Ukrainians (and recently Bosnians) are fighting against their political elite, and our EU does nothing. This organisation is politically useless – has no power against anyone, not even its member states. EU cannot help Ukraine, because it cannot afford to lose Russian gas deliveries. But at the other hand it will not do anything to help itself, even by supporting alternative sources of gas. It will not help its member states, only drives them to poverty, while at the same time throwing billions at banks to save them. Great idea (which in all honesty did a lot of good in the past) is slowly turning into nothing more but a fancy sounding name. Russia is laughing its head off while we look at old farts (and some ladies between) making sympathetic noise. Forget it. Victoria Nuland said what many would like to say – and I thank her for this.
We all deal with it today, at least all of us still employed in our positions as middle or upper management – emails. But I wondered if there are differences, even in the same industries, at the actual amount of messages respective positions receive. And if there are – I am pretty sure answer to that question is a big bold yes – then what causes it? I came up with an answer, a theory if you will, which I didn’t yet talk through with Dr. Google. Namely, I think – wrong, I am convinced – that the more mediocrity among your co-workers, the more emails people working in the same company will receive (and send).
Why? Because of CMA syndrome or KHA syndrome, which translate to Cover My Ass and Kiss His Ass.
CMA applies if you send an email after you actually spoke to someone personally or over the phone and you feel that you have to send a summary of that conversation. Would you need to do it if there was no risk of your co-worker backing off on what was discussed and decided? If such risk is great, you got yourself a mediocre man/woman. The more of them, the more confirmation emails fly around. Here of course we need to discount reports or stenography of certain meetings, usually where there are more people involved – I am disregarding those, as in such cases it is more difficult to back off since there were witnesses present, possibly with higher pay grade.
KHA applies where lazy manager or top person starts to send “thank you”, “well done” or such emails. You of course feel you need to do as she does, in order to KHA. Evidently such practice is wrong – if you do your job, no thanks is necessary as you get your paycheck. If you did an extraordinary job, personal thank you is in order. Outstanding achievement may require public mentioning of your name. Same applies in the other direction – major fuck up does require a personal meeting (although here I must admit that this happens more often, maybe because no one wants to be caught writing “you fucked up big time” to a co-worker). Result of those short “ack” messages is additional email traffic of course.
To add to the pool, there are baby messages (otherwise called hold-my-hand mama messages), spam (of make my whatever bigger sort), party pictures or jokes. But I will bet an egg against bird shit that amount of those is also higher in companies with mediocre staff (even if simply because your mediocre IT cannot set up proper spam filter).
Now, to all of you scientists out there (and I WILL check it out with Dr. Google right after I posted it or with my friend who is better than Google as he knows EVERYTHING) – was such a research done? Can we do it? I know that KHA syndrome was confirmed, I think I read it in Harvard Business Review. But if not, or for the complete picture, I volunteer. I will count stupid messages for a month if we will collect enough participants from many companies. But hey – the results may be scary.
Finally I have finished Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, “Black Swan”. I enjoyed it, I fully agree with ideas presented there, although those are not easy to understand. Some of those ideas are close to my own view at so-called “sciences”, especially managerial or social. I think (and the book seems to confirm my point) that making up rules which organisations built out of humans (such as companies, communities, etc) is a nonsense, people who stubbornly try to use those rules should not be surprised that things don’t work out the way “science” said that they should. Reason is simple: each human being introduces unknown factor and predictions are pointless. We often fall victims to self-confirmation, seeing that in some rare cases rules do work, we are forced to believe that they should work in any case. Not so. In this there is a hidden reason why only experienced managers, who can draw on lessons learned while dealing with people, should be getting the MBA degrees. Theory is just wishful thinking without practical experience and case by case approach. This is one side of the coin.
The other side is that those rules are accepted and approved be people who simply don’t like, or cannot live, in chaos. Therefore we are made to fit them. Any behaviour, even truly normal, but nevertheless not “average”, is being frown upon. Rules don’t deal with extremities at all. For those rules, extreme differences don’t exist. If you behave outside of them, you are being frowned upon. On top of this, majority (all averages) dictate what the markets approve. Hence niche markets are getting smaller and smaller. Pop music forces rock and roll out, cars look pretty much the same and cost the same in their respective segments (offering the same options), companies unite and swallow each other up on the way to duopolies or monopolies in various industries. I don’t know if you agree with me, but I have a feeling that not only rules are made which do not fit reality, but we are made to fit those rules. Double whammy.
The “Black Swan” of course deals with a lot of other, important issues, the one described above is just something which struck me when I was reading that book. We follow people who call themselves “experts” having no right to do so, we base our (financial) future on people who have no idea what they are doing. And at the end, we pay. And accept that too.
