?

Log in

The kind of management which doesn't lead to humorous videos - Input Junkie
April 1st, 2014
10:51 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
The kind of management which doesn't lead to humorous videos
I posted a video of a engineer trying to explain to management that you just can't have seven red lines perpendicular to each other, and it doesn't help to use transparent ink and none of them can be a kitten no matter how much customers like kittens.

The people who were getting flashbacks didn't think it was especially hilarious.

Does the other sort of management which has some grasp of the real world correlate with anything? Perhaps having some technical people at the top? Or at the founding of the business? I suggested to dcseain that maybe some business schools are better than others, and he said that best was for management to not be from business school.

I also suspect it's not just technical people, even that that's the sort of problem that's easier for me and a lot of my readers to understand. I bet lawyers and accountant have parallel horror stories.

At some point in the conversation, the matter of how businesses with really bad management keep on going for a while came up, and I started wondering about bank loans, something that many (most?) (almost all?) businesses are dependent on. Do banks check for management competence? If so, how?

When I posted the first time, I tried to frame an _Atlas Shrugged_ joke, but couldn't get it to gell. However, there's a bit in the book (probably about James Taggart) believing that nothing is real except him getting what he wants, so that if the engineers say something won't work, all he has to do is get angry at them to get the results he's looking for. IIRC, that sort of management is also how the Challenger disaster happened.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1042646.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

Tags:

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:philmophlegm
Date:April 1st, 2014 03:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'm sure accountants have lots of horror stories. Auditors get exposed to lots of them at other firms. I have one that relates to engineers - it's a horror story of what can happen when the engineers get left in charge.

This was a heavy engineering firm in Yorkshire that was a client of mine. Really heavy engineering - machines for steel mills, that sort of thing. They no longer exist, but at the time were pretty much the last surviving part of a once great British engineering group.

Anyway, the main reason they no longer exist is that while in theory they had directors and accountants and so forth, in practice the only important decision the company ever had to make was whether or not to take on a job. They were a fairly small company but the jobs they did were huge (they'd do one major job a year on average). And the people who decided whether to take on a job (and how much to charge for it) were the engineers. And their sole criteria for this was not how profitable it would be, or how experienced they were at similar work, but rather how cool it would be to work on.

And since the cool jobs were the ones that they hadn't done before (because that would be dull), and they didn't involve accountants in the pricing decisions, they did a series of jobs that turned out to be wonderfully complicated. This was great fun for the engineers, right up until the point when the company went bust. In the end, it took just two consecutive unexpectedly complex jobs in succession to finish them off.




A lot of badly run companies manage to keep going longer than expected because they have assets that they can sell off. The engineering group mentioned above had been selling off other subsidiaries for years until the only group companies were our clueless but enthusiastic engineers and a small warehouse selling petrol lawnmower engines. I had another client that no longer exists - a great independent shipping company - that prolonged its death throes by selling a ship every few years. (This wasn't really a badly run company, but was part of a declining industry in the UK.) The trouble with that policy is that eventually, you run out of ships.
[User Picture]
From:mneme
Date:April 2nd, 2014 05:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
I find it funny. And..it's very, very true, and I've been there.

I've had technical bosses who were just awful. I've had mostly non-technical bosses who were very good.

In the end, I think the only real indicator is how -smart- the boss is. Someone who isn't that smart often can't tell the difference between a smart person and a poser, and will tend to mismanage smart people and get them to leave.

Someone who is that smart can often recognize intelligence even when it's not in their field, and is more likely to recognize and punish incompetence.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:April 2nd, 2014 11:51 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'm pretty sure bugsybanana has it right-- the crucial factor is connection to reality.

I'm sure there's a minimum intelligence needed to be a competent boss (and the minimum almost certainly varies in different sorts of business), but beyond that, cluefulness is essential.

See The Millionaire Next Door for descriptions of people with clues (about accumulating money) but moderate intelligence.

Edited at 2014-04-02 11:54 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:whswhs
Date:April 1st, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The cynical thought occurred to me a long time ago that business administration as a degree program and as a discipline was a logical outgrowth of the rise of corporate mergers. If you buy out another firm, you want people to run it, and relying on people who know the field it's in means relying on people who already work there, whose interests may not align with yours. So you're going to want to send in people whose first loyalty is to you, and that's going to mean people who are trained to manage. Overruling people who actually work in the field is part of the job description.

It's kind of like the ancient Romans sending in a member of the senatorial class to govern a province. He wouldn't be familiar with the province; he would have had a series of positions in the army, the priesthood, and the civil administration. But his job would be to keep the provincials in line and make sure they paid their taxes.
[User Picture]
From:rimrunner
Date:April 1st, 2014 03:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
My husband forwarded me that video and described it as an average day at work for him. (Unsurprisingly, he's looking for another job.)

My father, also a technology worker, once said that the best manager he ever had came to the company from McDonald's. She didn't have a tech background and didn't work in engineering, but the key was that she listened to her engineers and mostly got out of the way when it was time to work.

