The Dean’s Disease: How the Darker Side of Power Manifests Itself in the Office of the Dean

Arthur G. Bedeian wrote this article regarding the dark side of humanity that often materializes when one is put in a position of power.  This article focuses on college and university deans, but it’s easy to extrapolate this out to other high-ranking positions.  These changes in behavior are referred to as the metamorphic effects of power.  I see two really great arguments in this article and would like to examine both of them.  Remember the term “locus of control”? 

Position 1 – When one attains a great deal of power, such as becoming a new dean, a dark part of some personality types suddenly begins to assert itself even if there has been no indication of that dark side in the person’s past.  This dark side is a deeply seeded character flaw that can either be controlled or allowed to fester.  As with all leaders, it is our job to notice these flaws in ourselves and take measures to ensure that we squelch those tendencies and lead in a way befitting the position we’ve been given.  We have no one but ourselves to blame when we become power-hungry and begin to walk all over people to accomplish our own agendas.  In short, those with the requisite internal locus of control should recognize their misbehavior and take whatever action is necessary to correct this behavior, up to and including resignation. 

Position 2 – Almost the moment a new dean accepts the position, he is inundated with people sucking up to him in order to garner favor and position themselves in their own place of power.  With their new-found power over people and resources, dean’s are treated as something like royalty around the university.  They hold power over careers, salaries, positions, praise, and recognition.  Many of the people under the dean’s leadership spend the majority of their time in self-preservation mode using flattery and agreement as tools to stay within the “inner circle”.  It is human nature to become puffed up and think more highly of yourself than truly deserved when you have people constantly telling you how brilliant you are.  Anyone would start believing their own press in a situation like that.  For those reasons, it is up to those who serve under the dean to provide reality checks and remind him that he is a fallible human being and to challenge him when necessary.

While it wasn’t the main thrust of the article, I couldn’t help but notice that the “Dean’s Disease” article contained a subtle argument around loci of control.  Someone with an internal locus of control would realize their part in developing the “Dean’s Disease” and would take steps to resolve the problems they’ve created.  On the other hand, someone with an external locus of control would blame the environment, the teachers and staff, the flattery, and everything else to avoid responsibility for their actions. 

There was a lot more to this article, but my lesson learned was to take responsibility for my actions.  Don’t take yourself so seriously that you treat people like stepping-stones for your career.  Admit when you’re wrong, and make up for your shortcomings by surrounding yourself with people who challenge you and tell you the truth even when it hurts.  It’s been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Not that I claim to be smarter than Lord Acton, but I don’t see it that way.  Power can have a big impact on us, but it cannot negatively affect our behavior unless we let it.  Remember that you choose your behavior, but you can’t always choose the consequences for that behavior.

Indepth: Iraq

“Indepth: Iraq United States Senate Select Committe on Intelligence” is a 500 page document criticizing the US intelligence efforts leading up to the invasion of Iraq.  While there is a lot of political mumbo jumbo that could be wrought from this document, this isn’t a political blog.  So in the interest of pulling some information useful to business out of the report, we will leave the politics for another time.

One of the major issues cited in the paper was bad information being given to management.  While this is extremely harmful when the invasion of a country is imminent, it is also a major problem for businesses.  Managers can only act on the information they’ve been given.  If that information is of dubious accuracy, management can only make bad decisions.  Having a reliable source of business information is the key to a company’s success.  Business Intelligence (BI) systems have been a major trend in business because of the need for accurate, on time data for the purposes of making timely business decisions. 

Group think was a major concern with the intelligence gathering efforts prior to the Iraq war.  Group think according to merriam-webster.com is



“a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics”.

The problem with group think is the formation of conclusions that don’t necessarily have a foundation in reality.  In this case the purchase of multi-purpose technology led intelligence workers to make assumptions that would not have been made if the intelligence had been properly vetted.  We find the same principle in the business world.  Group think can lead us to market incorrectly and waste our resources “barking up the wrong tree”.  While we have business leaders whose job it is to steer our businesses in the correct direction, the use of business intelligence tools can help minimize the possibility of group think by giving us concrete numbers and trends based on current market conditions as compared to similar conditions in the past. 

