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inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #51 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Tue 6 Jun 06 00:20
    

How do you handle performance reviews in an organization where there is a 
bell curve for ratings, to which every department is expected to adhere, 
and you manage a group of high performers?

Now suppose that they know perfectly well that there are some other 
departments that ignore the bell curve, but that you are the kind of 
manager who plays by the rules, even if they perceive it as to their 
disadvantage?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #52 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 6 Jun 06 06:20
    
that sounds awful, vard. What a hard choice to make.

>Totally. One of the hardest things to do in management, I agree, is
>treating everyone "the same" while meeting each individual' needs in
a
>particular way. 

One of the topics that came up in my personnel class was the
distinction between 'equity' and 'equality.'
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #53 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Tue 6 Jun 06 07:26
    
SHARON SAID:
One of the topics that came up in my personnel class was the
distinction between 'equity' and 'equality.'
+++++++++++

Sharon, if you have time, would you elaborate on the class points
around that that add to what we've talked about here? 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #54 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Tue 6 Jun 06 08:08
    
STEPHANIE SAID:
How do you handle performance reviews in an organization where there
is a bell curve for ratings, to which every department is expected to
adhere, and you manage a group of high performers?
++++++++

Or worse...LOW performers?  ;->

The Bell Curve is a crock, an unnatural distribution. Nature offers up
almost nothing in a Bell Curve distribution. Drafted players'
achievement levels, newly incorporated companies' prospects, even the
classic taught-in-school "adult height" distribution (which is more
like an "M" curve). You may know that the bell curve was the construct
of racist scientists from the early 20th century looking to create
documentation as to why people tagged as "non-white" races were
genetically inferior. (Best description of how this came about and the
inherent flaws of much social science statistics =
http://www.alibris.com/search/search.cfm?qwork=8387550 )

THIS IS THE KEY MANAGEMENT FALLUJAH:
Bell curve evaluation is the organization's way of insisting to the
world that it's clueless, and that it has ineffective management.

Any organization that believes the bell curve is a natural
distribution that results from random occurances .AND. concurrently
that their staff participants fall into a bell curve of performance
believes it hired randomly and that it has done nothing to enhance or
tune the performance of its hires. Or in English: "We don't have a clue
about how to hire, and we don't have a clue as to how to to make
employees more effective. In fact, we're just totally frelling
clueless."

This is a tenet of several weak management styles, including the
previous regime at General Electric, and, of course, Taylorism -- all
based on the implicit idea that people are automata, and insofar as
they are not, *should* be reduced to machines. It's the wishful
thinking of incompetent misanthropes. (best background on the Jack
Welch/Taylorist delusion =
http://www.alibris.com/search/search.cfm?qwork=6581825 )

I wrote in the book about one of the most clueless managers (not
clueless humans -- just completely incapable of management) I ever
worked for, Stewk, (now) a Microsoft trillionaire. He believed in  bell
curve evaluation; he ranked one very high performer at the top, and
the rest of us by hours of overtime (highest being best). No evaluation
of quantity or quality of output

So my advice to managers who work in bell curve organizations is try
to get an exemption for your workgroup. But even more critically, start
looking for another, less clueless place to work. Unless the place is
small enough to be reformed by a high-achieving workgroup, it's
destined to mediocritize everything it touches. And in this economy,
unless you have a monopoly, mediocrity will struggle to survive.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #55 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Tue 6 Jun 06 08:24
    
Stephanie said:
Now suppose that they know perfectly well that there are some other 
departments that ignore the bell curve, but that you are the kind of 
manager who plays by the rules, even if they perceive it as to their 
disadvantage?
+++++++
No baseball manager would ever evaluate the roster or prospects on a
bell curve. None would ever go along with it. Every team member gets
evaluated every day along multiple measures contextualized to current
and future organizational and team needs.

The problem you bring up is a classic Tragedy of the Commons. If you
don't know it well, here's an overview:

http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_who_benefits_who_pays.html

A Commons assures beneficial behavior will be punished a little and
management choices that degrade the organization will be rewarded by
the degraded organization. It's a VERY important drift managers need to
recognize and act upon.

The only way to break the hold of a Commons-ist social structure (like
the management of an org) is to relentlessly make accountability
relentless. The manager who tries to hunker down and live with a
Commons is doomed, the manager who tries to ignore it is doomed.
Commons-es require regulation, push back. I have seen organizations
turn around from a Commons to a healthy place, but it's a ton of work
and it never stops.