That was quite awhile ago and I think these days your manager has to have some background just so you don't have to explain everything to them a million times over. But that key, of listening to what's possible and what isn't, I think is most important. Certainly more important than whether the manager went to business school.
[User Picture]
From:selenite
Date:April 1st, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I generally correlate management competence with short feedback loops. If managers see the consequences of their actions they learn to conform to reality. The stuff being mocked in that video keeps happening because the managements of both companies sign on to the impossible, then the worker-bees throw together approximations until the managers are tired of the schedule slipping and say "okay, that's close enough." For ex., an experienced engineer would've just nodded, produced a drawing with five red straight lines and two green straight lines approximating a kitten, said "This is a projection of curved lines onto a plane. All the curves in 3D-space have perpendicular intersections," and gone on to the next project. It's not like the managers would have enough clue to realize he'd violated the specs.
[User Picture]
From:siliconshaman
Date:April 1st, 2014 04:31 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Seen that done with I.T stuff.. use enough jargon, say something that sounds plausible, find out what the customer is trying to do, [not what they want because the two aren't always the same] and go ahead and do that... then dress it up in some impenetrable report that has bugger all to do with reality but matches the brief. Everyone goes away happy and none the wiser.
[User Picture]
From:selenite
Date:April 1st, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
On the Challenger disaster--Tufte's Visual Explanations has the actual charts the Thiokol engineers presented to NASA before the launch. They did a terrible job of presenting their case and should share a large piece of the blame.
[User Picture]
From:siliconshaman
Date:April 1st, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I think part of the problem is that most managers are experts in being managers, and the banks check for their competency at being managers... but that does not equate with actually knowing anything about reality on the shop floor.

I'm reminded of one experience I had... I had to set up the email account for a senior level exec, who was generally accorded as being a Very Successful manger and had been lured away from another company at great expense.... and who had absolutely no clue how a computer worked, couldn't even find the on button, much less do anything.

3 months later he was senior VP in charge of I.T.
[User Picture]
From:elenbarathi
Date:April 1st, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
(Link)
My dear little robotics company went down when our boss died, but it had been going down for several years, and only lasted as long as it did because he was subsidizing it out of other income. The first big mistake was in marketing a product before it had been beta-tested; before we even really knew what the 'bugs' were. There turned out to be a LOT of them; and even after they were worked out (after several years of trouble) the product was still so user-hostile that a lot of users unpacked it, read the instructions, and put it right back in the box.

This was because our boss was a brilliant inventor with no business sense, and no real grasp of what 'too complicated' meant to people who were not him. The concept of the product was brilliant, no doubt about that. I'm sure by now, someone's kiped it and marketed a product that does the same thing, only without requiring one to be an electronics tech to make it work. But our company spend an outrageous amount of resources trying to make it work, instead of focusing on our original, reliable, excellent product that all the users loved.

The other problem was that when the boss got sick, he hired Micromanaging Bitch and put her in charge of trashing employee morale and productivity, plus destroying the operating budget by drastically over-stocking everything. My department was the last one left standing because I quit rather than be under Bitch Manager's rule, and they had to hire me back with a promise that she'd stay out of my workshop. She was fired shortly thereafter; then we had one 'meh' manager who didn't have much to manage by then, and one good manager who presided over The End as creditably as anyone could. If only we'd hired her five years sooner, the company might have survived long enough to at least be sold, instead of simply folding.

I had declined the position of Manager because I thought I would hate it and suck at it. I really liked the job I had, and also didn't really trust anyone else to do it right; plus I'd expressed my opinion of the user-hostile product before it was marketed, been discounted, and basically said "Fine, then I'm not working on that". Bitch Manager ran that department straight into the ground, but I can't honestly say I'd have done a bit better, because the whole project was doomed from the start.

Being a good manager means having enough familiarity with what the workers are doing to be able to tell good work from bad, and what it takes to do good work. If one hires good workers, listens to what they need and sees that they get it, good work will be the natural result. Micro-management pre-supposes that people are bad workers; therefore it is bad management.
[User Picture]
From:bugsybanana
Date:April 1st, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I'm an accountant - Quickbooks is its own horror story, but that's a tale for another time.

My experience is almost all with small businesses. I'm more accustomed to vague and incoherent demands of the WHY DOES EVERYONE MISUNDERSTAND MY PERFECTLY CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS? sort versus the kind depicted in the video, which have the virtue of being clear and incoherent. Some small businessmen are too ornery to work for anyone else, but this doesn't mean they know what they're doing working for themselves. Good listening skills are probably significant, but I think being reality-based is its own independent thing - a good or poor grasp of reality can appear in anyone from any industry.

There may be a socioeconomic component, come to think of it - bosses who come from money might have greater tendencies to make their own reality when it seems necessary. I'm probably biased about that, though.

And I agree about business schools - going to one gave me a healthy disrespect for business school.
[User Picture]
From:witchwestphalia
Date:April 3rd, 2014 03:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
No banks really can't check for competence. They check the financial stuff, that's all.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:April 3rd, 2014 07:25 am (UTC)
(Link)
Is it that banks can't check for competence, or that they just don't?
[User Picture]
From:witchwestphalia
Date:April 10th, 2014 03:05 am (UTC)
(Link)
How do you check for management competence? Do some sort of high stress interview? Realistically, what banks can check is whether the business is consistently profitable, and use that as a surrogate for management compentence.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:April 10th, 2014 06:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
That's an interesting question-- I don't think high stress interviews are it.

Assume there are appropriately competent people at the bank-- otherwise there'd be no hope. One of possibility would be for the bank to have an anonimized email address for employee and supplier complaints.

Any interview that has an important loan riding on it would be stressful, but I don't think the bank rep needs to be nasty-- I might be overoptimistic, but I think giving execs a chance to talk about the business, and see whether they have specific knowledge about crucial areas would be a good start. The purpose of this isn't to find out who's guaranteed to succeed, it's just to filter out the fools and frauds.
nancybuttons.com Powered by LiveJournal.com