Kim Malone Scott's Radical Candor 2x2
1/ In the 1950s, the rise of a new kind of manager over the previous half-century, the middle manager, inspired a whole era of management thinking and writing.
2/ Alfred Chandler, Peter Drucker, and William Whyte were among those whose writings (still valuable 60+ years later) were inspired by this curious new species.
3/ The middle manager -- somebody who manages other managers, but isn't the owner/leader or CEO -- is the sine qua non of the no-skin-in-the-game industrial age ethos.
4/ They do not bear responsibility either for the work getting done, or for the ultimate aims of the organization being attained. That does not mean, however, that they are useless.
5/ The middle manager evolved to occupy a niche: providing a lot of middleware support and coordination required in large-scale organizations.
6/ That niche, however, began shrinking in the late 70s. Since that time, a gradual process of unbundling middle-management functions has been underway.
7/ Many of the pathologies of hierarchical command-and-control organizations arise not from the structure itself, but from the existence of unaccountable middle layers.
8/ Unlike the bottom layers with direct responsibility for getting work done, middle layers are not responsible for immediate consequences.
9/ Unlike the top layers, with accountability to stakeholders and overall organizational performance, middle layers are not responsible for ultimate consequences.
10/ This is a structural position rife with moral hazard. There is a principal-agent problem/no-skin-in-game issue in relation to both the top and bottom of the pyramid.
11/ But the role has not always been vacuous, even though it often is now. A lot of routine logistics, information dissemination, and large-scale coordination used to depend on it.
12/ Over the last 40 years, a great many middle-management functions have been refactored into other functions, automated, outsourced, or simply done away with.
13/ You can think of four broad phases, each taking about ten years, and each concerned with a core unbundling principle: autonomy, efficiency, innovation, and empathy.
13/ You can read about the autonomy phase (1975-85) in books like Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos, which was the first management book I read as a teenager.
14/ Much of what he wrote about the era of "flattening" organizations is conventional wisdom today, but back then the core idea seemed really radical: trust the individual.
15/ The result of that early era was simply fewer managers, in fewer layers, and most importantly, more autonomous individual contributors, at least at skilled levels.
16/ Peters' ideas came out of a long tradition of people arguing that workers could be trusted rather than treated like convicted felons. McGregor's Theory X/Theory Y (1960s) was an early part of it.
17/ After autonomy, the focus shifted to efficiency (1985-95). This led to the global spread of Japanese ideas, with much of the impact being on the factory floor.
18/ The impact on managers -- a focus on process discipline, monitoring and feedback, is captured in Andy Grove's classic High Output Management (1983).
19/ Autonomy+efficiency in an environment of deregulation and computerization meant "bad management" was solved in a specific way: elimination, automation and outsourcing.
20/ Many middle-managerial functions such as signing off on routine paperwork or disseminating information, were simply computerized or networked away.
21/ Other functions were downcycled: it was recognized that many functions weren't really "management" work, and outsourced to lower-cost non-manager workers, often in other countries.
22/ Matrix management, value-chain optimization, and process re-engineering marked the later stages of this era: broadly, the era of process discipline.
23/ Process discipline helped cleave line management from project/program management, shrink the former (absorbed into "staff" functions in many cases), and frame the latter in "core competency" terms.
24/ In the early 90s, line management functions shrank through unbundling, abandonment, automation and outsourcing, while project/program management functions grew in importance.
25/ Managers began to be held accountable for end-to-end value addition rather than just the internal silo-functioning metrics, setting the stage for the "innovation" era.
26/ By 1995 the stage was set for the "innovation" phase. Fueled by books such as The Innovator's Dilemma (1997), the surviving middle managers turned into risk managers.
27/ The timing was perfect, since the rise of the Internet shifted the entire economy into an innovate-or-die/software-eating-the-world gear.
28/ Middle managers became like VCs or angel investors, stewarding agendas defined by "porftolios" of "strategic" projects with varied risk profiles and "ROI" expectations.
29/ This 30 year/three phase drive towards increasing individual autonomy, efficiency, and innovation focus utterly transformed the staid middle manager of the 1970s.
30/ Before they were paternalistic types, taking it easy in low-stress robotic functions, insulated from harsh incentives, growing little siloed fiefdoms within safe "job descriptions"
31/ After, they were anxious, ambitious, hungry and stressed risk managers, shepherding a dozen "value-adding strategic initiatives" through brutally Darwinian internal ecosystems.
