Death by Mismanagement

I had breakfast recently with an old colleague who is a top-notch ASIC designer. Among the many stories he told me, the lessons of this one stand out:

One year when he had been a key player in designing a new interface that doubled the speed of the devices we made, he was nominated for “Inventor of the Year.” But he didn’t find out about this nomination from his boss. Instead, he was invited to the dinner event at which the award is given out (without anyone knowing in advance which of the nominees is to receive the award). Of course, he says, he didn’t receive the award; his boss, who had to attend the event with him, would not make eye contact with him during the event.

Later, at annual review time, he was ranked in the bottom 1/8th of the company’s contributors. Naturally, he was curious about how this could happen while he was being nominated for Inventor of the Year. He asked HR about it. “Is this consistent?” he asked. “Of course not,” they replied.   “Can you do anything about it?” he asked.   “No.”

When management is sending two extremely conflicting messages to individual contributors like my colleague, it is an indication of deep trouble at several levels in the company. First, the immediate boss was almost certainly acting out a personal aversion — if not vendetta — against this engineer. Second, the fact that no one from higher levels of management were willing to take action is a sign of serious sickness in the company.

How long would you expect a company to last which sends such messages to experienced and long-term contributors? In fact, the “boss” in the story above was eventually laid off. But the damage to the engineer’s morale and respect for the company was irreversible.

And so, no doubt, was the decline in the company’s competitiveness. The company’s sale to a former competitor was announced just a couple of months later.

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    About John Levy

    John Levy works with senior managers in mid-sized organizations who are responsible for development and delivery of major software or hardware/software products. He helps them gain confidence that their projects will succeed.

    Development projects can fail in many ways. You need a guide who speaks the language of business and is knowledgeable about technology. John aligns Development with the organization's strategy so it will contribute efficiently to the success of the enterprise.

    John has been consulting for over 20 years. His book on managing high-tech teams, Get Out of the Way, was published in 2010.

    For more information, email him at johnlevyconsulting.com, or call 415 663-1818.
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