I don’t want to be average. I want to be me, unique sample of human species. I don’t want to be forced to like pop music just because someone said that everybody likes it. I don’t want to be forced to save failing banks just because some idiot says it’s for my good. You get the picture. I enjoy being unique me…
I am about to finish “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter M. Senge and I have to admit that this is the best management book I have read so far. It is in fact so good, that if I had to give just one book to every manager in any organisation, this would be my choice. It is missing all the theories behind the “five forces”, “chi-square”, “balanced scorecard” and other smarty stuff, it does not even have accounting principles or any “four ways” or “ten tips”. Instead it presents basic ideas as per how to really lead the organisation you work for, how to solve problems it encounters and how to learn on the way. Leading idea of this book is a systemic view of organisation and generally life as we know it, supported by the organic view on all enterprises.
He confirms what we already know – that putting down the fires serves nothing else except supporting our egos, or egos of our executives, who by solving every day problems can then demonstrate how useful for organisations they are. This “fireman” approach does present short-term results which only reinforce similar behaviour. But in the long run the underlying issues are not being solved, because that would require longer term thinking, systematic analysis and maybe even admission that the source of the problem lie in part in us.
The second idea goes hand in hand with the first – as with any living organism, many functions do not require control or conscious thinking about performing certain basic tasks. Too much control (or concentration of thought) in one area leaves the other areas open. Let the brain set the course, legs will know how to walk there and ands will know how to balance that walk. Extrapolate this onto organisations and you should let the HQ set the course, but at the same time allow your units to be self responsible and independent in getting there.
Lastly, what really is important, is the fact that we do operate through mind-sets of which we are not even aware of. Discovering them through proper dialogue may give you an enlightening experience. Have enough courage to open yourself up and give an example to others, who knows where this will take you.
All in all, a collection of great ideas. But as with any ideas, all of them will remain subjects to talk about if no one will use them. Here though it really is worthwhile to explore them and stay committed. Peter M. Senge’s fifth discipline may as well be the only one you really need.
Prevailing theme in most of publications today point out to lack of proper values as one of the reasons for the predicament we find ourselves today. Erosion or lack of values on part of various politicians or financial gurus has forced us all to have to deal with consequences. It seems that all of a sudden we appreciate those values more, proof of that can be found for example in the following HBR article here as “…self-awareness, intrinsic motivation, empathy and social relationships”, where this list builds (in addition to IQ) the EQ part of the future CEO. I am sure though that we have to look for those in any middle manager or even worker, as those are not subjects you can learn at schools. You have them or you don’t. As a side note – funny enough this list does not have honesty in it.
If then a candidate to CEO should show, in between others, “character, values and integrity”, be “inspiring, courageous and compassionate”, have “productive relationships with colleagues, partners, and other external stakeholders” (following the same article) then we can easily presume that managers or workers should have them as those are true internal candidates for directors and then CEOs. Consequently, the more of people are having those in your organisation, the better.
This conclusion is also confirmed by a book by Jim Collins “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t”. One of the advice listed there, which by the way I find to be one of the most important, is to “… get the right people on the bus”.
At this point is where I think the problem starts. Should your organisation be lucky enough to have CEO showing values listed above, he should, in order to bring your organisation to greatness, surround himself with people of similar values by getting them on the bus. Of course before he will be able to do that, he needs to get the wrong people off the same bus. That change of personnel is, more often than not, vital for the organisational survival or for it to start making way toward prosperity or profitability; meaning that the quicker it is done, the better for all concerned. Unfortunately, the labour laws in Europe don’t list “wrong set of values” as a good enough reason for termination of employment. If the worker (manager, director, whoever) is not doing anything considered on paper as wrong, it is very difficult to get rid of him/her. Of course there are legal ways of firing such people – those ways though take time and in most cases are heavily political.
Notice one more thing: people like to surround themselves with their own kind. Hence good CEO (not only as a businessman, but also as a person) will want to surround himself with good people. Bad managers choose the same “crooks” as they are as their companions, maybe because she can understand them (and relate to them, trust them) better. That also means that a newly imported CEO will not only have to fight lengthy battles with labour laws, but also with entrenched political fractions at his new home. Unfortunately, many such CEOs lose those fights. Consequently, we do as well – one of the signs that we do is the fact that we have to import a CEO from outside. In addition to all the excuses, having to do so means for organisation that there is no one inside worthy the job.
Today there are psychological tests and other tools available to all HR managers out there, maybe a solution lies not only in mentioning good values in all publications, but also in making them truly vital part of any employment process. I am all for it, even though surely European labour laws are not the only source of our problems.