Saturday, March 17, 2007

How to Stop the Dilbertization of IT

"First" there was this article: How to Stop the Dilbertization of IT

Which was mentioned in this Slashdot article.

And them maybe coincidentally or not I thought yesterday's Dilbert cartoon was particularly relevant.

And I'll leave as an exercise the finding of the /. comment I was responding to, except for the last line I've quoted here. Leaving only the questions: "Can anything be done, and if so, what?"...
"Debt" is a ten thousand year old playground game.

I don't know if this and the rest of your comment are original material or not but it is profound, so I decided to say so rather than use mod points as I originally set out to do. More and more in my own observations of the modern world the term "game the system" pops, unbeckoned into my head and I don't even remember when I first learned the term.

I do remember in short studies of game theory learning that it is easy to construct a game in which a mutually beneficial outcome works against outcomes with are "best" for all participants. What continues to surprise me is not that such games spring into existence in the real world, but that those who have at least some power over the game rules continue to do nothing to change them so that the outcomes that are best for the individual are more synchronized with those that are best foor the organization.

I guess that's a round about way of saying "why doesn't someone above simply fire the PHB?" And if the problem exists at a higher level, why doesn't someone above that do some firing as well? Examples in the real world are easy to find. Imagine a Microsoft without a CEO who makes a PR blunder every time he opens his mouth. Imagine if Ken Lay, or the Enron board had fired Jeffry Skilling when he first announced that he wanted the company to be "as asset free as possible" rather than giving him even more authority to implement such a PHBesque notion.

In all my career the Dilbert-like (and this is certainly not a new phenomenon) activities have only sometimes been initiated by my immediate boss, and almost never at the top of the company, but somewhere in the murky in-between, where rumor has it that people are all first cousins or go to the same church (because there is no other rational explanation for their existence).

I suspect that in some very successful companies there is still one of those overpaid (though not in such case so much overpaid) people who can peer down into the organization and burn off the underbrush so that those doing constructive things have more chance to grow. Most companies somewhere along the line lose these key people at the top and become the Enrons and Microsofts of today.

One big problem though in many countries it is harder and harder to fire people for a variety of reasons, even when they grossly under-perform, or mis-perform. We have to look no further than our governments (particularly federal) for just how bad this can, and probably will get even for companies like Google that start out with so much talent and enthusiasm. Even if they can at first have a fairly good control over their talent pool (as they grow rapidly) at some point they are going to be full of "Wallys" who no one can figure out what to do with, but who have kept enough within the rules to avoid being terminated.

I don't by any means think, as the article implies, that this is confined to IT. Quite the contrary, we see it everywhere more and more. The change, if it is going to happen at all (I'm not optimistic) has to come from our elected officials who can once again make it easy for companies to clean house. After all, in a society that more and more takes care of the unemployed and under-employed, worse things can happen than being the victim of a corporate "downsizing". the question is whether there is anyone at most companies making sure that the right PHBs are let go during such events.

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