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Why good managers are so rare (hbr.org)
163 points by mmenafra 895 days ago | hide | past | web | 147 comments | favorite



For the tl;dr crowd, here's the key takeaway: "Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn't work."

Before I started a startup, I was a software engineer at a large firm, and it was clear they were grooming me for management because I was a strong individual contributor and had "put in my time": 3 years as an engineer. Advancement at this firm was measured by "how many reports" you had, as in "direct reports", or people managed by you, and if you just did superior individual work but had no one "under you", you weren't advancing. So they sent me to a couple of training courses about management and started prepping me for the path.

This was one of the many reasons I quit this BigCo to start my own startup.

I am now the co-founder & CTO of Parse.ly (http://parse.ly). In our first two years after starting up, I spent all my time building stuff -- which is exactly what I wanted. Ironically, because the company has grown and now has a 13-person product team, I am now technically "managing" my engineering team with 13 "direct reports". But at our company, we have completely decoupled management from individual contribution -- certainly, if a strong individual contributor shows an interest in management, we'll consider it. But becoming a "manager" is not how you "advance" here -- you advance by doing great work. Our first employee who joined in 2009 is a great programmer and he is still with the company, but he's still doing what he loves: building & shipping stuff. Based on our frank conversations on the topic, I think he would quit if I forced him to be a manager. The appropriate reward for doing great work isn't a "promotion to management" -- that's actually a punishment for a great individual contributor. The right reward is to ensure you continue to provide an environment where that great work can continue for that contributor, and where they can continue to grow their skills and apply themselves productively in the role.


That doesn't scale for motivated people. I was told the same thing when I joined FreshBooks when they were only a 20 person team. By the time they were a 45 person team the strain of lack of management (without the Github / Valve style decoupling) was obvious. Then I was tasked with hiring my boss. It sucked hard, I was doing awesome work (four raises in a year an a half) but when the writing is on the wall and you're only 25 years old the only play is to leave the company.

I'm 95% convinced that companies larger than 50 people can't acquire truly outstanding people without having a decentralized system that doesn't reward power grabs and people pyramids.


"I'm 95% convinced that companies larger than 50 people can't acquire truly outstanding people without having a decentralized system that doesn't reward power grabs and people pyramids."

I wonder if it's even possible to have a system that doesn't reward power grabs and pyramids at a certain company size. Maybe the number isn't 50; maybe it's slightly lower or slightly higher. But certainly above Dunbar's number, we start to see organizations where departmental siloing and fiefdoms emerge. Politics seems inevitable in these situations, and the people who a) want to play the game, and b) are good at playing the game are the people who win the game.

The game exists because all it takes is one or two people to will it into existence. If a power vacuum opens up, or if enough competing VPs and Directors emerge, then someone is going to try to get ahead through politics. The only way to counter that is to play politics. Office politics, as a whole, is an emergent property of the individual players' political strategies and counter-strategies.

I have yet to work for, or with, a large company where office politics wasn't a significant factor. It's a bigger problem at some companies than at others. But it's always there. It can never be completely curtailed; it can only be mitigated. The best way to mitigate politics is to implement communications, reward, promotion, and advancement policies that don't incentivize politics as much as other systems might. This is a nontrivial challenge, especially at big scale.


I wonder if the solution here is to simply not grow the company that large in the first place? Usually what happens is a company gets a new product idea or a big surge in new customers and does not have a process in place to deal with it through automation and existing systems. The easiest solution is to just hire new employees and let them work it out - it scales very well at first glance as the original employees can continue to work on improving and automating what they already have. Is it the best solution though? If the product is good, slowing down on features or customers seems fairly acceptable until you can cope with them. It's obviously not going to fly with a VC funded firm. For a bootstrapped or lifestyle business it might be the better long run approach, and I believe most people really want a lifestyle business even if they think they don't.


> I wonder if it's even possible to have a system that doesn't reward power grabs and pyramids at a certain company size.

Somewhat related: I used to believe that if some company could manage being a BigCorp and still keeping the lean startuppy feeling in terms of work conditions, individual creativity and management transparency, that would be Google. I don't know whether they ever tried, but from what I hear and see (from the outside, never been even close to being inside) they haven't succeeded and became a by-the-book BigCorp with the usual problems.


Reading about management attempts back when Google was starting, they definitely did try. I'm not sure if they'd admit it, but I think they failed spectacularly. I'd even go as far as to say that if the people trying couldn't get it to work it might actually be impossible to create a large company that isn't a 'BigCorp'. There are too many barriers - social, legal and technical.



Can you elaborate why this "sucked hard"? Hiring your boss can be a lot better than just being handed one, after all. It sounds like the company was growing quickly and running into organizational issues because of it, makes sense they might be looking to hire some people with more experience than any 25 is likely to be able to offer.

Or did you mean you were hoping for a Valve style structure, and they weren't going there?


I was going to go from being an influential person that directly reported to the CEO, CTO, and CMO to reporting to one person with his own agenda: the CDS (Chief Data Scientist).

Here is what is going to happen next: He is going to get his own ideas about what I should work on, his own theories as to how to make the company grow faster, and his own vision as to what I should make.

Prior to that it was obvious to everyone that I was killing it. I made the company a million dollars in my first month just by writing a custom classifier for adword optimization (this was back before some of this stuff was automated or startup-ified). But when he takes over what is going to happen next? He is going to take credit for his "idea" because he set me on the "path" to solving the problem or making more money. Fuck that noise, it's parasitism and par for the course for management.


Management (beyond "team lead") is a fundamental shift away from being primarily a "build things" person to a "help everyone build things better" person. It's not just an advancement down a killer contributor path--it's a different path altogether. It comes with the shift in perspective that helping everyone on the team do better dwarfs your ability to do things yourself.

You also take on the task of making sure everyone's individual skills and aspirations line up with the company's, that teams are developing well in parallel toward a unified vision, and so much more.

Do you really want that job? If what fired you up most was your ability to kill it as an individual contributor, why not stay in that role and help hire someone else to take on the management side?


It sounds like he was worried that in the best case the manager would (perhaps unintentionally) get credit for his killer work and in the worst case the manager would actually hamper his work by trying to control him too much.

It sounds somewhat petty, but I can sympathize because the company I work for is going through a similar transition and I've seen the strains that even a single extra manager can have on communication. If the CTO is the one who approves your raises, and now the CTO's opinion of you is not shaped by you but by reports of you created by an intermediate third-party, a lot of somewhat complex interacting variables just got introduced into the equation.

If you start out at the bottom of a huge company like Google, you get used to that from the beginning. If you join a company with <=25 people and watch it grow, then you can really feel the transition sometimes.


