Management practices that don't make perfect
Business Week's Liz Ryan had a recent article "Ten Management Practices to Axe". These practices, she argues are both "brainless and injurious" and should be done away with.. One can certainly argue why stop at ten, but the list she comes up with is good and more or less manageable.
Her list/my comments:
1. Forced Ranking
Much of my formal career was spent in small companies, so "forced ranking" didn't really make much sense. But when I was at Genuity, there was an attempt to force all managers into numerically ranking employees. Genuity being Genuity, nothing really came of it, but I argued at the time - and argue it still - that it is more than theoretically possible to have people in your group who all do a pretty darned good job. Now, if the purpose of forced ranking is to chop heads - which, as often as not, it is - wouldn't it make more sense to ask managers to define the skills, abilities , and personal attributes most essential to executing a known strategy, and then pick the employees across groups who have the best set of them. This seems to me to make more sense - and be less cold-blooded and stone-bogus - than numerically ranking employees. Forced ranking programs just encourage managers to sandbag poor performers so they'll have someone to rank last when it comes to lay-off time.
2. Front-Loaded Recruiting Systems
I have little direct experience with processes that:
..."require candidates to surmount the Seven Trials of Hercules before earning so much as a phone call from your HR staff. Those trials can include credit checks, reference checks, online honesty tests, questionnaires, sample work assignments, and other mandatory drills that signal "We'll just need you to crawl over a few more bits of broken glass, and you may get that interview."
But I'm with Liz in that these trials and tribulations are best reserved for candidates that you're serious about.
Frankly, that roster of checkpoints looks suspiciously to me like someone's trying to scientize the hiring process. Maybe that works when it comes to more or less low-end, completely standardized jobs (Walmart greeter?), but for professional positions? Good luck with that!
Years ago, I interviewed for a job with a company that had me fill out an on-the-spot writing sample while I waited to be interviewed. This was for a senior product management position, but I was told that everyone had to go through this exercise, which I found pretty idiotic and demeaning. (As it turned out, further into the interview rounds, we decided that I wasn't the right horse for this particular course, but I recommended a former boss, who got the job and did reasonably well there for a couple of years.)
Bogus as I found this little 'describe a toothbrush to someone who'd never seen one' exercise, I would have totally balked at having to do any online honesty test or personality profile.
I think I'll always come down on the side of what's on the resume, comfort factor during the interview, and network vetting. Sure, you can still make hiring mistakes - I made my share - but I don't really think it's any of my business to know someone's credit score before I sit down across the desk from them.
3. Overdone Policy Manuals
Years ago, I worked for a crazy - and I mean certifiably crazy, if institutions can be said to be certifiable - company that thought it could sane-itize itself, and get rid of all its bad behavior and chaos by hiring a retired admiral in the US Navy to come in and kick some sloppy Cambridge hippy ass.
One of the things that The Admiral brought with him was a former aide who decided what we needed was a military-style procurement process that we needed to go through every time we wanted to requisition a pen. No more raiding the company supply cabinet. Now, you had to consult the manual, familiarize yourself with the 15 page flow chart on how to order a pen, and take it from there.
Needless to say, all the publication of the policy manual that contained the supply req process was met with was outright, prolonged laughter.
(I did have some sympathy for The Admiral, however. Shortly before he left, I said to him, "If you had seventeen legs, you couldn't kick ass fast enough and hard enough to get anything done around here." The Admiral just laughed - outright and prolonged.)
4. Social Media Thought Police
In her article, Liz mentions receiving an e-mail from someone who was informed that her company had a "no LinkedIn profiles" policy.
I think that companies are entitled to establish ground-rules about what employees can blog and tweet about when it comes to the company's business, proprietary information, etc., and about use of the company's name when commenting, etc. Beyond that...let the tweets fall where they may. And if some lunk head goes beyond, well, they'll get what they deserve, even if it means being fired. (Not to mention that employees - particularly younger ones - are advised that they may want to exercise some discretion and circumspection when it comes to their public profiles. A job opportunity or a promotion can evaporate if someone finds that insanely vicious rant you've made - whether it's about business or the girl in the next door room.)
But refusing to allow employees to get themselves LinkedIn? Restraint of trade, and sheer and utter nonsense.
5. Rules That Force Employees To Lie
The example Liz cites is those maternity leave policies that point out that your benefits won't get paid if you fess up that you have no intention of coming back once the leave is up. Her solution:
Pay the same percentage of insurance premiums for all employees in a category (e.g. new moms) without requiring pointless declarations of their intentions.
If I ruled the world, I'd add that, if an employee does come back, you reimburse them (after n months) for any premium they paid on their premiums while they were on leave.
6. Theft of Miles
I can't imagine working for an outfit that didn't let you keep your frequent flyer miles. Sure, those miles are accrued on behalf of, and paid for by, the business. But all those runway hours, those interminable middle-seat flights trying to grab your share of the arm rest, those soggy airport sandwiches "prepared fresh" seven days prior to consumption, are all coming off of your back. Not to mention that, as often as not, most miles are racked up after hours, flying out Sunday for the Monday a.m. meeting, suffering through a red-eye to save a "wasted day" on a coast-to-coast flight, etc.