So a manager who goes along with something like bell curve evals (when
she knows others are side-stepping it) are like herdsmen who take some
of their sheep off a commons in response to someone else adding too
many - not just degrading her own department, but reifying the most
self-destructive tendencies of the org. 

Best choice) Don't participate in bell curve evals.
Next best) Go along but make sure others don't get to slip it.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #56 of 103: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Tue 6 Jun 06 08:25
    
I worked in a place where management decided what kind of raise they
wanted to give everyone (usually pretty close to 0%) and then pressured
managers to reverse-engineer everyone's evaluation to justify low or
no raises.  I knew what was going on because I was a manager, so I just
shrugged the whole thing off.  But among non-managers, the result was
that all the high performers (who might have put up with "hey, it was a
tough year, so we can't give you a big raise") were insulted by
getting mediocre performance reviews and quit.  Also, several of the
best managers quit partly because they couldn't give honest evaluations
to their people.

Me, I didn't have any direct reports, but I found a more clueful place
to work as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

So now their workforce consists mostly of people who didn't have a
problem with mediocre performance reviews because they are actually
mediocre. But by God they avoided giving out big raises!
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #57 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Tue 6 Jun 06 20:43
    
CARL LaFONG SAID:
So now their workforce consists mostly of people who didn't have a
problem with mediocre performance reviews because they are actually
mediocre.
++++++++
Angus' First Law of Organizational Dynamics stats "All human systems
tend to be self-amplifying". 

This mediocracy is one of them. Org.s exert a gravitational field that
attract certain types of people and repel others, probabalistically.
The more pure the model becomes, the stronger the gravitational force
it exerts. So over time, as The World's Foremost Authority said, "If we
keeping on going the direction we're aimed at, we're going to end up
right where we're headed".

Org.s that tolerate mediocre staff invite mediocre staff, who promote
into management, ad nauseum.

Carl: Have you ever worked in the other model? One that rewarded
cluefulness?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #58 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Wed 7 Jun 06 00:18
    


I think I'd rather have a bell curve and know about it, than be told 
flatly that I had a bad year when I know I didn't.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #59 of 103: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Wed 7 Jun 06 05:59
    
I have never worked for a large organization which rewarded
cluefulness, but I've had individual bosses who did.  I now work for a
small organization and the jury's still out.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #60 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 7 Jun 06 06:24
    
The short version is, equity is treating everyone equally, while
equality is giving everyone equal access and understanding that people
have different needs.

I've worked at bell curve places. It's not fun.

However, I'm surprised to read you say that bell curves don't occur in
nature. I did stats last term and that's all about the bell curve. How
does that work if the bell curve is a crock?

If people aren't familiar with Taylor, he's similar to the Cheaper By
the Dozen guy. The book, not Steve Martin.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #61 of 103: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 7 Jun 06 06:56
    
>>>Org.s that tolerate mediocre staff invite mediocre staff, who
promote
into management, ad nauseum.<<<

Boy, ain't it the truth -- in the corporate world, in baseball, in
religion denominations and probably in all else human. 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #62 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Wed 7 Jun 06 10:17
    
STEVE SAID:
Boy, ain't it the truth -- in the corporate world, in baseball, {SNIP}
+++++++++

Let me argue baseball gets an almost-full exemption here. Baseball
tends strongly towards meritocracy. Yes, there are stiffs in the majors
("n-e-i-f-i") who have jobs promising young players deserve a chance
to have because it's likely, not certain, they could do better. But
it's the exception, not the rule.

Big, publically-owned companies have a benefit -- an extra layer of
fat that insulates it during rough times -- but at a cost... that also
weighs down responsiveness, and that makes it more tolerant of
low-effectiveness. Small orgs (I hope yours, Carl) are more likely to
HAVE to compete all the time, making them more inclined to be more
meritocratic. My own experiences reinforce this strongly.

Mediocre baseball folk, players and management, are far more likely to
be winnowed out than in. Exceptions, of course. The M Donald Grant
Mets or David Glass Royals who calculated the benefit cost of immediate
(expenses/wins) functions and found a sweet spot that was low-pay
low-wins. But this is not a durable or enduring model. Benefits for a
few years and then have to rebuild. The Royals ownership deserves to be
purged like a Romanian head of state...they will do executive bulimia
for a few more years and then give up and sell; the problem being that
the execs are perfectly adequate, the owners' underlying Wal*Mart model
inappropriate for the industry, so none will be able to succeed
(beyond perhaps temporarily) as long as they have to work within the
Wal*Mart cognate.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #63 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Wed 7 Jun 06 23:43
    

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/49108

Please say more about bell curves not occurring in nature. 