This is wonderful insight and mostly true. The other major factor is that you are no longer in control of the message. I hate being in situations where it becomes a game of relay. The message always in some form gets mangled or in the worst case misconstrued when it goes from me to someone else and then the actual stakeholders. In your case you pretty much lose a lot of power since you can't just pop in to the relevant stakeholders without going through your new gatekeeper.


Well this is why great engineers should opt more for startups—because you get the opportunity to move the needle directly and everyone can see it.

But I don't think that means management is parasitic. The fact is that at a certain size all organizations need management, and a good manager helps you be productive. Whether you are recognized for that or whether credit gets usurped by your manager is a separate question.


"Whether you are recognized for that or whether credit gets usurped by your manager is a separate question."

Seems pretty tightly coupled to me. Losing individual contributors capable of implementing million dollar AdWord campaigns, for example, is going to have a big impact on the manager's team's productivity. So I think recognition and productivity are very tightly coupled.


The problem is that for most cases, management IS parasitic. It's only the edge cases with those great managers where they aren't.


It's very easy to say that, but is it true? I am not so sure. Around here it's easy to piss on managers because we all have horror stories, but on the same token a lot of developers have no idea what it takes to organize and direct a large organization, so it's really no different than a suit ignorantly asking "What is so hard about programming? They just type a bit of text then hit a big red deploy button."

As a CTO I have a foot in both camps, and I have to say there's a lot about management that developers don't know. In fact, my best management is never even known by my staff, they simply deal with a metric ton less bullshit due to a thankless move on my part—ignorance is bliss. Granted, it's probably easier for NNPMs to hang around an organization than NNPPs by virtue of tangibility, but I've seen enough NNPPs to know that programming is far from the transparent, egalitarian utopia that tech folks wish for.


This is the quintessential management tactic, FUD it up. "Are you sure managers are playing games and trying to manipulate things?" The answer is yes, there ae hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in compensation in play, of course managers are going to play games, steal credit, whatever it takes to stay employed and keep the money flowing.


What are you talking about? This is not FUD, I'm telling you something that you seem to know nothing about, so maybe you should sit down and listen for a minute.

Why makes you axiomatically claim "of course" managers are going to be sociopaths? That is not a given at all. There are good actors and bad actors on all sides. Do you think there aren't developers who play games to protect their turf and do the minimum to get by while collecting a paycheck from a business that they contribute nothing meaningful to?


> In fact, my best management is never even known by my staff, they simply deal with a metric ton less bullshit due to a thankless move on my part—ignorance is bliss.

You should try to keep your staff in the loop. Hiding things just means that you end up with a far bigger mess when you aren't able to shield them from it. If you keep your staff in the loop from day 1, it becomes far easier to deal with problems later. Because they won't even be problems then, just challenges that everyone knows about.


That's awfully presumptuous of you since you have no idea what I'm talking about.


Did you discuss your concerns with the CxOs? They're certainly valid, and the scenario you describe is a fairly likely outcome, but it might not have been inevitable. I know that if I were hired into a position like that I would make a point of acknowledging the contributions of those who had been there already. (It wouldn't stop me from being vocal about things I thought could be done better -- I would consider that my job -- but I certainly wouldn't try to take all the credit for what was already working well.)

And after all, it sounds like you were to be involved in the interview process. You would have had an opportunity to help select a candidate you could work with. Maybe it still wouldn't have worked out, but it just seems unfortunate to me that you didn't even give it a try. Of course there could have been other factors you haven't mentioned.


I didn't really need to discuss it with the CxOs, because they'd insisted on a hierarchal company structure, while I wanted something more valve-like.

Don't get me wrong, I really appreciated my time there and the people there are all really nice, in fact the company I founded recently is with two former FreshBookers, but I just want more freedom than people are usually willing to give me.


It could have been a mistake on their part, but actual "parasitism" is pretty rare in practice. It's a shame if you haven't experienced good technical management yet.

It is typical for a company to outgrow its early hires capability to manage that growth well; approx 50 people is a fundamental transition for most. This is difficult, often painful, and is likely to go more smoothly by adding relevant experience and maturity to the team. When the dust settles it's a different company and, if done well, capable of much more than it was.


CIO, fine, but someone who calls themselves, or is happy to be known as "Chief Data Scientist" is going to be insufferable.


It's not necessarily true that a boss is going to take credit for your idea. The best managers pass credit for success down completely and block criticism by taking responsibility for errors. Certainly, many bosses don't act this way, but the good ones do.


> Fuck that noise, it's parasitism

The irony is that you work in advertising which itself is parasitism.


The reason "hiring your boss" sucked hard is because your boss was paid a lot more than you, right? What if he/she was a great manager but was actually paid on the same scale as you, and you were all advancing in pay with years of contribution?


LOL true story: a couple of companies ago my team were tasked with hiring our new manager, because none of us wanted the job. We had one candidate who came in and said "well this is very unusual for workers to interview managers, the first thing I'll do is put a stop to that".

She didn't get the job.


If how much the person you are hiring gets paid relative to you is a criterion, you should not be part of the hiring process.

I have hired people at salaries greater and lesser than mine. Occasionally, the person above me was earning less than me and in several cases the person under me was earning significantly more than me.

The only question should be: is the person in the correct position and earning the amount they are being paid.


One structure that I think could give programmers a lifetime of career growth as programmers is a partner/associates model at a software services firm. In this model partners would still code, just like law partners still practice law, even if they also take on responsibilities re sales/outreach/management/mentoring/etc. I'd love to start such a firm, if I can find one or two people I trust to start it with me.


There is research on this. A good place to start is dunbar's number.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number


"Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn't work"

This known as Peter Principle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle


I love this. But let me play a mild devil's advocate. Sometimes people move into management not because they want to necessarily progress in the company they're in now, but because moving into management is an overall career advancement. Leaving a position with "manager" in your title makes it more likely you'll end up in one with "manager" in the title at your next job and be able to command a better position/pay combination.


This is a chicken & egg problem. If someone is moving into management as a form of "career advancement", the way I read that is, they think they should be paid more, but they don't think companies pay individual contributors with lots of experience more than they pay managers with lots of experience. That sucks.

My belief is that management & compensation should be completely decoupled, so people wouldn't seek to do management for "career advancement", but because they actually enjoy management. For example, I hired a product manager last year and he really loves the work. It allows him to mix small engineering projects with product strategy, requirements elaboration, and his considerable people skills. But I don't see him as a "superior" to my other engineers -- he is just a contributor, like my other engineers.

