Musings from George

The Peter Principle
December 30, 2010, 1:18 am
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It is a phenomenon that all big companies experience. Employees continue to grow and advance, moving up that career ladder, right up until they can’t. They don’t usually stop at a level where they are superstars, but rise one rung higher to where they are average or below average. This is the Peter Principle, and I have seen it play out at several big companies. It correlates with the growing pyramid problem, where an employee finds that as the company grows tiers are inserted into the pyramid above him / above her … so the relative distance from power (and riches) grows, while the relative distance to the front-line individual contributor remains the same. Often these inserted tiers are populated from outside, by people who have had the right title and experience … but were effectively underperforming because they rose above the point that they were superstars.

How do we better balance corporate organizations? Flattening organizations seems like a great idea (as Google does), but it only works if you have exceptional leaders in every chair … and most companies don’t. Informal leadership (program managers, technical leads) can do a lot of good but only if someone is giving them the charter and the power to make a difference. I really like growing organizations, but no one likes dealing with the Peters who may be in over their head or the aspiring managers who have never managed. Growing self-aware leaders takes time, and requires that they want feedback and listen and react to it.

I believe that managing requires a blend of coaching (knowing what people are good at, and putting them in roles / positions where they can succeed), communicating (telling people what they are good at, and what they need to work on), and listening — your guidance only matters if an employee hears you and wants to change. Mark Twain’s quote comes up frequently for me: “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work, and it annoys the pig.”


December 9, 2010, 5:20 am
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All right, it looks like we (those at the top of the economic pyramid) are getting a tax break! Whoo hoo! Except that I think I am taking this tax break at the expense of the very same children that I am coaching, and from my very own children. I think that I am taking this tax break from the soldiers fighting in the Middle East, and their children.
What exactly am I going to do with the payroll tax reduction? I already max out my 401K, take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction, and have no short-term debt…so I guess like other wealthy people I will save this money. What would happen if I gave the same $2000 away at a BART station tonight? It would be spent four times by Friday. I think that might be a better way to get the economy restarted.
I had such hopes for Obama. And I still think he is smarter than I am, and that he is right. But I would sincerely like to see him sucker-punch Boehner on this and force a straight-up vote — tax breaks for the middle and lower class only, or NO BREAKS. Face him to “man up”, as a Republican would-be Senate candidate called out … put the hypocrisy to a vote.
Where is Sarah Palin on the deficit? I guess it’s a “bond to nowhere” that our kids have to pay off.

Going to Abilene
December 4, 2010, 9:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Worth reading:

When a group makes a decision, there is a real danger of agreeing to something that no one really wants to do … doing something simply because it is acceptable to everyone, but really isn’t the first choice or even a positive decision for most. A classic example is trying to get a group to agree on a restaurant, where one proposal after another is rejected because one person doesn’t want to go there … so the mediocre choice that NO ONE would make turns out to be the only one that NO ONE bothers to reject. So we all end up at Chili’s, when a great sushi restaurant around the corner would have delighted ten out of twelve people in the group.

I have made that mistake, and stuck with plans that were made before all the information was available. I am also committed to avoiding this mistake in the future, and am making the necessary mental adjustments to make it work. Tickets to ANYTHING are not an obligation to go … they are an option to attend, if it still seems like something worth doing. A commitment to a social event has to be reconsidered as time passes — skipping a party without advance notice is rude, but changing your mind a day early is still acceptable. Make the call and take the hit, rather than going to something you wish you weren’t at.

My kids have made me proud lately, and it’s a weird collection of behaviors that I appreciate. A happy good morning (which some of my closest college friends never mastered), a quick grin and knowing smile, and a willingness to sit next to me (or on me) count for a lot. Our son is learning to read, and takes pride in what he can do. Our daughter can speak Chinese, and is the last one you would expect to burst out into Chinese song in a group of her peers. They tease and love each other, and it affirms for me our decision to have two kids closely spaced in age.

Total right-turn, but I am facing the decision about whether our daughter should play T-ball next year. Her birthday enables her to play in the earliest year — her brother, who is a natural athlete, was born in June and consequently was at the oldest end of the range of kids when he played. The reverse situation would have been great (he plays with older kids all the time and holds his own), but the real situation leaves me wondering if I need to hold our daughter back / wait a year to sign her up. I know that many parents face this decision about kindergarten, and I don’t mean to sound flippant about it… but I just don’t know if she would enjoy the game or thrive on the team that I coached last year (for my son). No idea how it will play out right now. Will keep you posted 🙂

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It is one of my favorite holidays, because the premium is on family and food and not on presents. A very close friend from college came to town, and we had a mini-reunion to celebrate. A key topic that came up was what it means to be successful. I like my life, and consider myself successful, but I have not made the millions that some friends have made and have no prospect of an early retirement (okay, truth be told I don’t want to retire) … but how do we define success, and isn’t it about more than money? I shared the quote I thought was Ralph Waldo Emerson defining success (boiled down: making a difference for the better), but there is a bigger question out there as to how others perceive our success vs. the reality of succeeding. Heavy.

Late. Tired. Sleepy. Be good!