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Power Distortions in the Firm πŸ”—
1635781264  

The most corrosive element in any relationship is power, especially when the wielder does not understand the way it subtly warps their interactions with others. Middle management in firms are quite unaware of this, as in the rest of their lives they are powerless peasants like the rest of us. Doing the sort of context switch to make this work does not come naturally, and the means by which we select managers does not select for the self-reflective. Occasionally they develop the necessary faculties, but this necessarily means their advance in rank will cease and much of the good they do will be plowed under by their peers.

This is why much of modern automation in firms is giving dynamite to children. Once managers saw how much things like issue trackers helped teams internally they could not resist using it as yet another lever to micro-control the process. The strength of Auftragstategik is in practice paid no more than lip service.

Having fallen victim to the siren song of automated measurement, they forget that now they have the same problem as search engines. Unscrupulous employees are now be able to SEO their way into the top ranks of performance with very little effort. Much of this is why the urge in firms to pick low-hanging fruit to get up numbers is so widespread. It is also yet another shackle on themselves, management begins to use the same hammer amongst themselves. This further distracts them from their true purpose of resolving systemic barriers to progress.

Management by Reid Technique

I can't think of a better way to induce anxiety and destroy productivity in the workforce than regularly scheduled police interrogations. Which is essentially the primary way in which employees and management interact now, commonly known as the "one on one". Well-meaning managers put out pieces like this on how they can be positive interactions.

The summary is that management generally wants to hear "all is well" so they may return to inaction, as this is easy. Basically anything else is seen as emotional whining they need to pacify at best. At worst the manager goes full on cop mode and fires people over throwing a tantrum. This in particular is quite perceptive:

A Disaster is the end result of poor management. Your employee believes totally losing their shit is a productive strategy – they believe it’s the only option left to making anything change.
It is true that many do not resort to communication of facts until incredibly frustrated their subcommunications have been comprehensively ignored. This is a rational response to the actual goal of the meeting, what managers want to hear is ketman so that's what people give them.

A manager which understands the distorting nature of the power they wield would not engage in such tactics. Like torture, one-on-ones can't possibly achieve anything you actually want. All you will hear is what you want to hear, or emotional outbursts which can and should be disregarded.

The only real way to learn the truth is to observe from a dis-empowered position, like Henry V going into camp incognito. It's either that or have spies. This is much of why QA is defined as "providing information to decision makers". The reports from your QA department is what should be finding the problems in the production process you need to resolve.

As to the people problems, an "open door" policy should suffice. If people won't tell you these things until they explode anyways, this at least saves time. This is not the policy by and large, as management is in love with the idea of prevention. While this is indeed the right strategy in the production process, it is dangerously wrong for personal development. Never allowing people to make interpersonal mistakes is to deprive them of essential learning opportunities. Can one truly be said to have repented under the lash? Or be said to be good without having experienced evil and rejected it?

The only way to avoid these distortions is systemic reform of the organization. Scaling organizations without diluting ownership (as in a partnership) inevitably results in the single-elimination ass-kissing tournament. As such we cannot expect anything but self-service (much less reform) from management at large. The attendant mendacity is a cost of doing business in large firms.

Even in a firm without these problems power can still prove corrosive. That said the incentives are at least not aligned against doing the correct thing.

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