Sunday, April 24, 2005

When Affixing Blame For Inept Managers,

From Anonymous:

The Wall Street Journal

April 20, 2005


When Affixing Blame
For Inept Managers,
Go Over Their Heads
April 20, 2005; Page B1

Graig Stettner was always able to stay in the good graces of his former boss. But that didn't make her vindictiveness or ax-grinding any more appealing to him.

When he e-mailed some friends last week about their former tormentor, "the emotions that the mere mention of her name incited were amazing," he says. One colleague recalled that when she greeted the boss with a "good morning," she was told not to speak unless spoken to. "I don't like to chit-chat," the boss said. Another colleague, who had opposed the woman's promotion openly, was "let go." Some employees so disliked the boss that they mounted a picture of the Wicked Witch of the West on an office wall and got a computer to play the line, "I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!"

None of this sentiment was shared by the boss's boss, of course, who was "totally clueless," Mr. Stettner says. "It wasn't until two managers later [and three years later] that anybody had the courage to cut her loose."

There's only one thing more mystifying than why a person completely undeserving of a managerial position gets one: how they manage to keep it for so long. Everyone knows that politics, connections and clever tactics can vault the most unworthy staffer into a supervisory role, especially in a bootlickocracy. But when that person, defying logic and gravity, fails to fall on his or her own sword, it is stark proof of the fact that justice doesn't necessarily prevail in the office.

The problem of unqualified employees rising through the ranks is well chronicled in Laurence Peter's 1969 book, "The Peter Principle," which argues that people in business organizations rise to their level of incompetence. But are these climbers, who are surrounded by the cult of ambition that pervades most corporations, really at fault for striving for what an organization rewards? What about the one person in close proximity to whom the manager's incompetence isn't tortuously obvious: the fool who promoted him.

"It's like people who get mad at a dog because the dog is out running around the neighborhood," says Lisa McNary, a management professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. "It's not the dog's fault."

High-tech executive Paul Kedrosky also believes "the people who wrong-headedly promote these ragingly incompetent people and don't do anything about it" are the problem. He once had a sales manager who called weekly meetings, asked all the wrong questions, told his subordinates they were idiots, and spent the rest of the week frantically making sales himself to cover for his "incompetent" staff. "We spent a great deal of time golfing," Mr. Kedrosky says. "To my knowledge, [the man] was still in the job 10 years later, as bad as ever."

What goes around may come around, "but sometimes it's a very long trip," says Jon Morehouse. He once had a lousy supervisor who managed to keep his post by referring all questions from his staffers to people who knew the answers and by persuading his supervisors that the work his staff was doing was actually his.

Organizational psychologist Gary Hayes says organizations flattened starting in the 1970s, when layers of management were removed in the name of organizational efficiency. But "a very large number of companies after that really stopped rewarding management skills," he says. As a result, "people get promoted because they have a technical skill that gets found out and recognized early on and that becomes the horse they ride into town," he says.

Sometimes a supervisor promotes a lame manager because he figures the manager is unlikely to unseat him. "They don't want to have subordinates on a lower rung of the ladder who might soon step over them," says Angelo Calvello, a principal at a financial firm in Chicago. "Normally, a boob has got a boob for a boss."

The higher up the hierarchy a boss is, the longer it may take for justice to prevail. More than a decade ago, Jim Sachs was reporting to a chief financial officer who had challenged the chief executive and lost. The CEO replaced the CFO with an ally, someone who did some administrative bidding for the board and who, Mr. Sachs says, "couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag." Because his boss and his boss's boss were so bad, Mr. Sachs viewed the situation as "double jeopardy" and left the company. Eventually, the chief executive was canned, but only 10 years later, after new directors joined the board.

Some bosses are able to last because they have a lieutenant who can prop them up. A former banker recalls the time a loan officer was promoted to head the bank's trust department. "It was like putting someone who speaks Hindi in charge of a lot of Spaniards," he says. Anytime the boss was asked questions in a meeting, his lieutenant would dutifully answer.

Perhaps the biggest reason why incompetent managers have such an interminable shelf life is that the people who promoted them don't want to admit they made an error. "They'd be admitting fallibility," says Karen Markin, a university administrator. "They'd have to admit that some of the advice they got from their subordinates was on the mark and they chose not to listen to it -- if they sought the advice at all."
\u2022 E-mail me at jared.sandberg@wsj.com1. To see past columns, go to CareerJournal.com2.

