Is It Wrong that I Refer to Managers as “Dumbasses”?

I think that I’ve mentioned that I teach in the B-school at nearby Kent State University.  In the course catalogue, the course is referred to as “Individual and Group Behavior in Organizations”.  I call it “Organizational Behavior” (and so does the rest of the world.)  During the first class of each semester, I tell my students,  “The world is full of dumbass managers…I don’t want you to be one of them.”

OK, so I posted that in a comment on LinkedIn recently…and got some pushback:

In 23 years of full-time teaching, I never described managers using an ad hominem attack. I simply ask my students to lead in ways that better than how they have been led.

So…am I wrong to make a generalization about “dumbass managers”?

In part…yes, of course, I’m wrong.  As the old saying goes, “No generalization is worth a damn, including this one.”

My larger point is that too many managers are not up to the job.  We can argue whether my language is appropriate or not, but to focus on that is to miss the point.  Evidence supports the argument that the “Great Resignation” is caused primarily by toxic corporate cultures.  Such cultures aren’t “accidents” or “acts of God”.  They are created by managers who are ignorant, careless, negligent, and/or just don’t give a damn.  As a former colleague of mine once said, “A fish stinks from the head”.  If the place smells rotten, look to leadership for the source of the stink.

And here’s the thing…creating a strong, positive culture isn’t that difficult.  It’s not brain surgery, at least.  Don’t get me wrong….it takes patience, perseverance, and discipline.  But there’s no “secret sauce” to it that some organizations have figured out.  It may not be easy, but it IS straightforward.

Here’s the second thing…there is a wealth of data that confirms that a strong, positive culture provides superior performance just about any way you want to measure it.  Stock price, revenues, margin, customer satisfaction…they’re all directly correlated to culture.  When the culture gets better, so do those measures.

So…creating a strong, positive culture is straightforward and it provides measurable benefits.  And yet weak, toxic cultures seem to be widespread, if not prevalent.  There must be a lot of dumbass managers out there.

Bad Problem Solving + Dysfunctional Company = Assured Failure: Part Two

Awhile back (too much of awhile back), I posted about an article I’d read on the Industry Week website about six sigma and team problem solving.  (Here it is, if you want to take another look at it.)  In that first post, I ranted a bit about the worst condition highlighted by the IW article: incompetent managers.  I promised I’d make some comments about the inept approach to problem solving described in the article in a followup post.  Well, three months later, here’s that followup post.

Let me start by saying that I don’t want any of my remarks here to be seen as anything like a defense for the utterly, abjectly vacuous leadership described in the IW article.  When nincompoops take up space in the C-suite, no tactic, no tool, no approach, however well conceived and implemented will save the organization.  It’s doomed to a long, slow, tortuous demise.  (Trust me…I’ve worked for such organizations.)

But the truth is…our antagonist didn’t seem to have learned much at his six sigma training.  Let’s look at the evidence for our indictment.  The article says that our six sigma guy and the team used the DMAIC approach to team problem solving but we aren’t provided with much that indicates that he or the team actually followed the DMAIC path.  In fact, the path they actually did follow looks more like:

  1. Make a chart based on only one of the many possible relevant metrics
  2. Jump to conclusions
  3. Present a limited solution that fits the conclusion jumped to.

Now, the article does say that the team spent several weeks in meetings and analysis but doesn’t give us much as to how that time was spent.  It’s not hard to imagine the team spending its time and energy discussing how it was going to go about getting their penny-pinching bosses to spring for the new computer system.

The question posed by the IW article is:  Would Dr. Deming have been a proponent of Six Sigma.  But the example described in the article doesn’t really help address the question because it doesn’t really portray six sigma methods, and certainly not DMAIC.

Within the next few weeks, the blog at Employer Resource Council in Cleveland will start posting my series on DMAIC, so I won’t go into any detail here as to how that approach should actually be undertaken.  (I’ll post a link when it shows up.)

Team problem solving can be hard work.  It can be fun, too and is nearly always effective given adherence to the process and senior leadership that isn’t bereft of even a scintilla of intelligence.  There’s nothing like implementing a solution developed by a team and seeing that solution work to motivate associates at all levels in the organization.   Everyone in the organization needs to keep in mind, though, that it’s not “six sigma”, or “DMAIC”, or any other set of tools that contains the magic.  It’s smart, committed leadership getting smart, motivated employees involved in making continual improvements to all aspects of the business.  I’m pretty sure Dr. Deming would have been on board with that.