And, what can the managed do about a clueless manager? How can a 
subordinate protect himself or herself, and perhaps his or her own 
subordinates, from an upper manager who doesn't get it?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #64 of 103: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 8 Jun 06 08:05
    
I agree with all of 62. Thank you, Jeff, it's very insightful
(particularly with regard to the Royals; what a shame such a good
baseball town hosts such a disaster). I believe, at the same time,
there are teams that, well, if they don't winnow out mediocrity as
quickly as some others, are at least more at ease with mediocrity than
the winning teams are. You mentioned a couple; I'd throw in the Cubs,
too. 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #65 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Thu 8 Jun 06 08:10
    
The scarcity of actual bell curve distributions in nature:

There are two entire books on the fallacy, but this article makes a
nice thumbnail sketch of the cognitive origins of the design. It points
out that the function, meant to be a metric for games of chance, was
latched onto by ancient pundits made uncomfortable by their fear of out
of control current events and by fear of change, and applied to
everything as a way of making the world seem more "organized" (Ozzie
Guillen to the contrary).

Try this as a first look at how the bell curve as human concept came
to overwhelm the bell curve as natural function:
  www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/normalcurve.htm

For sheer infotainment, you can't beat blogger Mini-Microsoft's screed
about forcing reality into a bell curve for employee evaluation:
   
http://minimsft.blogspot.com/2005/06/microsofts-30-or-how-i-learned-to-stop.ht
ml

The best book on the origins of modern statistics as extensions of the
eugenics movement are Stephen Jay Gould's "Mismeasure of Man". 
http://www.alibris.com/search/search.cfm?qwork=4394950

It documents the history of many social science statistic tests and
their origin in the eugenics movement.

At its core, here's the oversimplified argument: People with an agenda
developed pseudo-scientific artifacts to prove that non-white people
were inferior at this or that and that the inferiority was genetically
passed on, just as the superiority was passed on.

One presumption, the bell curve was powerful. Once the representation
was interalized, it was presumed as a natural "normal" distribution.
Once you kracy glue yourself to that assumption, you force all
phenomena, Procrustes style, into that delusion. The statisticians in
the group will know about "curve fitting", accessories that mechanize
conversion to a bell curve distribution data that doesn't naturally fit
that shape. Again, the presumption that the bell curve is normal means
data that doesn't fit it is forced into it.

There are some thing in nature that are bell curves. It's just pretty
exceptional. Think about:
  [] # of children in a U.S. Family
  [] # of births by Masai women
  [] Weight of people in the U.S.
The latter is a great example of how we curve fit. This is nothing
like a bell curve. Remove non-adults. Create separate samples for males
and females. Split urban, suburban and rural populations. Ignore
current weights and guess "set points" for each. At each step, we can
get closer and closer to a bell curve (though will we probably won't
ever get to it). As a rule (not always) people who present a bell
curve-looking graph have either generalized and not examined the real
data, applied some curve fitting algoritha (that is used a technique
that legitimizes removal of points that make the distribution look
different) or chosen to slice and dice the "population" as I did
earlier in this paragraph, but cherry-picking sub-populations.

In sum, yes there are some things that fall into a bell curve
distribution, more frequently things that reflect potential and not
actual results. But not a majority. One should presume it very readily.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #66 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Thu 8 Jun 06 08:19
    
STEVE SAID:
I believe...there are teams that...if they don't winnow out mediocrity
as quickly as some others, are at least more at ease with mediocrity
than...the winning teams are. You mentioned a couple; I'd throw in the
Cubs, too. 
+++++

In the Cubs' case, this is Comparitive Advantage. They have an
"affordance" ... great fan loyalty and acceptance of failure as part of
their creation myth. If they really stink without trying, yes, it will
have noticeable results in diminished fan loyalty, but really, they
can coast on who they are, like Supertramp still touring in the retro
lounge-lizard circuit.

 With less one less incentive to actually success in the W-L measure,
they are incrementally less likely to do the desperate striving things
teams that totally NEED to win do. The Cardinals front office always
act as though they're one 3-game losing streak from being in last
place. They have somewhat comparable fan loyalty, but their creation
myth i different, and I think Walt Jocketty, their GM is just an
exceptionally competent manager -- his motto seems to be Whatever
Doesn't Make You Stronger Kills You.