While this paper had little to do with business, it gives us a good model for comparison and makes a strong case for need to gather reliable information.  Many businesses fly by the seat of the CEO’s pants, but with the ever expanding capabilites of business intelligence tools, “gut feeling” business is not longer the norm.  Knowing where to put your resources to maximize the return on investment is now more of a science than a swag.

Lead By Example

Having gotten about 80% of the way through my Master’s degree, and having worked for several different businesses over the last 18 years, I’ve developed my own set of standards regarding management. Sadly I’ve found one fundamental ideology I grew up believing seems to have been lost.  My grandfather, and many of the people I respected in my youth understood the idea of leadership by example.  It seems simple, so why is this tenant of leadership not more prevalent?  Is it not as simple when we really make an effort to lead in this manner?   This post will examine that very idea.

  • Be Transparent – Leading by example requires that we are largely transparent in our leadership.  We can’t be sneaky and duplicitous with those we mean to lead or mentor.  People can tell when a leader is hiding something, and this causes distrust and suspicion, which is exactly the opposite of what we want in a leader.  We want to know that they’re honest and have our best interests at heart.  If we as leaders come across as though we’re hiding things, we comepletely destroy our credibility and any trust we’ve built with our people.  Transparency equals trust.
  • Don’t Be A Hypocrite – No one likes the “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality.  If you expect a particular behavior, you must exceed that expectation yourself.  The whole point of being a leader is motivating people to get the job done.  To accomplish this, you must be worthy of their loyalty.  A good leader will have much higher expectations of themselves than they do of their employees.  Hold your employees to a high standard, but hold yourself to a much higher one.
  • Be A Mentor – Being a boss is easy.  My little 4 year old neice can boss people around with the best of them.  But no one needs a boss.  People need leadership in the form of mentorship.  Mentorship is the type of leadership that puts the follower’s needs ahead of the leaders.  The point of mentoring is to tangibly improve the protege, not to give them all the dirty work.  It’s all about honest dealing and honest feedback.  I promise if you lead with these things in mind, not only will you build your employees up, but they will work harder for you and will always remember you fondly.  If none of that is important to you, you should change careers.
  • Want respect? Be respectful!! –  Everyone wants to be respected.  If you have employees that don’t desire your respect, either you are doing a terrible job, or they are.  It’s probably you.  The first part of gaining the respect of your employees is treating them with respect.  If you talk down to your reports they’ll talk about you behind your back.  When you lose the respect of your workers, you can expect them to do the bare minimum necessary to get the job done.   They will not put in any extra effort unless forced to.  Most behavioral issues can be attributed to the system more than the individual.  Just a hint, you as a leader are the system.  Respect breeds respect.
  • Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!  Think back to when you weren’t the boss.  How did it make you feel when your supervisers condescended to you or treated you like a commodity?  Are you doing the same thing to your employees?  If so, shame on you.  When you treat your people well they will do a better job for you.  Employees that feel like they are an important part of the company will take ownership of their activities and produce at much higher levels.  When people take ownership of their work, they make fewer mistakes and get more done.  That’s the definition of productivity.

I am sure some of this is remedial to a lot of managers.  However; given I have worked for several managers that were off the charts terrible, I felt this post was warranted.  Even if you’re an exceptional manager, you can and should be striving to improve.  Just remember, your job is to put your employees in a position to succeed, not to throw up a bunch of road blocks to success.  Instead of being a block, be a mentor.  After all, their success is your success.

HCL Technologies (A) & (B)

HCL Technologies (A)

The HCL Technologies case study is one of interest and hatred for me. While they made many solid business moves which will be discussed because of their inherent innovative interest, there is little I loathe more than off-shoring of American jobs.  I will not get into the politics of that, but it is worth noting that these off-shoring engagements may or may not turn out well for the company that is trying to save money through them.  Worst of all, it often drives customers to the competition.  It’s been reported recently that these customer service and I.T. off-shored jobs are coming back to America because of the dissatisfaction of the customer.  The amount of time it takes to work through issues actually raises the costs in many cases because of language and cultural issues.   With that rabbit trail out of the way, here is the HCL story.