The "pay scale" for management should be similar to the pay scale for advanced individual work, in my opinion. Unfortunately, that's not the market we live in, so I can see why people would choose to seek management for "advancement" reasons, but this is just an unfortunate side effect of the market and ultimately causes a lot of talented contributors to do work they don't really love. Why? Essentially, for the money & prestige that needlessly comes with it.


Well, there's another pattern that leads experienced developers into management. After a while, they realize that no matter how good they get, they can only write so much code each day. They can only increase their effectiveness by applying their experience to improving code that other people write.

One route to that is by getting out of mainline production coding and going meta: designing new systems, programming languages, tools etc. Good work if you can get it, but prone to failure. Another route is to become a manager. There's plenty of demand for managers with technical ability, a clear route for advancement and much lower risk of failure.


Actually, in the cases where I've done lots of hiring etc. It's quite often that good engineers make more than their managers. I think this is a good thing in some cases.

I'm thinking of the recent Ask HN "What happens to older developers?" Which I answered in some detail here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7373301

There's lots of reasons for wanting to get into management, and I've found that one of the main motivators is wanting to get out of direct code-slinging software development as the majority of their day and use their experience for the company good in different ways -- basically new challenges and all that...but keep a similar level of pay. And very few people these days want to stay at a single job for more than a few years. So for a very experienced developer, they may start to feel "trapped" in their career and may not even know it.

Sorry, I don't want to be contradictory or make you defend what's obviously a working system for you guys. Just food for thought.


No need to apologize -- it was a healthy question & it's a strong point about motivations for management career move.


Traditional business structures are predicated on the manager knowing more about the product & process than his/her employees - that's how he or she vet's and improves their work.

The managers your describing sound more like PM's.


Remember that there are two sides to every promotion: the promotee must also want it.

So decisions on who gets promoted are made by people for whom getting promoted chimes with their value system.


But why should moving into management be an overall career advancement?

Imagine a carpenter who sets his sights on working hard at carpentry and being a good carpenter so that he can eventually advance his career by becoming a plumber. Makes no sense, right? These are completely unrelated skills. Maybe plumbing pays more (reverse the roles if I got that wrong) but that doesn't make it an "advancement". Certainly one could make the move, but it's a lateral move, not a logical progression.

Management is the same way. It's a different field. Yet somehow we have this idea that if you do well enough in some other field, "advancing" into management is a logical next step. It makes no sense.


> Imagine a carpenter who sets his sights on working hard at carpentry and being a good carpenter so that he can eventually advance his career by becoming a plumber.

The current way it works in trades like that is to move up to being a foreman or a site supervisor or similar. It's no different really.

Ideally companies with management gaps want to move experienced tradesmen into these roles rather than put "management professionals" who wouldn't know a 2x4 from a band saw into them.

Segregating out "management" as an entirely separate discipline makes a kind of sense, and it's why management is taught as a separate skill set with certificates and MBAs and all that. But I think the results have been mixed (90s Apple is given as a textbook example). For every professional manager who does a good job, I think it's possible to find somebody who moved into management who does as good or better because they understand the problem domain of their reports better.

Wholly agree though that it's a separate set of skills, but I think those skills usually work best when layered on top of practical experience in the field.


Sounds like you want to pick out people with aptitude for both and then promote them. Right now, it seems like management is seen as the logical progression for everybody, and somebody who doesn't go that way is seen as having "failed" even though they simply might not be suited for it and there's no sensible progression there.


> Right now, it seems like management is seen as the logical progression for everybody

Yeah, you're right in that. It obviously doesn't work that way, there are far fewer management positions than people who could be promoted up into those positions. Even in some of the most hilariously top heavy organizations I've seen, this holds true.

I guess we have a cultural model of the "career" that somebody can start "in the mail room" and work their way up to CEO. Any deviation from that as a possible path is seen as veering off course or failing or "career ending" and you just end up in mere "jobs". You're right of course that this is unfair as the vast majority of people will never be on a career path that looks like this.

There's also an old fashioned class-based hold over in organization structure: nobles and commoners. This has been held over as "management" and "workers" or in the military as "officers and enlisted" and it seems that a great deal of our organizational theory, promotional structure and cultural ideas about progression are based on this: the "organizers and communicators" and the "producers".

Is there a better way? Maybe. But I don't think current counter-approaches work well over the long run, e.g. flat org structures. As a species we seem to naturally arrange ourselves into hierarchical structures, and if one isn't imposed on a group, one will emerge.

So I guess the idea of management, and it being a career path, is complex and is simply an optimization on these issues.

I've also been in organizations with very explicit, upward moving career trajectories that didn't end up in management per se. For example, one very large R&D organization I worked in was broken down like this.

You had the "employee". They all theoretically started as a "researcher I". As you progressed into "researcher II" then "research associate" then "research scientist" you were offered two choices go into "people management" and become an "associate manager" where you did normal people management stuff, some HR functions, signed off on time cards and did promotion stuff, but otherwise didn't involve yourself in the day-to-day of an employee's work life. Employees were simply "resources".

Or go into a research track. If you went research track you would then end up as a "research scientist" then a "principle research scientist" and then a "senior research scientist" (with research fellows etc.) Around the time you became a "principle" you were then offered two choices, stay in research, or go into program management. A program manager "owned" a program and requested "resources" from associate managers who were then matrixed under you. You directed their day-to-day, but if there were employee problems, you took it up with their associate manager who then dealt with it.

However, and this was the trick, if you stayed purely research, you'd of course continue doing research, but at that level, you were more valuable assisting the PM or the sales/marketing team (even R&D firms have this) with your expertise in getting research grants, writing proposals, etc. Quite often a PM would assume all the contract management stuff and the Senior Research Scientist would end up running the day-to-day of the lower level researchers. In the aforementioned military model, this ended up looking like an officer and his sergeant major. Or in academia, the principle researcher and his post-doc, with all the grad students. In practice, you'd end up becoming a manager.

However, in the line of "mail clerk" to "ceo", you were out of the game already. Nobody viewed it as a failure, Senior Scientists were revered like high priests there. But a priest cannot become a noble or a king. Only if you were an Associate Manager, or to a lesser extent a PM, would you have a shot at the line. Progressing AMs and PMs ended up assuming other roles, a bit of sales work, and for AMs a bit of PM work. I'll let you decide on the downsides and upsides (there are actually quite a few) of this system.

Some PMs ended up floating back over to Senior Scientist level, because they were already good at doing all the administrivia, but wanted to get their knuckles dirty in research again. Unfortunately, they usually found themselves more mired in more paperwork than pure research, and nobody wanted to take the pay cut and work as a Researcher II again where your time is 100% research. The economics simply don't work out to have a Senior Scientist running lab tests and squeezing pipettes all day. But they're the only ones with enough domain knowledge to write the grant proposal that will bring in a $30m 5 year program.


