Sunday, June 4, 2006

Spreading infection

If you're old enough to recall certain comics and TV shows, you'll recognize the old style of top-down management, epitomized by cigar-chomping bosses named things like "Mr. Abernathy," who said such things as, "Crumblebottom [no title], if you don't finish that report by five o'clock, YOU'RE FIRED!"

We've come a long way, baby. At some point, someone discovered that an inclusive, cooperative approach is more effective than an autocratic, coercive one, and that two or more heads are better than one. People work harder and better when they have a stake in the work and the outcome—and it could be an emotional rather than a merely financial one. People who work out of passion or at least commitment do a better job than those who collect paychecks. And people who value others foster a more productive environment than those whose self-interest is their ultimate—and sometimes—sole objective.

It doesn't take earning a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale or Stanford to understand this.

Yet there are still those who don't.

The results are not surprising. People work the fewest number of hours they can get away with, while the problematic leaders wonder why they are not putting in extra hours to meet poorly planned deadlines—because they have no stake in doing so. They also have no desire to spend any more time than necessary in an openly hostile environment where their suggestions and opinions are neither required nor requested, where projects are managed through nagging and pressure, and where providing sincere positive feedback is perceived as a waste of time. Bandages have been applied, but the infection continues to seep out from underneath and to poison everyone.

At this point, no one feels motivated, and no one has the time, energy, or will to do good work, let alone their best.

It makes me think of a gangrenous limb. It may have served you well when it was healthy, but now it is killing you. You hate to cut it off, and you may delay the decision as long as possible in the hope that the spread will stop and that some or all of the limb can be salvaged, perhaps with the loss of some functionality. You can't imagine life without that limb or how it can be replaced.

At some point, though, you have to decide. Amputating the foot may save the leg.

A decision needs to made soon, or there will be nothing left to save.

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