Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Prayer to the Godess of Organizational Psychology

Am I insane?

I was reading through the arguments put forth in the article that explained the existence of PHBs or “Pointy Haired Bosses” (from the Dilbert cartoons), and I was quite impressed by the beautifully framed logic used by the author to explain why bad managers abound in large corporations.

A-quality people tend to hire other A-quality people but B-quality people tend to hire C people or other Bs at the best. A-quality people know to hire people who know more than they do - other As. They will try to hire people who are better than they are. B people are scared of the As they interview being afraid the A will make them look bad or even take over their job if they hire them. So they hire Cs who are no threat. The Bs don’t always recognise the difference between Bs and Cs. A-quality employees recognise Bs and Cs instantly and don’t tend to take jobs where they see such types in upper management positions.

All my life I’ve wondered why there were so many bad managers and someone has finally explained it to me in clear and easy terms that I can understand (because I am simple minded, you know). This author uses the appropriate metaphor of a pod alien invasion to describe the proliferation of bad culture into a group as described above. Now it’s my observation that this has been happening within my own group (but this is just my opinion and not fact, as I’ve maintained countless times before).

Each organization within a corporation or an agency or bureaucracy has a culture. This culture holds properties not unlike the bacterial culture in yogurt as well as the aspects of culture in a tribal society such as the Dogon people of West Africa. Culture is organic and nurturing as the soil that fosters the growth of seedlings. If there is If a rich and fertile culture does not exist within an organization, then the employees cannot grow and the organization or business cannot grow with them. I hate to get biblical here (or even hippiesque) with the metaphors I use, but I think we forget about the importance of understanding and working with organizational culture in a businesses.

The Wikipedia encyclopedia defines culture as “human activity.” This is just my observation, but it seems that there’s a great deal of human activity going on within the normal operations of a corporation.

I know this idea of culture is a difficult concept for us to grasp, especially those of us techheadswho work in the tech industry. Soft and fuzzy concepts like culture and society aren’t really important to us because we prefer to have concrete facts and things that can be proven. Perhaps proving the existence and importance of social culture to scientifically-minded individuals like ourselves is as excessive exercise as Spinoza’s attempt to qualify and quantify the state of love.

When we live the corporate life we are inundated with values that stress that productivity and the logical steps to achieving it are more important that being in tune to the softer and more mysterious aspects of working within a culture or a community. We become more focused on indicators, data, finding or building the tools that work. If you add the factor of poor economy and the notion that spending less is better to this equation you develop a sort of tunnel view of how to manage your organization. When you combine this tunnel vision management with the development of the alien pod culture in corporations you’ve got a recipe for growing a fetid bureaucracy or at the very least a disgruntled workforce.

Suddenly there’s a cry for a more touchy feely sort of management, a return to training programs that embrace the softer side of influencing people. Suddenly the business sees more training and organizational initiatives that encourages teambuilding meetings, role-playing… all things that we techheads deplore and fear. And it also seems to me that under the tunnel vision regime in which we’d been so deprived of the softer side that the pendulum swings too far to the other extreme. The techheads become once again dissatisfied and disenchanted with the soft way of doing things that they ride the pendulum back to the other end. Maybe this is all just my observation of how things work around here.

Please don’t think that I’m placing myself in the type A category. I’m not being humble either. I think rather that I’m a type A in chrysalis phase, waiting to move to another pod culture. I’ve recognized that I cannot flourish within an organization that encourages the monitoring of it’s employees words and communications.

I can no longer be restricted by the notion that I am less than my worth.


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