There’s a Reason They are called “Managers” and not “Leaders”

The Capital “M’s”

These guys – the Managers – are a different animal entirely.  While the rest of us were working and learning a trade, these were the guys going to college to learn how to teach you how to be more efficient at…whateveritisthatyoudo (don’t bog them down with unimportant details). No, their job is a thankless one.  Mainly because their ability to positively impact the business is so questionable.

They don’t care one iota for whether or not you are doing your job well, because in all of their schooling the one thing that they really learned is that employees are identical.  They are interchangeable and replaceable.  There is no such thing as an “important” employee – everyone is disposable.  A phrase that I have heard more than once is, “You’re not getting paid to think.” My wife (a motherfucking R.N.) was told the same thing by her manager during a meeting.

You know what?  I want my I.T. guy and my R.N. to be people that think. I don’t want my expert to shrug and give up. When it comes right down to it I’d rather have two thinkers (Management and Staff, rather than just Management) than one .

Of course, this completely ignores the fact that these Managers aren’t coming up with anything new either.  They’re using the same tactics that business has used for the last 60 years (and was quite popular in the 80’s). My last batch of Managers thought that a “new idea” is the same as, “180° from reason”.  Nope, sorry Charlie, ideas don’t work that way.

In that same vein, they will surround themselves with “buffers” so that they don’t look quite so incompetent. They won’t be called managers if that can be at all avoided, and they will always be held accountable over the capital “M”.  You’ll find titles with “Associate” in the name, or “Supervisor” or “Lead“. They aren’t getting paid to think and the only way they’ll get promoted is if they successfully avoid getting chucked under a bus by one of their own bosses.

Because this is happening at multiple levels, you frequently have multiple layers of non-working Management between the Bosses and the managers. None of them has anything at all to do with the actual work being done, yet they incompetently micromanage every process that takes place.  Meeting after meeting after meeting to explain why you don’t have time to get the work done (because you have too many fucking meetings). All seven managers of your department have informed you that there’s no budget for additional trained staff, and they’d help but…well…they don’t know how to do the job (and frankly they have another meeting in 15 minutes).

As an example, the job that I just left required that I fixed servers.  That was my job.  That was the entire purpose for our department and actually our entire facility.  When I got hired we had two managers for three sites (although one of the managers thought he had an “M”).  Right around the time that I got hired, that manager got “bumped” down by a proper degree-certified (externally-hired) Manager.  So far in the last year we have grown from 2 managers at 3 sites, to 6 managers and 4 Managers at 6 sites, only 2 of which actually understand the job that needs to be done by the 40 or so technicians that we have available.

NOW…all of this has absolutely no bearing on my ability to do my job.  No matter how many managers (or Managers) are over my head, my job stays the same:  Fix servers as quickly (and hopefully, as reliably) as possible.  Of course, being hobbled by policies and pointless meetings is never a justifiable reason for your performance to drop – the expectation is that you’ll work longer hours to get caught up.

Dishonest Dealings

From a bottom rung perspective this opens the door to all sorts of malfeasance and abuse.  Because the Managers don’t understand the work, they will usually believe whatever sounds good.  And because they’ve now made the work impossible to do well, it becomes easier to not do the job and lie about it than it does to do the job poorly.

At my former workplace we implemented a system to track the work that we do in a shift.  Ignoring the fact that much of what I do takes place inside my head (and is closer to an art form than it is to a paint by numbers), they have reduced my entire job to a small number of poorly defined processes. Their metrics don’t take into account the vast majority of the time that we spend doing research and, quite frankly, just trying to let our brains unfocus long enough to take a breath.

Some of our technicians have learned that if you tweak your tickets in just the right way, you can improve your numbers exponentially without actually changing what you’re doing.  Unfortunately, as this “tweaking” takes time, less actual work is getting done.

The end result of this is that at some of our sites there is a lot of backbiting, lying, cheating, swindling, and actual outright theft of tickets to try to “improve their numbers”. Some of these people have been hired at elevated positions as a result of their number manipulations, and Management doesn’t have the slightest idea that it’s taking place.