> Management is the same way. It's a different field. Yet somehow we have this idea that if you do well enough in some other field, "advancing" into management is a logical next step. It makes no sense.

It can make sense.

A leader needs the respect of those she/he leads. It is easier to command respect when you are perceived as a technical expert or authority.

Promoting the Dilberts to bosses is an attempt at giving the engineers what they say they want: bosses with Dilbert's engineering skills.


I think many otherwise technical people start moving into management because of a desire to have a bigger value impact in their company, but there is a poor breakdown of responsibilities between technical positions and management positions. Modern organizational structures (esp at big companies), usually puts in non-technical management in places where they take on higher-level responsibilities driving product and business. Think product managers, or high level sales directors, etc. Technical contributors' skills are treated as "too valuable" to waste on these management duties, but paradoxically, the opportunity for a technical person to contribute at a high level or early decision points ends up as something often held separate from the engineering career ladder (until you get very high up).

I come across mentions of WWII era projects, designs of famous aircraft etc where the designs were incredibly well suited to the needs, and produced in incredibly short time-frames. Some of that is obviously the war-time focus, but I also notice that in many of those projects the lead position is not a non-technical manager, but a technical chief engineer where management functions must have been subservient. Unfortunately, there isn't a huge amount written about the organizational day-to-day project structures during WWII.

I think at least some of the appeal of startups and smaller companies for technically oriented people is that division of responsibility is not as formalized and contributions can flow more easily between different domains. But again, startups are structured where technical founders are at the levers of control, and that's inverted from how many companies end up organized as they grow.


I just read an interesting book about Lockheed's skunkworks program. It covers a bit of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, but mostly the post-Vietnam era.

http://www.amazon.com/Skunk-Works-Personal-Memoir-Lockheed/d...


That caliber of leadership and oversight requires immense skill, authority over capital allocation, AND trust from the next level up. Organizations that can maintain this are rare and typically have a brutal filtering process.


The old way is basically aristocratic thinking, the people who actually do stuff are scum, the people "in charge" are simply better than them.

Once you start admitting that "managing people" is just a job that you can do well or badly, and that can be really important or just administrative trivia, then that worldview shatters.

Unfortunately it seems very well embedded in the general culture, even in tech where it's not totally unthinkable for someone to earn more money (and provide more value) to the firm than the person who manages them.


Isn't it desirable though to have the people in charge be skilled in the job that the people who manage them are doing? So you're paying more because you need somebody with 2 skill sets.


Ahmen


So this contributor who's been very productive since 2009, I assume he's gotten a series of substantial pay raises along with corresponding increases in "technical track" job titles?


We don't really do "job title" promotions either, but yes, he has gotten continued pay raises & stock option grants in our case.


Just for the sake of any future position he might want somewhere else, if you believe they are at the level, a "senior" in the title would behoove them.


I'm sure this was mentioned in The Mythical Man Month - the need to have a technical promotion track instead of just the managerial one, for exactly this reason. There needs to be a path to seniority that does not involve accumulating underlings.


How do you think this would scale if you grew to 100 employees? If the same person is with you then they would be the person with the most knowledge of the codebase and the business itself, so it would seem natural that newer employees would go to this person for guidance and defer to them for higher level decisions.

Would it still make sense to pay them as much to just write code as it would for them to take on a more decision making role?


Our group has 40 people. We're part of a 1200 people group, which is part of a 37,000 people group, which is part of a 240,000 people group. now imagine no managers.

Yeah, that's not going to work.


Not a CTO, but having good knowledge of the business and assisting fellow workers can be put in other terms than just 'manager'. It can mean architect, lead developper, technical lead, new recruit's mentor or technical instructor. The choices are endless, and the title and actual work can be fitted to the person.


That's true, you can change the title but you still get to a point where you're "managing" things more than "doing" thing.


I was never familiar with it nor with the responsibility in detail of individuals there, but the parent comment makes me think of the old Bell Labs. (And/or parts of Xerox, etc.)

Highly capable people given and environment that fostered their production.

Not everything generated was immediately commercial. But it was a very productive environment, and this had strong commercial implications. It also created a lot of public good, immediately and/or eventually.

Not every institution can afford a Bell Labs or a PARC. [1] But letting people do what they are good at, is perhaps not such a bad idea.

--

[1] P.S. I suppose that from one perspective, not even Bell nor Xerox could... although I don't subscribe to the argument, at least and especially not at such a simplistic level.


Also see the Peter Principle:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0907.0455


I just went through a situation where a reorg put a bad manager in a place of a good one. I was on the most talented and productive team that they had. Every. Last. One. Of. Us. Quit.

It turns out that there is an interesting feedback effect. People who have the capability to be smart, are only smart when the environment is right. Therefore your best people disappear first when you destroy the environment, because they are the ones who most strongly experience how their productivity has been undermined.


In my experience, one of the reasons teams end up quitting like this, is the hopes that it sends upper management a signal that "this guy is no good". Turnover has tremendous immediate and long-term impact on the bottom line. I guess the hope is that upper management will swoop in, fire the crappy manager, contact out all the about to leave/left employees and put them back in their jobs.

But it never seems to work that way. I think it's more a fear that if you bring them back, it gives the inmates a reason to revolt rather than the signal getting lost somewhere.

My wife went through a similar situation with a manager two levels above her. And this guy was easily among the worst managers I've ever even heard of -- case study worthy material, the textbook definition of a Machiavellian management style (it's funny that he also runs a management consulting business on the side). Within months of him being put in place the company shed about 40% of their staff under him, including people who had been there more than a decade.

While all this was going down, his manager would come down and talk to the malcontent and implore them to not leave. But the condition was clear, get rid of the asshole or they'd have no choice. As it turns out a few months later they did eventually fire him, but the damage had already been done and not a single former employee was contacted with a "hey sorry about all that, we fixed things, would you think about coming back?" From conversations with those that left, most of them would in fact return.

In the interim, they've lost tens of millions of dollars on failed projects, outside consultants to try and fill in the gap, and other related issues.

From the employee level it seems bizarre, but the only rational explanation I can think of is that they're afraid of bringing people back and thereby granting them too much power. Somewhere in management training, the seniors probably learned that "officers don't show weakness in front of the men" and have been holding to that at all cost.


I refer to my previous comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7381703

There's some people who enjoy subordinating others. And you're right about the not showing weakness as part of that. They'd rather trash a large area of the company than admit that they were wrong. And the need to limit the power of the people at the bottom of tree prevents them having the autonomy to work well.