32/ Obedient, docile employees turned into autonomous, authority-challenging nightmares for bosses who might jump or be reassigned to competing projects anytime.
33/ Autonomy meant that what used to be "rank insubordination" was now "effectiveness." In an environment of competing internal projects, loyalties became uncertain.
34/ Efficiency meant that scrutiny of costs and performance turned brutal (if not always particularly effective). Except on Wall Street, work stopped being a bacchanalian party.
35/ The focus on innovation meant the static peacetime construct of "job description" transformed into constant maneuvering against shifting internal/external competition.
36/ Instead of attracting admiration and envy, bragging about the size of your organization attracted unwanted disruptive innovation from both internal and external competitors.
37/ Chet Richards' Certain to Win (another top recommendation of mine that I use all the time), captures this last management-as-innovation-maneuvering aspect.
38/ Much of my own writing in the past decade, particularly The Gervais Principle and Be Slightly Evil, is about surviving/thriving in the idyllic-villages-turned-dangerous jungles.
39/ Like many Gen Xers in their early 40s, I am a product of the first three phases, spanning 30 years, of the long-term unbundling of the manager.
40/ Thinking in terms of autonomy, efficiency and innovation is so instinctively natural for me, and distaste for the 70s fat-cat managers so ingrained, I can't think any other way.
41/ Which means this "native" way of thinking comes with some big blindspots I share with others of my generation, which 70s-era managers would have recognized.
42/ The biggest blindspot has to do with the role of caring in management. This is where Kim's challenge directly versus care personally 2x2 comes in.
43/ Pre-80s managers could be paternalistic in the sense of caring, in part because the overall inefficiency and conflict-averse consensus culture of the economy made it cheap to care.
44/ So 1970s style managerial caring was usually not accompanied by candor and direct challenging. Workplaces were dominantly in Kim's top-left quadrant: ruinous empathy.
45/ The effect of the first three phases of the unbundling of managers was that a lot of managers, if they survived at all, shifted into one of the two lower quadrants.
46/ Many shifted into manipulative insincerity, looking out for themselves at the expense of others, in the classic 1980s-douchebag mode, now a cultural trope.
47/ Many shifted into obnoxious aggression, turning into stress-inducing internal cancers, short-term effectiveness being paid for with long-term damage.
48/ After 30 years of unbundling the manager, a lot of the behavioral mass concentrated in "ruinous empathy" got redistributed into these other two quadrants, even as it shrank.
49/ The result, on the eve of the crash of 2008, was a corporate world with a deep deficit of caring, with or without strong cultures of truth-telling. Then the crash happened.
50/ A big part of the Great Recession was that "caring debt" had come due. We were paying the costs of an economy based on manipulative insincerity and obnoxious aggression.
51/ These are not the same as an economy or company grounded in truth-telling. It is just a culture of the strong exploiting the weak while being indifferent to the truth or effectiveness.
52/ The public sector was no better. The parts gutted by deregulation succumbed to the same pathologies as the private sector. The left-behind part doubled down on ruinous empathy.
53/ Silicon Valley was not immune to this broader shift. In the valley, people began deluding themselves that nice buffets and beanbag chairs were "culture" and stock options a substitute for "caring."
54/ Across the board, Silicon Valley companies joined the great party of accumulating caring debt, except with nicer perks.
55/ In society, more broadly, politics too succumbed to the same forces that had created the caring deficit in the private sector.
56/ A party based on ruinous empathy -- the tendency to cloak important truths in "PC" and hypocrisy -- lost to one that specializing in obnoxious aggression and manipulative insincerity.
57/ What was lost across the board, at all levels from Washington DC to the Uber, poster-child for software eating the world, was a culture of caring without sacrificing truth-telling.
58/ This is not a nice-to-have feature of society. A society can create meaning and be worth living in only if individuals actually sincerely care about each other and show it.
59/ At the same time, a society that lacks candor and the ability to challenge lies directly, is one that lacks the ability to function at a very basic level.
60/ What can you do about it? Buffets and expensive sweatshirts aren't the answer. The answer is the grounding the key 1:1 relationships of society in radical candor.
61/ How do you do that? Well for starters, read Kim's book. It offers a playbook for building culture at the locus that actually counts: healthy 1:1 relationships, not buffets. And check out my interview with her last year.
62/ If you recognize that the core managerial function left, after all the unbundling, is to simply care personally and challenge directly, you will help build institutions that endure.
63/ If you don't? Well, they only question is which sort of drama of cancerous destruction you will be part of: obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity, or ruinous empathy.
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