5150 Business Strategy

Life in the Corporate Fast Lane and Still Remaining Intelligent

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Accept the Job Offer or Walk Away? – Amy Gallo – Best Practices – Harvard Business Review

Many times the first question is: Should I waste my time on even talking to this company? It is amazing that a company who searches you out acts like you should drop everything to work for them!! If you have gathered experience which adds value to the position why settle for less and why waste your time with mediocre?

This happened recently with a large architectural firm in Missouri who was looking to replace their CFO. You hear all the usual – this company is on the cutting edge, they want to step up a notch, etc., etc. Just so happens I knew this firm from previous experience and was not “sold” on how cutting edge they were. Similar thing with a firm located in San Francisco looking for a Chief Accounting Officer. Many firms know how to “talk the talk” when it comes to embracing change but there are few who “walk the walk”.

It is always interesting to go on an interview and find that a company does not really want to go to the next level. They are perfectly content in believing their version of reality is the best. Having seen enough of what is out there it is clear that the bar has been drastically lowered. It is not hard to be better when the next rung down is rock bottom.

Following is good article if you get past the histrionics, get an offer, and then have to decide whether to accept:

Accept the Job Offer or Walk Away? – Amy Gallo – Best Practices – Harvard Business Review.

Sometimes it is better to not even engage in the dialogue.

Lesson Learned: If you have been down so long, it looks like up to you.

Nice Packaging No Content – Fallacy of Psychological Testing

What is more important – performance needed to get a firm to the next level via documented real world capabilities or passing a psychological battery of tests consisting of word and math games? Think back to your school days – how relevant is it to determine when train A leaves the station how long will it take to pass train B. Wouldn’t it be much more applicable to understand and be able to implement a real world cash flow forecasting model? Jesus, when was the last time anyone took a train anyway?

Here is what is mind boggling – firms that have problems that can clearly be addressed with the candidate with the demonstrated requisite skills but instead rely upon psychological tests to make decisions for them. Isn’t that the easy way out? Instead of making the harder judgment call utilizing your management skills you default to what some crank psychologist has come up with for a compatability score! The easy way out of making a decision don’t you think?

It is the nice packaging, no content syndrome and can result in hiring the person at the lowest common denominator. Of course, those who utilize these types of scoring criteria have a vested interest in asserting their credibility. Wouldn’t you if upper management has chugged down the Kool Aid regarding how effective hiring requires such brain dead testing? My brother who is an upper management human resources professional hit the nail on the head – those who rely upon these tests are either too lazy and/or too uneducated to know any better. His take – if you are an HR professional you should do your job, not defer to some psychologist to do it for you. I would agree.

Here is the boilerplate answer you would get from the HR guru at a firm using these tests:

I want to take this opportunity to clarify for you the process of our decision.   Over the years we have developed a selection process that is multifaceted and includes carefully evaluating C-Suite candidates based on a number of criteria including  the Psycho Babble Business Reasoning Inventory and  Assessment Suite.   Candidates are chosen based on their individual and overall performance on each of these selection criteria.   After carefully evaluating all the selection criteria, we have decided to extend the search until we find a candidate whose overall profile is more compatible with the highly strategic direction that we are taking at this time.   So, while your background and accomplishments could take us to the next level we have decided we would rather have someone who could maintain the status quo. What the hell, we have lived for the past 20 years with our problems so why change now! I am sure you understand that raising the bar at this time would discredit our past decisions and might actually require us to improve our hiring process and might result in hiring the right individual. We are accustomed to one of two outcomes from our current process – 1.) We accept less than the most qualified person and they skate on by with a career in our firm – hooray, since this validates our hiring process and no one is the wiser 2.) The candidate we choose fits our 3 three year cycle model. Meaning, it takes us three years before we figure out we screwed up on the hiring process – 1 year honeymoon period and 2 years to come to the realization the person fits in real well but doesn’t do jack.

Anyway, thanks for your interst in our firm and continued success on your career. You would not have wanted to work here anyway – trust me as the HR manager, we are screwed up.

Lesson Learned: Take responsibility for the hiring process and hire the BEST person for the position. While cultural fit is a factor it should not be the determining factor unless perpetuation of bad process or the fostering of groupthink is the objective. No psychological test measures the effectiveness of a person in the real world and their attempts to do so are flawed and not reliable. Tests cannot measure the judgement, reasoning and experience a person brings to bear on a situation. Many times effective problem solving utilizes these skills more than quantitative analytical skills.

Yes Men – Ego Massage, Sycophancy, Groupthink


Tradition has it that conflict is bad; it is something to be avoided.

The culture of many organizations implies explicitly or implicitly that conflict should be suppressed and eliminated. It is common for managers to perceive intra-organizational conflict as being dysfunctional for the achievement of organizational goals. Most of us still cling to the idea that good managers resolve conflict.