I can see a company wanting to dictate what airlines their employees fly. Within reason. Companies need to be reasonable with their expectations of enforcing out of the way flights to save a dime. When I worked for Wang, some departments had a distinctly odious flight policy that dictated 'cheapest fare', no matter how long and ridiculous the flight was. Just because it's cheaper for someone to fly back from Kansas City to Boston via Spokane doesn't make it right. Wang's crapoid travel policy was compounded by the rule that all flights had to, where possible, be made outside of regular business hours. So, to the dictum ''don't be a miles thief', I'd add 'don't be a time thief, either.' Most people will want to get home, so they'll naturally gravitate towards flights that get them there. This usually means flying after the business day is done. But making a rule about it....Bah.)
7. Jack-Booted Layoffs
Liz claims that:
One-on-one pink-slip discussions and dignified, non-immediate departures are the new norm for ethical organizations.
Having lived through the jack-booted era, I am delighted to hear this. In my day, yesterday's valued employee was tomorrow's demento, who would use the two-week notice period to trash their hard drive, send crazed e-mails to customers, and in general throw every monkey wrench they could think of into the works. Oh, yes, and they might well be violent, so let's make sure we have extra security guards on lay-off day.
Would crazed employee behavior have happened in real life? Who knows. We never gave it a chance. Instead, on riff-day, we helped those laid-off pack up their boxes and escort them immediately to their cars. No time, even, to remove personal files and work samples from their computers.
Out now! Don't look back, you might turn into a pillar of salt. Just surrender your badge, thank you.
I'm all for giving those laid-off the ability to wind-down and transition what they're working on, but I'd vote for making any length of stay optional. How about having the managers sit down with those being pink-slipped and figuring out what the transition plan might be - including what's okay for someone to make off with in terms of work samples.
8. 360-Degree Feedback Programs
I've never done the 360 degree feedback thang, although I have long been intrigued by it, and my impression is that it's not a bad idea. Then I read in wikipedia, that the concept was first deployed by the German military during World War II. Enough said. ('Ach, Wolfgang, drei kamaraden said that when you blitzkrieged through that Dutch town you smiled at a little Dutch boy.') And how'd you like to have been part of Hitler's 360 (or, rather, 270). Just imagine the Third Reich's HR director explaining to der feuhrer's face that it was all anonymous when he demanded to know the name of the scheisskopf who said that they should have pushed right on to England after France?
So I think I'll just take Liz Ryan's word that 360-degree feedback programs are a bad idea.
9. Mandatory Performance-Review Bell Curves
Early in my career, I worked for a company that mandated that, when it came to performance reviews, the supreme majority of employees would be given a "3" for does the job. My manager took this mandate seriously, and everyone in our group was given a "3". The other managers just laughed at it, and gave "1" and "2" rankings out liberally. Come raise time - tied, of course, to those rankings - "1's" and "2's" got decent raises, us "3's" got a pittance.
Bell curve, schmell curve.
10. Timekeeping Courtesy of Henry Ford
With 30,000 employees, Wang was the largest company I ever worked for. And, when it came to personnel policies, across the boards it was the benighted worst. Wang's petty bureaucratic idiocies were just unbelievably numbing. When I joined the company, my request for a book shelf and file drawer in my cube was rejected because I didn't put down a reason; once I wrote "book shelf to put books on", and "file cabinet to put files in", it was approved.
Their lay-off procedures were completely dehumanizing; a Russian-emigre colleague said that he 'felt like the KGB had come' for him. Their attitude towards employee honesty was exemplified by the fact that supply cabinets were locked up in the weeks leading up to a new school year.
But what precipitated by departure from Wang was an encounter with the new president, Rick Miller, who was brought in to turn the company around.
When he first joined Wang, Rick made it a habit to sit with groups of peons in the people's caf, where he would hold forth. Those sitting at the table with him would then pass his hold forths on to the rest of the company. As a communications tactic, it was actually brilliant. Immediately after lunch everyone who ate with Rick would hit their e-mail and let x others know what the day's pronouncement was. Within a couple of hours, everybody in the company - and I do mean everybody - would have gotten the word.
On the day he sat with my group, the topic du jour was flex-time.
Rick didn't "buy it." Plain and simple, people should be at work from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. While those were, in fact, the hours I worked at Wang, I knew a number of people who, for commuting or kid-care purposes, came and went earlier or later. I pointed this out to Rick, and we went back and forth for a few minutes, before I figured that, as president, his prerogative was bigger than my prerogative, and let the argument go.
But his assumption that those who weren't working the normal hours were somehow cheating the company really irked me.
As did his practice of stationing himself by the main entrance points at 9:00 in the morning, and 4:00 in the afternoon, when he would accost, errrrrr greet, entering and exiting employees, ask them their names and what group they worked with, and thank them for coming to work.
This little management technique completely sent me over the edge.
No, I was never caught up in the Rick Miller punch clock snare, but I loathed the very idea of it.
Not that I wouldn't have been gone in one of the jack-booted lay-offs eventually, but this 'time-served' nonsense pushed me right out the door. Within a couple of months of Miller's arrival, I had departed.