can buy 50 Rules Kid’s Won’t Learn in School here.