But let's go back to non-baseball org.s that have the Cubs'
insulation, that is, to some degree, they can afford to be medium.
nyone want to nominate some Cubs-es in the retail world or
manufacturing or services?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #67 of 103: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 8 Jun 06 08:34
    
Good point that losing, or at least mediocrity, being part of the Cubs
creation myth. That was true for many years for the football 49ers,
too, until the DeBartolo-Policy regime took over -- though I don't
think the loser 49ers ever had the fan loyalty the loser Cubs do.

Regarding Cubses of the retail world: Sears. K-Mart. Montgomery Ward.
In manufacturing: General Motors. In services: the banking institution
of your choice.

About bell curves, hmmm. Every January I attend a big tasting here in
San Francisco of zinfandel wine. There are hundreds of wineries pouring
zinfandel at this event, so if one were to taste every wine offered
for tasting, one would taste around 600 or 700 wines. That's impossible
for me, but I do taste several dozen, perhaps even 100. (Spit buckets
are provided.)

Every time I attend this event I'm reminded that the bell curve can
apply. There are a few truly bad wines. There are a few truly great
ones. All the rest fall in between. 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #68 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Thu 8 Jun 06 11:21
    
THE ZIN CURVE
SO I'm not saying the quality-to-you-of-a-big-pile-o-Zins is not a
bell curve...it may be.

But is it possible that if you had been drilled from early in life
that a normal distribution was "M" shaped or "W" shaped, you might
instead perceive the distribution of quality that way? 

As a species, we've gotten ahead by offloading cognitive
overhead...resting on presumptions of forms and tendencies. We presume
all Latinos don't have patience at the plate because most Latinos from
the Dominican Republic didn't in the 80s. And it's not a useless
assupmption...just not a universal and w/enough exceptions that it can
bite us on the knee pad.

BTW: I agree with most of your examples of affordances for mediocrity.
To a large degere, it correlates with how much competition there is --
less oligopoly/monopoly = more need to compete...the very fuel of the
benefits of capitalism.

So do you (and other Cubs fans...please chime in) think the Chisox
winning the Series last year did anything to the Cubs' front office and
fans world view in the offseason? To me personally, I don't think a
lot on the front office side. GM Jim Hendry is a pretty even-keeled
guy, & he's always wanted to win, but he's basically a patient guy who
has won a college world series through patient determination. So he's
been reinforced in his tendency to believe that a combo of
determination and patience gets you to the top.

The fans? I dunno. Anyone living in Chicagoland currently invited to
inform us.
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #69 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Thu 8 Jun 06 23:45
    

>can afford to be medium

I'd say some organizations act as if they can afford this, but I'm not 
sure many can.

Maybe if you are in a commodity business you can afford it? 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #70 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Fri 9 Jun 06 08:07
    
STEPHANIE SAID:
I'd say some organizations act as if they can afford {to be medium},
but I'm not sure many can.

Maybe if you are in a commodity business you can afford it? 
+++++++++++++

Certainly in a commodity business, quality is never (seeking
exceptions...that's pretty absolute but I can't think of the counter) a
deal-breaker as long as the contender achieves adequacy. This has
always been true of commodities such as bituminous coal and bulk
hardware such as finishing nails. But as more and more segments of the
economy go commodity, this effect is spreading to lines of work it had
never appeared in before.

Any industry- or regional monopoly. While baseball has an antitrust
exemption, it competes with other forms of recreation/entertainment for
the same zero-sum dollars. The Seattle Mariners' income can track
roughly to a weighted three year average of the previous 3 year average
win percentage (ROUGHLY). Washington DC had an American League 
history within something like that pattern...and it's likely to revert
after the honeymoon period is over. But software companies with
functional monopolies, the new private-monopoly British rail companies,
the old Ma Bell ("We don't care. We don't have to.") et.al.

Some professional practice. So law and medicine. The information that
might drive a competitive marketplace is thin or non-existent. To some
degree, this is a regional oligopoly issue (most of us are not in the
segment that can afford to send a parent to Betty Ford or a sibling to
the Mayo Clinic -- we're going to use Fallin' Down Drunks R' Us down in
Colma or our approved PPO name).

Many operations in remote small towns (not a high %age of the
population affected by this; but more as fuel prices continue to climb
and the cost of commuting to competition creeps up more and more people
will be increasingly "remote").