I feel your pain. I left a job after a reorg during which a VP promoted the people he hired over the rest of us. Bureaucratic protocol required loss of titles for a number of those not promoted. (No one could have the same title as the person one reported to.) I asked the VP if this was a demotion. There was no notation in my personnel file. "I don't want you to think of it that way," he said. I was reassigned to a smug platitudinous know-nothing who enjoyed remarking that he had an "environment" (this was never explained) whereas I had a "bunch of servers." He also enjoyed driveling on about "culture." I left within weeks of the reorg. But the next job was exploitative. That was harder to leave because the actual duties differed significantly from the job description in a direction detrimental to my career, and I took a significant salary cut, which created problems down the line. I tried to make the best of it and did some of my best programming on a hilariously underbid nightmare of a project that inordinately consumed the time of all involved, at significant opportunity cost. I left that for a job that, I found out, was notorious for high turnover, thanks to a rude, humorless manager who compusively emailed unreasonable demands involving continual upward modification of duties at all hours of the day and night as if they were emergencies, seven days a week. Rather than attempt to keep rolling with the punches and see things from the perspective of my torturer, I took inspiration from a Harvard business school professor whose advice is to quit early and often. I resigned within weeks. Now I'm back with friends. It is a weakness of mine that I don't like bosses, unless they are very, very intelligent.


> "It is a weakness of mine that I don't like bosses, unless they are very, very intelligent."

I share your "weakness", but I don't view it as a weakness at all. Why would you want to work for a stupid boss anyway? I feel in the end you should enjoy work, since it's a large part of your live anyway.

"Life’s too short and too complicated for people behind desks and people behind masks to be ruining other people’s lives, initiating force against other people’s lives on the basis of their income, their color, their class, their religious beliefs, their whatever…" - Jeff Buckley when talking about the background of the song Eternal Life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxq-EaNcgok


I don't know, I've had my fair share of bosses that were smarter than me. If that's the case, being a good boss really comes down to triage and roadblock removal, along with a bit of back and forth communication.

The skillset required to be a good manager doesn't require exceptional intelligence, just basic common sense.


There is a gap between stupid bosses and very very smart bosses. My own preference is weighted to the latter, but I recognize this can be career limiting (I have mixed feelings about working for myself, for example).


I think a lot of us share that weakness.


I have experience of the same thing. The capable ones quit and took control of their own destiny (with great success). The mediocre stayed.


As have I. I love the term "The dead sea effect" for this.

It seems in the long term, workforce competence will always correlate directly with management competence. Money and job popularity being factors that allow workers to tolerate a larger skew in the gap between them and management.

One of the worst managers I've ever had, prided themselves on how many people they "helped launch" to other departments, never realizing that they were running away screaming.


I love the term "The dead sea effect" for this.

Seconded!

For those who don't get the reference, think of good employees as water, bad ones as salt. Organizations get a fresh water mix of employees who include both kinds. But over time the good ones evaporate and go to other organizations. The bad ones tend to stay. Over time the "saltiness" of the mix increases.

If this process continues long enough, you wind up with something resembling the Dead Sea.


This should be the sort of thing that the managers above notice, I wonder why they never seem to. Tracking turnover within a team should be a trivial query in any HR system.


I think it's a class thing, mostly.

I've been friends with the (competent) managers above a bad manager, and discussed a number of times how bad this manager was. They agreed with my assessment, and yet did nothing about it. I suspect this was partly because they underestimated how much of a disastrous effect this manager had and figured that the unpleasantness of firing him combined with the work of finding someone else would not be worth it. But mainly I think it was because they were 'friendly' with this bad manager (on account of having lunch and meetings together as managers), and because he was 'one of them'.

Maybe if managers are kept from become too much of a tribe some of this could be avoided (assuming that there is competence at some higher level, of course)?


Yes, it's interesting, no-one would deny that programmers are tribal. Get two guys together from rival firms, using competing technology stacks, and soon they will set aside any difference and be having a fine old time complaining about "marketing" and their many blunders.

Managers are like this x10. You go to meetups - they go to MBA school. You post on forums - they play golf and go to strip clubs. Rationality goes out of the window when tribal loyalty comes in.


They noticed. But by the time that they did, they decided that the lower risk course of action was to stick with the one they had since the people who most disliked her have left, and they didn't know who might like her and leave if she did.

I believe that they made the wrong call. But then again I'm biased, disgruntled, and all the rest of it.


sadly since most teams don't quit as a whole it can be passed off as bad apples, y'know "that guy didn't like change", and by the time the team is nearly all gone its too late and upper management either forgets or has bigger fish to fry.

There are many signs of bad managers, I am sure we all have them, but my number one is, thinking their title makes them right and beyond question. Got enough of those around to choke a horse. Worse it is usually a symptom that comes from top down and is hard to fix.


In my experience the bad manager will try to sell to their superiors and HR that these were bad apples, they may have done good work but they were toxic to the rest of the team(s). It worked for a while, but it eventually catches up, unfortunately for the company though it's usually well after it's possible to get back the talent they lost.


Generally good managers know when the best are leaving. There are other challenges at work. For instance - if a team is still hitting it's numbers, the manager may not want to make a change. Or there could be no other leadership alternatives. Or they don't want to set the precedent of team mutiny. Hard to know without knowing the details of the situation, but sometimes there is more going on than meets the eye.

And yes - this should be trivial to measure. Hiring a good employee costs X. Of those, 1/Y is a great one. The cost of losing a great one is XY. XY is usually significantly higher than a year's salary.

For the same reason, I also think managers should be rewarded for creating great employees and giving them to the broader organization.


Having seen this happen recently, usually the bad manager always has a good excuse to give your employees are leaving (from there was no bonus to people don't like the color of the office), which masks the problem for a while.


I'm curious, what was different about these two managers that productivity and morale dropped so sharply?


The previous manager was very good at "leading through inspiration". He made people feel good about themselves, feel like they were learning, and feel like they were making a difference both for their corner of the world and the whole organization.

The new manager was good at keeping track of things and micromanaging. But the most inspiring line she could come up with was, "You still have a job." (I wish I was kidding.) She also had an unfortunate habit of lying badly and often, with a resulting destruction of trust. But that aspect I'm too bitter about at the moment to want to discuss.

To see why it matters, go watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. I believe that its message is not complete (for instance I've noticed that correlations between stress and mental performance is highly dependent upon the mental task you are doing), but what it says about motivation is spot on.

The key factors are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Good leaders can give people the sense of all three while still getting them to do what the organization needs them to do. Micromanagement makes it clear what the organization wants, but destroys motivation.


I see only one quality separating good and bad managers - their confidence in their own competence. Bad managers seem to feel they lucked out in getting their job. Like it might be "found out" that they are not really qualified. Good managers are at ease in their job. They usually seem to feel the company is lucky to have them, as with some effort they could get into a slightly better job. They often do, especially after static happens at a company.