While HCL did a lot of things that could be discussed, they built one specific strategy on which I’d like to focus.  They created a system called Employee First, Customer Second (EFCS).  The idea was partially to win back the work force’s faith in them, and partially shock value to get them noticed.  It worked well on both fronts.  Originally HCL was the place to work because of their ingenuity and willingness to take risks.  They also held the view that failure was not to be feared but was an opportunity to learn.  As time went on and HCL failed to maintain their leadership in innovation, employees felt less satisfaction working there.  As we’ve learned, dissatisfied employees will move on or become apathetic.  Both will cost a company money.  During this EFCS initiative HCL opened up the lines of communication and management made every effort to become as transparent as possible.  HCL’s leadership encouraged dissent while maintaining the company’s vision and goals for the future.  The CEO radically restructured the way most employees were compensated.  Instead of paying them their base salary with nearly impossible to reach incentives, he gave them 100% of what they were to earn for the year with the expectation that they would perform.  This brought in employees from their competition, and made HCL the place to be again. 

As did some of the companies previously discussed, HCL realized the value of their employees.  It seems pretty simple to me that happy employees are motivated and take pride in the companies for which they work.  And those companies seem to always be at or near the top of their industries.  This makes me wonder why more companies can’t figure this out.  Although we’ve read several case studies about these great companies, it still seems they are a rarity.  I’ve worked for companies that think they’re super innovative when they come up with things like “pay for performance” that are old unproven methodologies that most often create impossible goals and leave workers disgusted, but I’ve yet to work in a really innovative company that truly values its employees.  I’ve had managers that have been great to me, but it’s disheartening that there aren’t more great companies out there.  There are certainly companies that want to make a lot of money, but they do so on the backs of them employees instead of with their employees.  This may sound lofty, but as we’ve seen there are companies that view their employees as team members rather than indentured servants.  It’s our job, as managers to make sure this happens in our offices.  Only when we start making our employees feel like they are the reason for our success will they really work to make sure we are successful.  Apathetic employees do mediocre work for mediocre companies that have mediocre profits.  We can effect change in that attitude and increase our bottom line, or we can stand by and allow the status quo and mediocrity to put us out of business.  I’m all for the employee.

HCL Technologies (B)

The (B) section of the HCL case study did a lot to quantify the growth and change the company underwent after implementing the EFCS program.  HCL actually got up and announced EFCS at a huge celebration the company sponsored event called “Explore and Transform.”  During the closing the CEO explained the Employee First, Customer Second approach that was now well ingrained into their corporate culture.  Some would think that just say the words Employee First, Customer Second would offend the customers, but it was quite the opposite.  HCL even had customers come ask them how to implement such a program, because they had seen the positives the system had produced. 

With the EFCS program firmly built into the culture, HCL closed ever increasingly huge deals and became highly publicised as a pioneer in IT outsourcing.  Their attrition rate fell off the table compared to other Indian companies.  While it was common for an Indian I.T. company to realize very high attrition rates that seem to increase over time, HCL actually saw theirs declines by 9%.  This can be squarely attributed to the EFCS initiative, as can many of HCL’s improvements. 

I could go on and on about the advantages of putting employees first, but I think the point is self-evident based on the case study.  Put simply, happy employees make money for the companies for which they work.

Strategies of Effective New Product Team Leaders

I found this study to be pretty monotonous.  Some of the ideologies contained within were brilliant; however to constant overuse of phrases like “effective team leaders …” nearly bored me to tears.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is there were some really great nuggets contained within the study for any aspiring business leader.  The study was focused on leaders for new product cross-functional development teams, but I think many of the skills they listed are applicable to any good manager.

One of the best ideologies was the “facilitators, not heroes” view.  The manager interviewed here saw himself more as a coach than as a boss.  He felt his job was not to micro-manage every little detail, but to point people in the right direction and facilitate communication.  He was also big on team member empowerment.  He gave his people the latitude to make decisions and encouraged them to do so.  This is in stark contrast with some of the more “hands on” management styles we’ve encountered.

Another excellent point the study made was that information should be shared between team members.  I liken it to a football team.  A football coach doesn’t give the game plan only to the quarterback and expect the rest of the team to figure it out as they go.  They tell the whole team which enables them to work toward a common goal.  The study made a point that good leaders loosened restrictions over information and resources, enabling team members to be creative in developing their own protocols, priorities, and processes based on the overall team goal.