Current thinking disputes this view. In the absence of conflicting opinions, harmonious tranquil work groups are prone to becoming static, apathetic and unresponsive to pressures for change and innovation. They also risk the danger of becoming so self-satisfied, that dissenting views – which may offer important alternative information – are totally shut out. In short, they fall victims to a syndrome called “GROUPTHINK”

In a study of public policy decision fiascos, I.L Janis identified “GROUPTHINK” as a major cause of poor decision making. As he describes it, ‘groupthink’ occurs when decision makers who work closely together develop a high degree of solidarity that clouds their vision, leading them to suppress conflicting views and negative feelings about proposals, consciously or unconsciously.

A manifestation of the groupthink phenomenon is the staggering irrationality which can beset the thinking of the otherwise highly competent, intelligent, conscientious individuals when they begin acting as a group or team.


The net effect on the group is that it overestimates its power and morality, it creates pressures for uniformity and conformance, and its members become close-minded, living in ivory towers. Some manifestations are the illusions of invulnerability and the encouragement to take great risks and to ignore the ethical or moral aspects of their decisions and actions.

This author has witnessed close-mindedness on the part of several managers which then permeated their teams. One project manager took this to the extreme and in effect defined his environment as consisting of two kinds of people, either “friends” or “enemies” – The “you are either for me or you are against me” syndrome.

The friends were people who completely agreed with his favoured solutions and supported his project. All others were enemies.

Soon his entire project team was echoing similar sentiments having fallen victim to “GROUPTHINK”, resulting in unbending positions, heated arguments and subsequent lack of respect for anyone who disagreed with them; the ultimate consequences can easily be guessed.

The symptoms of groupthink include:

(i) An illusion of invulnerability that becomes shared by most members of the group.

(ii) Collective attempts to ignore or rationalize away items of information which might otherwise lead the group to reconsider shaky but cherished assumptions.

(iii) An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, thus enabling members to overlook the ethical consequences of their decisions.

(iv) Stereotyping the dissenters as either too evil for negotiation or too stupid and feeble to merit consideration.

(v) A shared illusion of unanimity in a majority viewpoint, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent.

(vi) Self-appointed “mind-guards” to protect the group from adverse information that might shatter complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decision.

Not very surprisingly it has been suggested that individuals most susceptible to groupthink will tend to be people fearful of disapproval and rejection.

Conversely, an outspoken individualist who freely airs his views and opinions, if trapped in a groupthink situation, runs the risk of being ejected by his colleagues if he fails to hold his tongue.



Firstly, because the CEO [or the “Boss”] dispenses all favours, his biggest problem is to avoid being treated like God. Secondly, the “Boss” must avoid thinking that he is God.

Indeed, in many organizations, it is not easy to contradict or argue too vigorously with the boss.

Even when managers feel that they know more than a superior, they may suppress doubts because of career considerations.

Fear, respect for authority, and even admiration may make sceptics hesitate when confronted with a confident CEO or dominating superior. This is less of a problem if the leader acts in the organization’s interests, possesses requisite soft skills, and has strong ethics and cognitive capabilities to make decisions.

However, if a leader does not force serious questioning, he or she will sometimes make mistakes and errors of judgement. Colleagues will become “yes-men”, and groupthink will take over decision making. And the dominant CEO may not discover his or her mistakes because fearful employees withhold information.

What can lower-level managers do about the boss who has lost touch with reality and seems to be driving the organization in the wrong direction?

One can adopt three different strategies:

(i) “Exit” (Leave the organization)
(ii) “Voice” (attempt to force changes from within)
(ii) “Loyalty” (accept things the way they are)

Each individual can evaluate the risks and benefits of each strategy.

However, if the organization is really on the wrong track, true loyalty requires an attempt to communicate one’s reservations and concerns to the leader.

How can a confident, independent CEO avoid the pitfalls and temptations of absolute power? The obvious (but difficult) answer is to make sure that power is never absolute, and surround oneself with other confident, independent people, and encourage dissension and debate on every decision.

In his autobiography ‘A Soldier’s Story’ General ON Bradley has exemplified this aspect in the decision-making style of General George C Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army in World War II, a dominant leader who was instrumental in the Allied Victory owing to his resolute management of the entire war effort. “Gentlemen, I am disappointed in you. You haven’t yet disagreed with a single decision I have made,” he told his staff after one week in office. “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of as to why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is still to go ahead, then I’ll know I am right.”

Rather than search for views that might reinforce his own, a CEO should seek contrary opinions to avoid groupthink. Some suggest using devil’s advocates for all major decisions by assigning some individuals in all groups and teams to argue against the dominant view.


This is a “groupthink” situation in which individuals or groups low in the hierarchy are powerful enough to do what they want, even when contrary to organizational objectives. Such power may be based on specialized expertise or privileged access to information. Parallel power can lead to groupthink in two ways.