A boss goes to his own boss, and that boss gives him an unrealistic goal to be accomplished in a short time frame. The good boss remains calm and pushes back. The bad boss walks out of the meeting full of anxiety and tells his team to accomplish the impossible, quickly. This might work the first few times, but soon the competent people on the team will leave.

One of the quirks here is management is usually better off in the long run hiring bosses who will say no to them once in a while. Bosses who always say yes are more pleasant in the short term to their superiors, but they will be better off in the long term to have someone who pushes back on requests which are too unreasonable. We see blog posts here every day about how hard it is to find good engineers. Incompetent bosses who are dripping with anxiety after a meeting with their own boss, relaying marching orders for yet another death march project - good engineers do not remain under such people very long, especially in job markets like the current one.


> Bosses who always say yes are more pleasant in the short term to their superiors, but they will be better off in the long term to have someone who pushes back on requests which are too unreasonable.

This applies to engineers equally so. The ability to manage expectations is one of the most important skills one can possess. It also happens to be a particularly difficult skill to master, which is why, for example, just about every developer's first freelance project is a fixed bid scope creep nightmare that they end of walking away from or making $5/hour.


As a manager who has not problem pushing back and saying no to "the bosses", I can assure you it has fuck all to do with confidence in my own competence...

It's a matter of responsibility and ethics. No matter how much pressure there is on me and how unreasonable the request are, it's my responsibility to deal with it. If I would just shovel that shit over the wall and pass it on to my team, my presence would be 80% pointless. (Also, my team would bugger off a.s.a.p.)

So no, I'm not confident in my own competence. I feel the anxiety if the owners tell we are screwed if we don't accomplish X in Y amount of time. I sometimes say yes to things I should in hindsight have said no to, but it also happens the other way around. Management is almost always working of an incomplete set of data, a.k.a. guesswork.

But I have a job to do, and I wouldn't be doing it if I just made it someone else's problem, and nobody would believe or trust me if I didn't seem confident.

So that's pretty much the only thing I'm fully confident of: the ability to make people thing what I know what the fuck I'm doing. That is management competence #1, and unless you're a sociopath, it's not a trivial skill. Especially if you actually understand the field in which you work.


I totally disagree with this. I think there's probably a bell curve relating confidence in your own abilities to actual performance.

At one end, you have people who think they just lucked out, and they'll have poor performance because they'll practice cargo-cult management: doing things just because that's what the management books say you should do.

At the other end, you'll have people who are supremely confident in their own abilities, but their hubris will keep them from entertaining valid objections from other people. They'll be blinded by their sureness that the path they picked is the correct one.

You want people who are confident enough to know what they don't know and able to ask other people for help in those areas. These people will be able to lead a team by letting the people in the team know that they're important in the decision-making process.


Because people generally fail upwards.

Take for example a poor developer who keeps breaking things. It can actually be difficult to get rid of someone. So the company instead makes him a low level manager (no longer directly touching code).

Yes! he comes up with stupid ideas etc, but, his team know he is wrong so they just work around the stupidity.

In a couple of years of poor management from this junior manager (who team keeps working through). Upper management (who forgot how bad a developer he was) think GOD! he has done a good job; his team get things done. Lets promote him.

Bad manager is now in a higher position again.


"Managing upwards" is also a skill in and of itself; I've had the misfortune to work for a couple of managers like that - very skilled at personally taking the credit for anything their team does, and also for scapegoating one of their team when things go wrong.

This taught me a great truth tho': the people at level N+1 compared to you in a company, are there because they have the support of people at level N+2. Unless your problem is such that you can attract the attention of people at level N+3 to it, your options are extremely limited.


There are programmers who can't hack that. You just can't let people take credit for your work.


Sometimes managers will take credit without the person ever knowing. It's hard to take credit for your own work when you don't have a communication channel with people above you. Managers do and you can't stop them for saying a piece of work is there's when really a team member did all the real work and the manager just put their name on it. The manager knows that the likelihood of the person communicating with his peers is small or non-existent and the person will never find out.


It's a good thing to let your manager take credit for your work--if you like them. If they don't, all they're left with is the blame when things go wrong. (I find it a little strange to see people in this thread saying they've had managers who successfully blamed everything on their subordinates: they must never have been managers, or worked at very strange companies. A manager generally gets a higher salary and some perks, but they are extremely dispensable if they don't produce results--it doesn't matter who's not producing them; it's their job to facilitate it.)

As long as they're not an asshole about it, and you enjoy working with them, you should do what you can to make your manager look good, otherwise you might get another one. Once your manager moves up the ranks or joins another company, they will invite you (why wouldn't they? You make them look good.)


ha ha


This old SGI post-mortem has a nice section on management, about halfway down the page. The contention there is that optimists get promoted. I have seen incompetence promoted (to get rid of people), but not as often as optimists.

http://yarchive.net/risks/sgi_irix.html


This is The Dilbert Principle [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dilbert_principle]. Note that this is a humourous (although sadly often true) variation to The Peter Principle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle] which is very much what the main article describes.


Its very rare for a poor performer to get a promotion like that.

Generally in big companies especially, if you do well at development and promote yourself you'll become a manager regardless of managerial ability. You then get to micro manage the bad developers you mention.

But Ive never heard of someone getting promoted due to poor performance.


I was once told, effectively: "we didn't promote you because you're too valuable where you are (senior-level engineer)". Needless to say, I left a few weeks later.

Performance can be very hard to measure, particularly for non-technical managers.


It's not at all obvious that you would leave. Not knowing the specifics, a lot of us would lean toward asking for a pay raise rather than be promoted to the level of our incompetence.


I just think that a promotion shouldn't automatically entail moving into management. At my company the engineer ladder and the management ladder are different (though you can transfer between them if you like). I can get promoted 5 more times (NOT gonna happen, I'm hoping for 2 in the next 5 years) before I get stalled out. And people that are 5 levels above me are effectively gods.


Yeah, that makes sense to me. But apparently hcayless is not in the same situation but still got offended when they weren't promoted.


The guy that keeps screwing up is often the guy who then pulls an all-nighter to save the day.


This is a subtle point that is often missed. It's the same reason that butt-in-chair hours has a real effect on how those above you perceive your work. Being visible doing Good Things is often more important than not doing the bad things in the first place when it comes to careers.