Wherever domain ignorance makes qualitative judgments shallow. In
Seattle, for example, it's almost impossible to get good Mexican Food.
One extended family from the Guadalajara region owns most of the
restaurants and cooks to that region's taste, and the variation between
individual stores is close to chain uniformity and so-so-ness. And
because there's not much of a Mexican culinary tradition there, not a
lot of consumer pushback. Coffee in South Dakota. Dentistry in England.
Printing in China. Pop music in France. Bunting in Toronto.

¿What other categories stimulate the ability to glissade over the
comeptitive landscape with noting more than adequacy?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #71 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 9 Jun 06 08:48
    
Microsoft software?
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #72 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Fri 9 Jun 06 22:33
    


Good one!  


(also, Jeff, what about my question in post 63 about self-preservation for 
subordinates and mid-tier managers who do get it, but who are "managed" by 
those who don't?)
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #73 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 9 Jun 06 22:45
    
Actually, one of the Gartner notes I found most interesting was about
exactly that -- that Microsoft didn't have to be better, just good
enough
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #74 of 103: Jeff Angus (jeff-angus) Sat 10 Jun 06 07:43
    
STEPHANIE SAID:
also, Jeff, what about my question in post 63 about self-preservation
for subordinates and mid-tier managers who do get it, but who are
"managed" by those who don't?
+++++++++

Should have gotten to it earlier, but was probably trying to avoid it.

The existential reality, to be a good player on a bad team, a healthy
manager in an unhealthy organization, is a nasty situation. There a re
a number of basic choices one can make -- there is no single "right"
approach; it depends on the context.

The first question to ask is: Is the organization anxious for you to
make it better, neutral or opposed to you doing it?

The second is, were you brought in for a specific mission? If you
were, and part of it is to refine/change a piece or the whole thing,
then the essence of your job is breaking the status quo.

If the organization is supportive of change but it's not your mission,
you have a lot of work to do. It requires organizing, usually starting
in your own group, and then what I call "adjacent" ones (adjacent
usually being conceptually adjacent, less frequently physically
proximate). It requires scouting other individuals who both know the
status quo falls short and are committed to the idea of participating
in changing it. It requires a mix of subversion and its opposite,
superversion, with the accent on the later in most cases -- overt
conspiracy. The toolbox of mechanics for doing this are a full book or
five in themselves, but a lot of it, I think, is not magick.

If the org is opposed to change and it's your mission, well that's war
and you've enlisted.

If it's not your mission and the org is neutral, you have a lot of
latitude to decide if you want to invest in it. Like Sammy Sosa on
those up and down Cubs teams, you can try to be upbeat in all
situations and just be glad to be playing (kind of like playing your
best but dissociating yourself from the team's outcome and perhaps
having a positive effect on others' abilities to succeed or strive
harder). You can play Eddie Murray, clubhouse leader who leads by
example but doesn't campaign a lot. You can be Curt Schilling, a
relentless campaigner and burr under the saddle of everything that
stands between the team and victory. There are a dozen other roles you
can take on.

If the org is anxious to be better and it's not your mision, you have
the most opportunities -- and I urge you to take them all.

Most often, the overarching situation is it's not your mision, the org
would like to be better, there's no consensus of what "better" means,
and people who believe making no decision is better than making a
decision that turns out to be wrong (non-existent in baseball, which
winnows people like that out) are the dominant trend. That's a lot of
work.

And as far a working for managers who don't get it, as long as the org
is neutral or seeking improvement, you take them on a little at a
time, usually through krazy-glueing accountability to everything that
happens, making it obvious who is contributing, who is holding back the
org. You create networks of people who want the manager better or
gone. Context is extremely important in an endeavor like this.

I got a manager shunted aside (not demoted or fired, just had all his
responsibilities put elsewhere -- the org's choice), and started a
conversation with an uber-manager about my direct manager who was
having a long, slowly devolving nervous breakdown (they fired her, they
should have gotten her into counseling), and talked a direct manager
into taking some training. In the last case, it was my hope he'd make
an improvement in the two most egregious incompetencies he had, but
instead he realized he really didn't want to be a competent manager and
he decided to take a different position, but the course enabled him to
see what he needed to do the job.

General question to the group. What have you done in this situation? 
  
inkwell.vue.274 : Jeff Angus, "Management by Baseball"
permalink #75 of 103: Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Sun 11 Jun 06 00:07
    

While we wait for others to post about their own experiences, I'd be 
interested to hear about how your current clients are responding to the 
book, and how they have responded to these theories as you were developing 
them. 
  

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