Why?  Because they don’t know how the job is done.  The only part of our job that they understand are the metrics, which really only illustrate about 30% of the picture.

I had actually thrived fairly well within the system.  I had also taken it upon myself to give “pep talks” to my coworkers because I really wanted to make sure that my workplace stayed relaxed and enjoyable.  I have seen this downward spiral happen before and it’ll be years before they recover, if ever (it only takes a couple of “work generations” before former performance is completely forgotten in favor of the clunkier (but Management friendly!) system of dirty pool.  ThisHappensEverywhere.

The Managers’ Dilemma

Imagine this: you’ve gotten the job (a good start), and you’ve surrounded yourself with incompetent yes-men so that you never have to hear about how stupid your decisions are.  At every level you have disposable employees (they’re all disposable!) assuring that you’ll always have a scapegoat when the shit hits the fan. Unfortunately, you still have a boss and usually they actually want results.  This is a problem because those standardized reviews that you require for your underlings have been thoughtlessly applied to you as well.  As far as anyone else is concerned all you’ve done (so far) is hire a bunch of managers and eliminate a lot of “real” positions.

This is actually quite common in nature – parasites work best when they don’t kill their host right away, and they work even better when the host doesn’t notice that they’re there.

The natural result of this (uninformed (yet overeducated) Managers) is to find a “pet project“.  If done properly, you can spend years funnelling corporate funds into a project that never has a defined goal or end point.  “Security” and “Safety” at a corporate level are like the US Defense Budget – vast sinkholes of cash where you can (on paper) show progress, while at the same time never having to answer awkward questions about where the money is going or why you can’t keep competent employees.

I’ve seen this happen a couple of different times and it never seems to turn out well for the staff, or for the company.  With smaller companies (and I’m sure larger ones, to a greater extent), a bad Manager can actually get away with the equivalent of a Golden Parachute just for going away quietly.  The local company doesn’t get any bad press (preventing a loss of customers) and the Manager gets to quietly move on to destroy another company.

At the radiology place that I worked it was a piece of software that was supposed to “unify” the various departments (reception, xray, file room, physicians, billing).  In that case we spent many millions of dollars on a piece of software that the IT department knew (and said) would not work.  Management confused things so much that end result was a complete replacement of the IT department from which they are still trying to recover (some 9 years later).  Seriously.

During the initial rollout of the software, the Manager in charge of the project got catered lunches for his staff every single day for over a year.  Most of the leftovers went home with his employees as well, meaning that essentially his staff got a temporary raise for the better part of a year, all because their boss was smart enough to game the system.  Not moral enough or even remotely qualified to do the actual job, of course, but upper level Managers don’t seem to be able to tell the difference.

At my most recent place of employment the pet project was all in the name of “Security”.  Upper Management (note the capital “M” ) had decided that security will justify any number of ridiculous processes, many of which introduce new points of failure rather than reducing them.

I don’t care if you’re providing security on the internet or at a rock concert, adding holes isn’t going to make anything more secure.

The last place that I worked is an absolute behemoth, so the costs of this project are completely absorbed as the price of doing business.  All of their security issues could be resolved by reducing micromanagement and paying a reasonable wage for quality staff.  Money buys an awful lot of compliance.

Click on the Next Page to see some of Managements bright ideas and the drain that they probably are on your company.  Besides, it’ll give you a sense of accomplishment if you make it through the whole thing.

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3 Responses to There’s a Reason They are called “Managers” and not “Leaders”

  1. 智耶寿 says:

    Like I’ve said but more succinct, and allot of why most Managers are entirely impractical in technical jobs.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation

    • Roknrol says:

      Wow – excellent Talk, and nailed it. I think it’s kind of telling that higher levels of Management don’t understand what motivates people. (for the Managers reading this, the answer is “money”…Cripes….)

  2. 智耶寿 says:

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I really wish that I could disagree with you but pretty much everything you described has matched what I have observed.

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