Firstly, senior managers may accept ideas from lower-level managers that are not necessarily in the organizational interest, either because they have insufficient information to ask the right questions, or because opposition would not seem legitimate.

Secondly, top managers may make decisions without all the necessary information because subordinates do not provide it due to vested interests arising from misplaced loyalties to a limited function, department or team, rather than to the organization as a whole.

Such situations can be mitigated by ensuring that managers rotate between different units and positions.


When everyone in power instinctively shares the same opinion on an issue, the wise manager should be wary. Natural unanimity groupthink results in an inward-looking organization detached from its environment.

Escape from this predicament almost certainly requires a fresh perspective that can come only from outside, by hiring new managers or appointing outside consultants.

A CEO may lay overemphasis on staff – line cooperation in the belief that the easiest way to ensure implementation is to recommend only those actions that the line managers agree with. But this is not necessarily useful to an organization and may lead to mutual admiration and, ultimately, ‘natural unanimity groupthink’.

The effectiveness of staff – line dichotomy depends on maintaining a certain tension between the staff and the line managers. When the tension disappears, the staff may not be doing its job.


The key element in any strategy for avoiding groupthink is to instil checks and balances into the system. Formally, this can be achieved through cross-functional teams, staff advisers, external consultants, or procedures like “devil’s advocacy“.

Informally, managers must learn to tolerate dissidence, criticism, contrary opinions, discussion, brainstorming and debate and encourage their colleagues to express doubts about proposals. Propositions from various parts of the organization need to be treated transparently, equitably, and consistently, to avoid groupthink.

In a nutshell, for effective decision making, steer clear of yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink.

VIKRAM KARVE Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009 Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Vikram Karve, 52, educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU and The Lawrence School Lovedale, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion.

An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book “Appetite for a Stroll”.

Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Vikram_Karve

The Ducati Syndrome – a Lesson in Intellectual Snobbery or Let Them Eat Cake

Ever leave a meeting and ask the following:

  • What planet did this person come from?
  • Wonder if they walk on water too?
  • Does he/she put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us?
  • What is the worst way a person can die and would I wish that upon them?
  • Can this person really believe the rest of the world revolves around them?
  • Is it really possible someone can be so clueless?

From the moment I walked into this company I knew things were not good. More specifically, from the time I met this CEO I knew things were going to be interesting. Looking back it was a good experience on how to deal with anger as it was inevitable that leaving meetings with this person left me with homicidal thoughts. What grated more than anything was the elitist attitude which I came to attribute to his being an “artist” producing works of art that no normal person could hope to replicate. Therefore, in his presence you should rightfully bow down in reverence in the presence of such greatness. How dare you trifle him with such a thing as billing, collecting or company performance as these were below his consideration. After all he was charged with producing works of art that changed the world! The funny thing was this person believed himself to be a “people” person with the ability to mold and shape productive human beings into his very image. Amazing stuff. How dare anyone question his god given right to preach to the assembled masses regarding the proper way to manage, not only the company, but the entire world. His thoughts were delivered to groups in hushed tones that conveyed how lucky we were to be in the presence of one so blessed.

By their account the company existed due to their singular efforts. Humanity had been served and the snobbery of the elite had been preserved. How quickly the mighty fall, however, as little while after I left this company he was issued his walking papers. Of course, none of the behind the scenes skullduggery was published and his departure was characterized in the usual way – a mutual agreement to pursue other more productive enterprises! Isn’t that the way of the corporate world – we dispense with the dysfunctional with thanks for how much they helped the company and send them off to plunder others.

Lesson learned: having to ask the questions above indicates a leader has lost touch with those he is charged with leading. When you think you are better than those who contributed to your success and are unwilling to get down in the weeds your days are surely numbered.

Welcome to 5150 Business Strategy

This is where right is wrong, wrong is right, stupid is smart, smart is stupid……  you get the idea. There will be critical observations and questioning of traditional business thought via random musing on current, and past, experiences in the world of business in America.

Traditional theorists might call it contrarian thinking but regular people would most likely call it common sense. It is something sorely lacking in businesses today and it starts at the top. Now that is contrary to what those in management positions would have you believe!!

Ever wonder how the so called experts became experts? Simple, they declared themselves the keepers of the flame independently and convinced the unknowing masses that their daft observations and actions were worthy of adoption. The next time you are sitting in a meeting where some high minded executive is pontificating on a subject as if they had a corner on the intelligence market dare to think outside the box and question their credentials to be such an authority. From long experience in several companies I can attest to the fact that stupidity knows no bounds and that those in what we call upper management are many times more clueless than you would believe. Partially from the business environment that companies operate in but, many times, due to the corporate culture fostered by upper management.

This blog will feature ruminations on what is good, but many times bad, about the state of businesses today.

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