I don't know that it's rare, but I've experienced it a number of times. I think the key to it is 'low-level'. To avoid the big step of firing someone, they 'promote' them to a position where they are considered mostly harmless. Of course, they forget that over time things change, people leave, etc., and this low-level person ends up getting to a position where they can wield their stupidity in a damaging way.


ditto, except once they became low-level mgmt instead of letting people work around them they put a chokehold on all information flow for the sake of take the credit / shifting the blame, & eventually the project basically got scrapped because of these narcissistic boobs abusing their power & killing morale. i am thinking this is not so rare in consulting...


Why not firing him in the first place ?

If he's useless as a dev and hasn't the knack for management, then he is useless (in this position).

Business wise that's the only thing that makes sense.


HR law in much of Europe can make it VERY difficult to fire someone unless they commit an act of "Gross Misconduct".

I used to work with an Italian company (via acquisition) that suffered from these kinds of troubles. You can't demote someone, you can't get rid of them, so they get a "sideways promotion" to something like a "project manager" or "team leader". Eventually this leads them into a managerial position. There were so many incompetent people in management at that company... their job was literally just to pass information down the chain. Meetings were hell because every project had 5 layers of managers that wanted to be involved.


This only happens when management is poor. Good management will simply fire incompetent people unless they would in fact make good managers. In my experience, underperformers are: 1) fired, 2) transferred to a department that doesn't matter, or 3) admitted to a training program to develop their skills.


What planet do you live on? This shit never happens.


This shit happens all the time, especially at large corporations where political connections matter more than ability in any other area. I personally witnessed it at two of my former employers.


All in all great article, but it seriously lost credibility with "Talents are innate and are the building blocks of great performance. Knowledge, experience, and skills develop our talents, but unless we possess the right innate talents for our job, no amount of training or experience will matter."

Until such a time as we can (a) define "innate talent" precisely, (b) measure it so that we know now much a person has, and (c) determine that none of our current methods of teaching the related skill result in enough of an improvement, statements like that are just excuses for people to look at each other and say "I just don't think he has the talent to do this. Great guy, hard worker, but no talent."

Interestingly, if you dig into the links and studies provided, you find that "talent" is never defined and, where used, completely replaceable by "skills" or "interests". And once you replace it in the above sentence, it becomes either obviously false (of course skills can be increased with training) or patently absurd (of course training rarely changes your interests).

Still a great article for the connection between management and employee satisfaction and productivity.


Anthropomorphizing companies, units, artwork, governments &etc is a long trend in humanity that needs to stop. I don't know the psychology behind it, but humans seem to love to find a handful of other humans to personify an agency, then become overly obsessed with them as the cause of success or failure.

The US government doesn't suck: Bush or Obama suck. Apple isn't a great company: Steve Jobs is a great leader. AIG doesn't have a bad business model: Mo Greenberg makes bad decisions. The Patriots didn't win a Super Bowl: Tom Brady won the Super Bowl!

No organization, NONE, has exploited this tendency more than Harvard. They are masters of the bait and switch. And this article is a classic example. They list all sorts of arguments for there being problems with companies/units, then, without any proof of causation, attribute the failures to bad management. They talk about what it means to be a good manager, but in no way do they offer any evidence that the problems of bad employee engagement and productivity will actually be solved by introducing a good manager.

Why? Because Harvard is in the business of selling you its students as managers. They've developed a reputation of offering highly-credentialed applicants two (HBS) and four year (HUG) vacations to ride the marketing wave of "Harvard grads are great managers." While MIT focuses on creating students who themselves will invent, create and further the pace of the world, Harvard instead seems to have chosen to exploit our tendency to anthropomorphize company success by latching onto shareholder and management insecurities (lack of engagement and productivity), even where there isn't anything to be insecure about, and inserting their graduates into highly paid positions as "the solution."

And they've been fabulously successful in this marketing campaign. I think SV has done a very good job of seeing through this schtick, but comments here make me think the tide is turning.

That's not to say there's no such thing as a bad manager. There are managers who can personally ruin/save a company. But all problems are not caused by bad management. All productivity issues do not stem from bad management. Sometimes it's a sociopath manager, but more often it's a bad product or business plan or economic downturn or any one of a set of problems that no shiny new Harvard manager will fix.


I'm stuck on the "don't anthropomorphize institutions" and then "Harvard is in the business of..." Is there a particular Harvard person(s) you think is responsible for this?


"Harvard is in the business of..." is not in any way an anthropomorphism. GP is using "anthropomorphism" incorrectly, but they are consistent, and your question is unjustified.


I think it's fair, personally. If people used the same terms as he was in his complaint, he would be complaining about that instead.

It's not one person it's a company, but it's not a company it's an agregation of people and policy. Is Obama evil? No the US government is, is the US Government evil? No but there are some corrupt people and some bad policies.

on and on we go.


Why do you use the term "anthropomorphize"? I think a better term for what you're describing Harvard as doing is "trading on mystique".


I use it because that's the closest term I can think of where a single person gets so strongly associated with an organization that we attribute the qualities of that organization to the person. I guess it's not exactly right, but I can't think of a better term, either. Maybe 'personify'. I'd bet German has a good word for this.


The authors sure took a long time saying, "because companies select managers based mostly on factors other than managerial talent, like seniority."


I worked at a place where the manager was chosen simply because she had a few months longer tenure than another coworker of mine. She was so obviously unqualified, it was ridiculous, but they stuck with the decision and within half a year they lost their two best developers. Even sadder, the person they passed up, IMO, would have made an excellent manager. Won't ever know now.


Manage things. Lead people.

If the hundreds of poor managers I have known would have just understood these 4 words, nothing else could have made more positive impact.


The article points out that good managers don't make decisions based on politics. What I have seen is not only do bad managers make decisions based on politics but also ego. I have seen ego destroy startups and big companies alike. Many tech companies interview managers purely from a tech perspective and do not effectively drill down into the management side.

A good interviewer can get a sense for someone's ego vs. assertiveness pretty easily, but so many interviewers are looking at experience and skillset over character, personality and style. Experience and skill set are important but the other aspects are often overlooked. As an example, a hands-on development manager needs to not only be screened for the development chops but also if they are mature enough to handle the decisions that need to be made in that management role.


To add to your point, it's also important to match the manager's character and personality to the role. I have a friend who's a great manager for entry-level folks because he can rally everyone around his vision and he has enough domain knowledge to help with a huge number of tasks when the team doesn't know much. However, as soon as his employees get a few years of experience and want independence, they tend to get frustrated and leave.

He's really successful in his situation, but he's not the one you'd have leading a high-performance team of experts.


Interesting that you bring that up, because I'm currently suffering from that exact situation (working under such a manager).



@yiedyie, this is a fantastic article. Do you have any other recommendations along similar lines?

However, the original article is not as great. It starts strong but gets into hand-wavy generalities about the requirement of innate talent which is one which I vehemently disagree.


