Posts Tagged ‘Tom Peters’

In Defense Of Hierarchy

March 10, 2014 1 comment

The word “hierarchy” gets no respect. Except for popes, generals, executives, and managers, who tend to thrive exquisitely in command and control hierarchies, many people associate hierarchical social structures with ineffectual bureaucracy, back-stabbing politics, patronization, unfair distribution of status and rewards, and suppression of individual initiative.

Despite all the bad press, hierarchically structured social systems do have benefits; even for those residing in the lowest tiers of the pyramid.  One benefit that hierarchy serves up is… orderly execution of operations:

Imagine if students argued with their teachers, workers challenged their bosses, and drivers ignored traffic cops anytime they asked them to do something they didn’t like. The world would descend into chaos in about five minutes. – Duncan J. Watts

In “Influence” Robert Cialdini writes:

A multi-layered and widely accepted system of authority confers an immense advantage upon a society. It allows the development of sophisticated structures for resource production, trade, defense, expansion, and social control that would otherwise be impossible. The other alternative, anarchy, is a state that is hardly known for its beneficial effects on cultural groups and one that the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes assures us would render life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I don’t agree with Mr. Cialdini that the alternative to hierarchy is pure anarchy, but his point, like Mr. Watts’s, is a good one.

Management “guru” Tom Peters (to whom I used to closely listen to prior to reading Matt Stewart’s brilliant “The Management Myth“), sums it up nicely with:

Hierarchy will never go away. Never!


Where Are They Now?

January 15, 2013 1 comment

The practice of performance appraisal is a mandated process in which, for a specified period of time, all or a group of employees’ work performance, behaviors, or traits are individually rated, judged, or described by a person other than the rated employee and the results are kept by the organization. – Coens, Tom; Jenkins, Mary. Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Abolishing Performance Appraisals” was written 10 years ago. In their seminal book, Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins provide case studies of the following organizations as having replaced the Annual Performance Appraisal (APR) with something different:

University of Wisconsin Credit Union
Madison,Wisconsin, Police Department
Wheaton Franciscan Services, Inc.
Glenroy, Inc.
Gallery Furniture Company
Entre Computer Service
Memorial Hospital, Fremont, Ohio
Michigan State University
Electronic Data Systems (before being acquired by HP)

I wonder how these orgs are doing today? Could some/most of them have gone down the tubola like most of the orgs in Tom Peters‘ revered “In Search Of Excellence“? If so, BD00 wouldn’t be surprised. Even when successful new practices are placed into operation, the powerful forces acting on an org to revert back to the old status quo are ever present. These forces usually win out when new management, indoctrinated with old FOSTMA thinking, takes over the reins.


Ooh Ooh, Pick Me, Pick Me!

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Quiz time! Who’s this kid….

In “You’re Not So Smart“, David McRaney describes how to overcome the debilitating scourge of “groupthink” in hierarchical organizations:

True groupthink depends on three conditions—a group of people who like one another, isolation, and a deadline for a crucial decision. It turns out, for any plan to work, every team needs at least one asshole who doesn’t give a shit if he or she gets fired or exiled or excommunicated. For a group to make good decisions, they must allow dissent and convince everyone they are free to speak their mind without risk of punishment.

Tome Peters said much the same thing is one of his bazillion books: “Put someone on your staff you don’t like“.

Semi-enlightened orgs hire consultants to fill the asshole role. Even though that’s a viable alternative, it’s only going half-way. The fact that an inside employee (or rotating employees) isn’t (aren’t) placed in the role says as much about the org’s culture as not “allowing” the role at all.

BD00 just had an epiphany! He’s concluded that he was put on this earth to fulfill “The Yes Asshole Rule“, and he’s willing to take job offers from far and near to fulfill his destiny. How many offers do you think will be forthcoming?

B and S == BS

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

About a year ago, after a recommendation from management guru Tom Peters, I read Sidney Dekker’s “Just Culture“. I mention this because Nancy Leveson dedicates a chapter to the concept of a “just culture” in her upcoming book “Engineering A Safer World“.

The figure below shows a simple view of the elements and relationships in an example 4 level “safety control structure“. In unjust cultures, when a costly accident occurs, the actions of the low elements on the totem pole, the operator(s) and the physical system, are analyzed to death and the “causes” of the accident are determined.

After the accident investigation is “done“, the following sequence of actions usually occurs:

  • Blame and Shame (BS!) are showered upon the operator(s).
  • Recommendations for “change” are made to operator training, operational procedures, and the physical system design.
  • Business goes back to usual
  • Rinse and repeat

Note that the level 2 and level 3 elements usually go uninvestigated – even though they are integral, influential forces that affect system operation. So, why do you think that is? Could it be that when an accident occurs, the level 2 and/or level 3 participants have the power to, and do, assume the role of investigator? Could it be that the level 2 and/or level 3 participants, when they don’t/can’t assume the role of investigator, become the “sugar daddies” to a hired band of independent, external investigators?