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Amazing article. It's like a nightmare I remember having over and over for the last two years. The "Peter Principle" is certainly alive and thriving at Los Alamos. The same could be said for NNSA and UCOP. However, really successful and aware organizations do not put up with such crap.
This article is very penetrating and should be required reading for all CEO's and Directors. I have always said that LANL disproves the Peter Principal, however. At LANL, all managers reach their level of incompetence and keep on climing.
It is well known by good managers that any selection process should involve talking to the subordinates of candidates. If Doug Beason had done that, we wouldn't have had to live with his recent ridiculous appointments...
I am curious what Beason's motivations for hiring Gutierrez might have been. Could he possibly have thought that hiring her at $163,500 per year would improve our morale? Was he told to give her a job? In either case, it does not reflect well on him.
Quote from article : "Some bosses are able to last because they have a lieutenant who can prop them up."

Usually the case. Most of the leaders at the lab that have been any good had deputy/staff that were superb, engaged, knows the staff and institution, institutional, not egomaniacs, pragmatic,... In FY04 I witnessed this at the SET level. Press brought in Dreicer and his office had an unbelievable transformation.

Quote from article "... Sometimes a supervisor promotes a lame manager because he figures the manager is unlikely to unseat him. "They don't want to have subordinates on a lower rung of the ladder who might soon step over them,"

This is certainly what Nanos has done with the SET and with responsibilities. Taken away the authority from some of the ADs and CSO so they can't do anything, althought they likely were not able to anyway given the lack of leadership ability.
While the list of examples is undoubtedly long at LANL, the cynical point to Micheline Devaurs and those that promoted her: Morgeson, Cobb, and Nanos, as perhaps an outstanding case in point exemplifying issues discussed in the post.

While the Director let the more cynical down by choosing another for the ADSR position, they have not given up hope. They predict she could surface again in, say Technical Services or, as a longshot, somewhere in weapons. The most cynical group is hoping for the god of humor to intervene so they can collect on the longshot payoff, and continue enjoying the farce.
Maybe she'll be the morale officer of the Senior Executive Team.
They can afford her.
With an Acting AD salary of $207k/yr, the cynical truly are rooting for Micheline to find something where she can keep that salary.

There are at least 2 positions with the word "Advisor" as part of the title and an Office Director making more than $200k/yr, so there are some possibilities.

In addition, with the newly found possibility of being a "Special Assistant for Morale and Performance Strategy", there is indeed hope among the cynical. They envision her perhaps acting in an "At Large" capacity attached to the Director's Office.
What about Associate Director for Morale and Hilarities Are Here Again (AD/MO'HAHA)? Remember the Washington axiom, "The longer the title the less important the job."

For Nanos, maybe John Bolton's old job in the State Department is still available. Apparently, the only qualification is that the incumbent must have demonstrated the ability to chew out innocent subordinates and throw paper at them.
The floggings will continue until morale improves. Ms. Gutierrez is in charge of the floggings, I suppose.
Will she be wearing leather and spike heels?
What LANL management doesn't get is basic psychology. The carrot works better than the stick. B.F. Skinner proved it. It works on pigeons, monkeys and rats. It also works on human.
Psycological studies of punishment show that if punishment is administered to creatures which have no means to escape it, they become depress after a while.
It is a well known fact that Los Alamos has the highest consumption of anti-depressants in the nation. It also has a disfunctional laboratory where people are randomly punished for nothing they can control.
That's a very bad visual 8:39.
As 5:12 put it, the list of examples is rather sad. I cannot speak to Devaurs credentials, but to those others who supposedly promoted her:
Morgeson -- a well know harrasser of women and young GRAs, who was asked to leave LANL for repeated inappropriate behavior towards female staff and students, now working at IDA in Washington but was allowed to keep his clearance; Nanos -- a serial verbal abuser with a restraining order against him; Cobb, a self-promoter who backstabbed his way into the deputy director's job. Very fine examples of so-called LANL leaders here.
12:59. That's the kind of talk that's going to have Ms. Gutierrez coming around with the special "morale" whip to flog you into a state of happiness and enlightenment.
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