This came first to my mind when I saw the OP, I like deep thought articles and sometimes I share them here, check my submitted stories and among some very shallow submissions maybe you might find something interesting.

Later edit: You might also want to check arethuza's ribbonfarm blog link above.


Note: This is not an original thought. It's the premise of "The Office", or something like that. But it's worth considering.YMMV.

CEO>Manager>Employee

==

Sociopath>Incompetent>Suckers

TLDR:

Manager<=>Incompetent

In other words, from a game theory perspective, being a (mid-level) manager (in a hierachy) is an unstable equilibrium for a vast majority of situations. Truly excellent companies have deeper benches of talent (or are structured in ways that compensate, ie. they are more "flat")


Also known as the Sociopath-Clueless-Loser hierarchy:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o...


Thank you for this link it is really interesting and I had never seen it before!


I was thinking of ribbonfarm too


Kahneman thinks otherwise. Perceived CEO performance and company performance have low correlation -- as low as 0.3.

I could give references, but the book (Thinking, Fast and Slow) is not in public domain yet, so just some 3rd party links: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/634181be-4769-11e1-b847-00144feabd... http://www.delanceyplace.com/view_archives.php?2084#.UyL_vIU...


This does not disagree with the point. I've encountered some of the research that they are referring to in http://www.amazon.com/First-Break-All-Rules-Differently/dp/0.... What Gallup has done is developed their own methodology to identify who will be effective managers, and their claim is that the managers that they identify as effective have a huge impact on performance. But their identification has a fairly low correlation with what most in the organization perceive as who is effective.

If you re-read the blog keeping what I just said in mind, you will see that it fits. And you will further see that your point is in complete agreement - the people who are perceived as having good management potential have a low correlation with actual performance.

The blog points out that this happens at the bottom level because people who are good at non-management tasks get promoted to management and may or may not be a fit. But as you go up the latter you find that a lot of what tends to get rewarded is visible success. Which gives an unfair edge to self-promoting narcissists who manage to make their occasional successes more visible than they should be. The result being that perception and reality tend to diverge.


CEO, vs Manager? I dunno, I know they're one and the same in a start-up, but I took this article to be talking about larger companies, with teams that all have managers. In my experience, the article is pretty bang-on, too.


This is a great article and I think nails everything.

One thing I would add, contrary to conventional wisdom, is that Accountability is probably the least important. I don't mean to say that you should let poor performers hang around, but that, given that everything else is firing on all cylinders, your team will let you know who their poor performing peers are. So an innate talent or process at 'accountability' isn't really overly important.


In my opinion, the most optimal organizational structure to have is to train people who actively want to become managers (but don't promote them unless they can actually do the job), and give individual contributors an alternate career path - like that of a technical architect, senior contributor, etc.

Being a manager is a very, very different mindset from being an individual contributor. And there ARE people who want the managerial career path too. The trick is in finding them and offering the appropriate training (because not everyone is cut out to be a manager).

Lastly, the "manager" title is very broad. There are people managers, technical managers, project managers, etc. So training someone to be a manager needs to be tailored to the types of managers at your organization.


What I see more often than not is that bad managers come from lazy planning. Bob has been here for a long time now. We should reward him. Hmmmm. What to do . . . oh! Let's make him a manager. That way we have an excuse for a small raise.

Next thing you know, Bob is a crappy manager. Sorry, Bob. The leadership was too lazy to plan out career paths for the people. Now Bob is a crappy manager who will be pushed aside and ignored until he either quits or gets fired.

But now Bob has management experience. What does he do? Go back to doing the scrub work for scrub pay? Hell no. He wants that middle management pay check. Now Bob is going to make a career out of being a bad manager. Because Bob's first managers were lazy.

Sorry, Bob.


I have managed people with different skills and demographics and have figured out being a manager is a natural progression in some countries like India and not many companies are bothered if the person truly is meant for the role. I have seen brilliant tech resources totally screwing up their career paths becoming a manager.

This is something which is less practiced in the UK. I have worked in the city and have worked with experts who have been in tech for 15 years and there is no pressure either from their within or from the management.

As the article very rightly cites - "Companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time"


The conclusions in the report seem tenuous. Read the article, and you'll learn that this is all based on the Gallup "Q12" poll (read the report for yourself: http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/164735/state-globa...) That poll is made up of 12 yes or no questions. 12. Including ones like "I have a best friend at work." Google "Gallup Q12 criticism" after reading the original survey, read what you find, and see if you still take it seriously.


We had such a problem at the company I worked last year.

The RnD-Director was a dev and wanted to develop and not to tell people what they should do or don't. So he went back being a dev and gave the position to another one, he probably still got the same pay but with a job he found much more pleasing.

The CTO of the company left it, because of the same reasons. He thinks of himself as a computer scientist and not a manager. He wants to solve technical problems and don't talk to the big bosses of customer companies or manage people around.


Promoting people to their level of incompetence aka the Peter Principle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle


My take on Good vs Bad managers is very, very simple:

"Good managers are like sea captains. Bad managers are like a slaves overseer."

The last pearl from my manager was: "If you can produce 100% in 6 hours/day you would for sure produce 150% in 9 hours/day (Together with a puzzled look after I pointed that no, we are not a screws factory)."

I don't need to mention that the entire team is aggressively looking for new positions on other companies (BTW a it is/was a VERY nice team).


It's also often true that managers tend to get promoted/retained for advancing their own interests as opposed to advancing their subordinates. When upper management looks for junior managers to promote, they see the easy stuff first. They see the people who get their reports in on time, network effectively, and argue forcefully in meetings rather than figuring out who is actually leading.


I'm not seeing anything about the warning signs of some people being ambitious for a position merely because it pays better, gives more power over people, or gives more status/bargaining power. Too awkward to talk about? Self-defeating for Harvard Business School?


{set of good managers in software } = {set of people able to manage other people well } intersect {set of people able to do software engineering well}

No wonder that it is rare. If you add additional filter that a company need to be able to correctly identify and promote such people...


> Leaders should...[choose] the right person for the next management role using predictive analytics to guide their identification of talent.

Such useful advice! We shall immediately assign one of our worker bees to create a predictive analytics system forthwith.


The best managers I had share a few traits: They are creative and effective at solving problems when you have one, and they stay out of the way when you don't.


Peter Drucker (the old father of modern management) and Gabe Newell (the new father of modern management) both agree - managing people is a skill in itself.

When will we ever learn?


Based on what I've seen, even really, really smart, careful people make the wrong hiring/promotion decision ~50% of the time


Does anyone have any advice on avoiding bad managers while looking for a job?


The best predictor I know of is this: teams who interview their own managers tend to have good ones. Teams who don't, don't.




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