Movement And Progress

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

In collaboration with a colleague, I’m currently designing, writing, and testing a multi-threaded, soft-real-time application component for a distributed, embedded sensor system. The graph below shows several metrics that characterize our creation.

The numbers associated with the most recent 9/22/11 time point are:

Of course, the pretty graph and its associated “numbers” don’t give any clue as to the usefulness or stability of our component, but “movement” is progressing forward. Err, is it?

Don’t confuse movement with progress – Tom Peters

What’s your current status?

Focus And Curiosity

May 6, 2011 1 comment

I like using tweets as a source of blog posts. This one by Tom Peters captured my imagination:

Too much vertical focus and there’s no growth or development. Too much horizontal curiosity and there’s no accomplishment. However, the right mix of focus and curiosity provides for both personal growth and accomplishment. As the state transition diagram below illustrates, I always start a new software project in the curious state of “not knowing“. I then transition into the focused state and cycle between the two states until I’m “done“. Don’t ask me how I decide when to transition from one state to the other because I don’t have a good answer. It’s a metaphysical type of thingy.

I start off in the curious state to gain an understanding of the context, scope, and boundaries of my responsibilities and what needs to be done before diving into the focused state. I’ve learned that when I dive right into the focused state without passing through the curious state first, I make a ton of mistakes that always come back to haunt me in the form of unnecessary rework. I make fewer and less serious mistakes when I enter the curious state at “bootup“. How about you?

Since bozo managers in CCH CLORGS are paid to get projects done through others, they implicitly or explicitly assume that there is no need for a curious state and they exert pressure on their people to start right right out in the focused state – and never leave it.

Good managers, of course, don’t do this because they understand the need for the curious state and that dwelling in it from time to time reduces schedule and increases end product quality. Great managers not only are clued into the fact that the curious state is needed at startup and from time to time post-startup, they actually roll up their sleeves and directly help to establish the context, scope, and boundaries of what needs to be done for each and every person on the project. How many of these good and great managers do you know?

“If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions” – Albert Einstein

Don’t you think Mr. Einstein spent a lot of time in the curious state?

Three Ways

February 18, 2011 2 comments

Oh crap! If you think my Rush Limbaugh-like, anti-hierarchical rants are over the top now, they may get “worse” moving forward. I just discovered a small, academic publisher in the U.K. that solely publishes books on alternatives to hierarchical org structures: Triarchy Press. Since books like these are either burned, shunned, or ignored by those they are intended to help, I hope they don’t go out of business.

Have you even ever heard of the “heterarchy” or “autonomous responsibility” alternatives to the hierarchy beast? If not, it shows how firmly entrenched the hierarchical mindset is in most people’s psyches, no?

In one of Triarchy Press’s flagship books, “The Three Ways Of Getting Things Done“, author Gerard Fairtlough postulates that some magic combo of the three legs of triarchy is the most economically efficient and socially redeeming way of achieving org goals.

Hierarchy is so entrenched that a complete replacement, if it does prove desirable, will take centuries. – Gerard Fairtlough

Hierarchy will never go away. Never! – Tom Peters

Rabble-Rousing And Anarchy-Instigation

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Because he’s passionate, energetic, and prolific, I like Tom Peters. Check out this twitter conversation I recently had with him:

What are your thoughts?

Cows And Babies

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

From The End of Management –

“Corporations, whose leaders portray themselves as champions of the free market, were in fact created to circumvent that market.”

“In the relatively simple world of 1776, when Adam Smith wrote his classic “Wealth of Nations,” the enlightened self-interest of individuals contracting separately with each other was sufficient to ensure economic progress. But 100 years later, the industrial revolution made Mr. Smith’s vision seem quaint.”

“In recent years, however, most of the greatest management stories have been not triumphs of the corporation, but triumphs over the corporation.”

“The best corporate managers have become, in a sense, enemies of the corporation.”

“Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation. They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market.”

“The thing that limits us,” he (Gary Hamel) admits, “is that we are extraordinarily familiar with the old model, but the new model, we haven’t even seen yet.”

Alas, many smart people have been predicting the demise of mechanistic, coercive, command and control hierarchies for decades. But like Tom Peters said in a semi-recent tweet:

Looking on the bright side, since the herd will be practicing self-serving hierarchy till kingdom come, if you split with the cows and truly install a decentralized participative meritocracy that leverages all of the creative brains in your org instead of treating them like children, then you’ll kick ass. But, uh, how do you do that? Hah, the devil’s in the delicious details. I certainly don’t know how – I’m just a standard, run ‘o the mill RUU DIC.

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