The final point on which I’d like to comment is that which the article identified as “ensure commitment”.  The principle here is to make sure that all team members have skin in the game.  Everyone contributes to the inputs and takes a share in the responsibilities for the outcome.  This includes involving everyone on the team in all facets of planning, developing, and implementing a new product.  By doing this, team members develop a sense of ownership and pride in the development of the product.  This ensures a higher quality product and can lead to lower costs as people make every effort to be efficient and accurate in their duties as they relate to the new product. 

Overall the study made some very good points, but I can’t help but feel it was much longer than necessary as phrases and ideas we unnecessarily repeated.  However; it would be great if every manager out there took some of these ideas to heart.

Arrow Electronics / Sins Of Commission

Compensation and Performance Evals at Arrow Electronics

What can you say about this case study except that it’s another example of the fatally flawed business process we call performance evaluations.  In the case of Arrow Electronics it’s perhaps not enough that we call out the offending process, as in my estimation Arrow took the insanity of the evaluation process to a whole new level.

We’ve all been there, either giving or receiving the “New Performance Evaluation” that promises to weed out the bad, and incent the good employees.  The new system will be easy to enact, easy to use, and will give us a greater understanding of those people we call our employees.  The problem is they don’t work.  I’ve never seen a performance evaluation system that wasn’t totally without merit.  A good evaluation system is at least as rare as a bona fide sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.  In my 20 odd year career, I’ve seen it done many ways, and every single one of them left me wishing people would just give up on the idea.  It’s not that I’ve had bad evaluations, quite the contrary.  But maybe that’s the point, everyone gets good reviews or management forces artificial numbers into the equation.

That’s what happened at Arrow.  The CEO’s response to everyone getting a good review was to force artificial ratings in order to make the reviews meet his expectations of what the numbers “should be”.  So let me get this straight, not everyone can be good, so the answer is to force the numbers to show that either X percent of employees are bad or every employee is bad at something.  That makes no more sense than everyone being good.  Where was he pulling these numbers from?  Any guesses?

The problem with employee evaluations is employees.  Managers don’t want to confront marginal workers because they still have to work with them.  Also, people by nature have favorites.  Is it possible that a manager gets along good with an employee who doesn’t do as good a job as someone else?  Yes!  Is it possible that the manager IS THE BAD EMPLOYEE?  Yes!  I’ve never known a single person who wanted to give or receive a performance eval.  There is always some numerical falseness to them: either the bell curve of good to bad employee ratios, or the number swag determining which employees get a raise.  At any rate, nobody is ever happy with these things so why do we waste our time doing them?   The answer to that is because we’ve always done them………….

Sins of Commission: Be Careful What You Pay For, You May Get It

Have you ever heard the old adage that “What you incent get’s done”?  It’s kind of funny the way that works out sometimes, which is really the point of the case study.  Individual incentives seem to be the wave of the present as far as businesses are concerned.  You hear terms like “Pay for Performance” and other similar expressions on almost a daily basis.  The problem isn’t that companies have gone to this model, but rather that they’ve been short-sighted in rolling out these incentive programs. 

One example used in the study was garbage collection in Arizona.  Since the city was spending a lot of money on overtime, they decided to incent the drivers to get their routes done on time.  Yes, that’s all they incented.  They didn’t incent getting their routes done on time and ensuring ALL trash was collected.  This became a real problem.  We see examples like this all time.  Poorly worded and poorly executed incentive plans end up costing businesses more than what they were spending before they came up with a “cost cutting” incentive plan. 

As the article pointed out, “Ironically, the very thing that is necessary for incentives to guide behavior-simplicity-is the same thing that defeats the effectiveness of such plans except in the simplest of business cases.”  Sadly every time we incent a salesman to sell our products, we may be incenting him to ignore customers who may not be buying immediately.  We all know that this leads to the customer never coming back, but we continue to do it anyway.  Perhaps it’s time to go back to the simpler model of paying someone a fair salary for a fair day’s work.  If they don’t get their job done to our satisfaction, we stop paying them.   Simple.

