Why your manager is a monkey

Via Technology Review called: “Why Incompetence Spreads through Big Organizations

Summation of the Article

According to a recent simulation, the old tried and true practice of promoting the most competent person in each organization (otherwise known as Peter’s Principle) is actually a bad idea because the simulation showed that it reduced efficiency in organizations and promoted incompetency.

Instead, what companies should be doing, is either to promote the most competent person and the least competent person or to promote people randomly.

I think a couple of points have to be addressed first before analyzing the situation

People are promoted based on other factors than competency

The simulation assumes that it is always the most competent person that gets promoted, when in fact it’s a mix of charisma, politics or just being the only person available.

I’m sure all of you are aware that it’s never as cut and dry as “you are the best person we’ve got at this level, and we think it’s time for a promotion”.

Competent people are assumed to be promoted using good ol’ common sense

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Let’s just say, common sense ain’t so common no more and leave it at that.

Now onto the analysis

I find the ideas in this article particularly intriguing because as a former corporate cog, I was always irritated at how incompetent my managers and bosses seemed to be at their jobs for certain things.

I mean, I once had a manager who FORGOT to submit my employee review and almost got me fired by default just because she forgot to get something so dreadfully important done.

She was disorganized and totally flaky.

She’d forget meetings with us and end up having to waste our time because she’d have to reschedule.

She was also a bit of a liar, all in the name of saving her ass.

I mean really! Does that sound like a Dilbert manager or what?

I just couldn’t muster up any respect for her as a manager. I liked her very much as a person, but it wasn’t what I’d have called a good manager by any means.

I’m not really a person to care about a manager’s personality — I just want them to do their jobs: Fight for me when you believe in me, don’t lie or sugarcoat the truth, be organized, be on time, do what you promise, and don’t be flaky. That’s it.

But I could never figure out HOW and WHY she got promoted, and I later realized that it was because no one else wanted the job and/or she was the only one available. *shrug*

Maybe managers should be paid less, not more?

If managers were paid less than expected, or the same as consultants (sorry, I’m going to speak from an IT consultant’s perspective), then maybe the incentive to lie to get the next promotion will not be as desirable.

Now, for you managers out there reading this, don’t get your panties into a twist.

I’m not saying you don’t deserve your job or deserve to be paid less, but let’s admit it — there are less than scrupulous people out there who would lie just to get a promotion to manager so they can get the extra cash to clear their debts, regardless of whether or not they’d enjoy the job more than what they’re doing.

I know a lot of people who would sell their eye teeth to become a manager, just because of the $10,000 raise. So they schmooze, they lie, they glad hand and they work their way up to be a manager into a fairly cushy job in the sense that they don’t have to do the actual job of a consultant any longer — they’re busy managers now who can’t be expected to go on projects all the time.

Motivation should not be all about $$

My solution would be to try and make a managerial job less about the money and more about a change in skills rather than a promotion.

And then, within that skill set of being a manager, if they excel, then they TOTALLY deserve bonuses as they do better and better.

For me, I find that being a good, or effective manager (even a project manager) doesn’t mean you have to be able to do everything.

I never expect a good PM to ever know how to do my job (why should he/she?) or to know every single intricate detail of every system known to the world.

That’s just ridiculous.

I wouldn’t want to effectively lose the best [insert job title here], just because they’re too good at their jobs

If that above PM was a genius who knew how to do everything in every system in the world, she wouldn’t be a manager! She’d stay where she is and make a freaking KILLING off being one of the most highly sought after systems analysts in the world, as an independent (incidentally, a goal of mine…)

But seriously, I wouldn’t want to take a genius at his or her job out of that level, just to promote them because I think they’re doing too good of a job. Hell, I want to keep them there so they can do even better!

Don’t force people to accept a promotion just to get a raise

If you’re good at your job, you get a pay raise. Period.

If you’re not good at your job, be honest, admit it, and move to something else that fits better into your skill set but not necessarily just because it pays more.

I think it’s silly to have to force brilliant people into accepting a promotion with a job that they may not like as much just so they can make more money.

I don’t want them to look up the ladder and get confused as to why their manager is an idiot and they’re making less than he is, making more money for the company with their work, but doing the work of a genius.

Someone who SUCKS at being an employee may be an awesome manager

For me, the crux of the issue is that each role in a company uses different skill sets.

We cannot always expect an accountant to be an awesome CFO (Chief Financial Officer), nor can we expect a programmer to be a great head of IT.

In some cases, yeah.. they rock.

And in something like maybe a sales manager’s role, it would be helpful if they were a good sales person, because they would understand the day-to-day job and would be the most effective as a manager because they’ve experienced the job before.

Interestingly enough, TELUS (a Canadian telecommunications company) does something similar in their company — they make everyone who becomes an employee, go through customer service support roles (awful, nasty, customer-yelling-at-you-making-you-cry kind of jobs), to understand what it means when something doesn’t work right in the company and these tech support people get the sh*t stick.

We should just recognize that someone who is fabulous at their current job, may not have the best skills to be a manager, and someone who is awful at their current job may very well excel at a role of being a manager.

It’s a question of skills, more than competency at any given level.

And there you have it. My vague, rough, 3 a.m. thoughts on how people should be promoted and rewarded.

I still think it would be an interesting experiment for a company to implement either one of the researchers’ strategies above: to promote the best AND the worst (law of averaging out) or to pick people randomly for promotions, and to see in a real life situation if efficiency would fall, stay the same or rise.

So, is your manager a monkey?

(Just kidding. I see him looking over your shoulder. Act normal. ACT NORMAL!)

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.