A main point of the article revolved around whether or not people are motivated by money.  I believe to a certain extent people are motivated by their pay.  But people are motivated by other things too, as we’ve seen throughout the semester.  Good jobs in good companies are far more motivating that incentive programs.  People want to be valued and treated like a member of a team. If you provide that environment, employees will work hard for you.  Lacking that, the incentive programs just give people the blueprint to do the bare minimum in every area that isn’t specifically incented.  Remember, what get’s incented gets done.  If you’re incenting people to sell, then they will sell, and damn the details. 

What get’s incented gets done.

SAS and Nordstrom

SAS Institute

Sometimes when you read about about a company that claims to be a great employer, you come away with the feeling they’re completely deluded.  Or that the measure of greatness when applied to an employer is skewed based on things that don’t really matter to the employee.   What makes a company a great place to work?  Is it a good salary, stock options, a nice office?  Sure, these are some of the things that you hope for when you look for a new job, but the greatness of an employer goes far beyond monetary accoutrements.  I believe that a great employer knows and meets the needs of their staff without making it a selling point.  So what is the differentiator between and average employer and a great one?  It’s all about management approach and business philosophy.  The pefect example is the SAS Institute.

SAS is a private company that pays well and provides for the needs of their employees (see Maslow), but the differentiator is the philosophy by which they manage their people.  Instead of managing (micro managing) employee activities, they place an emphasis on coaching and mentoring.  This has been a consistant theme as we’ve learned about these companies throughout the semester.  The great companies place a high degree of emphasis on mentoring employees and then getting out of the way.  Instead of monitoring and controlling their people, SAS trains and mentors them and then allows them to use their own creativity to get the job done. 

Another key is the lack of a formal performance management / review system.  I’ve railed about the evils of performance reviews in previous posts, and it seems that SAS holds a similar view.  Every single performance management tool out there has some flaw that is eventually discovered and exploited to manipulate the process.   The SAS article also pointed out that good people don’t thrive on conflict.  When managers have to choose between the conflict of writing a substandard review or giving undeserved marks and ignoring the problem, many will take the high road and give the employee a review they don’t deserve.  Or if they are the type of person that thrives on conflict they’re probably a really bad manager and/or bad employee.

My favorite thing about the SAS Institute is their refusal to outsource.  In a day when many software developers outsoure or even worse offshore their coding, SAS refuses to do so.  Everything from dining services to coding to human resources is handled in house.    SAS provides in house day-care, gymnasium, cafeteria services , and even a medical clinic.  The leadership of SAS holds the idea that any savings garnered by using outsourcing is quickly lost because of the loss of quality.  One executive, Barrett, went so far as to say “if you want something done right, own it and control it”.  

So what is the differentiator between an average employer and a great one?  It’s the philosophy by which a company manages their human assets.  SAS has the right management philosophy, and it’s all about people.  You give them the tools they need to do their jobs, treat them fairly, meet their needs, and then get out of the way.

Nordstrom: Dissension in the Ranks?

Now to contrats SAS Institue we have Nordstrom’s.  While SAS set up an above board / employees first system that was clear and easy for the employee to work through, Nordstrom’s is quite the opposite.  Nordstrom’s set up a devious system where the employees were penalized if they reported over-time hours and hours they spent doing things other than selling.  That wouldn’t be as heinous if this time weren’t required, however off-sales time was expected in order to provide general customer service.  The system Nordstrom’s set up was built to reward competition, but the managers were at best naive and didn’t see the effect this had on employees. 

Nordstrom’s keyed on and rewarded sales per hour.  Any hours employees spent doing anything but selling actually lowered the sales per hour figure and was penalized.   One Nordstrom’s even had required weekly Saturday meetings where the time clock was always out of commission in some fashion.  When employees hand wrote their hours on the time card, management used white-out to remove the entries.  I’m certain this is illegal, but it wasn’t reported for a long time, because of management back lash for any complainers. 

Nordstrom’s ended up with a ton of complaints and lawsuits because of their unfair employement practices.  I could go on and on about the unfair practices and incompetent management, but suffice it to say where SAS is an incredible place to work, Nordstrom’s not so much.  The idea of treating employees well apparently never entered the equation for Nordstrom’s.  Sure they treated the customer very well, but that was at the expense of the employees.  If you’re excellent customer service comes at the sacrifice of fair employee treatment, eventually the customers will stop being treated well.  Nordstom’s is pretty much a dud for the employee, two thumbs down.