The brown-nose nose-diving effect

Siphoning through the reams of DIAPER Award nominations, I recalled one of my earlier posts on brown-nosing and couldn’t help but make a most nauseous connection between DIAPERS and brown-nosers. As you may recall, the art of management promotion can involve a complex process known as brown-nosing. The Doctor’s main concern with brown-nosing is that organizations tend to dismiss the long term implications of the process i.e. – brown-nosees propagate brown-nosers, which in turn perpetuates the infinite downward cycle of incompetence. First some background theory.

Brown-nosers are an inevitable part of the bureaucratic landscape. Where there are bosses, there are brown-nosers. Also, it can be argued that the more incompetent the boss, the more likely they are to hire brown-nosers. If we rate a manager’s effectiveness on a 10-point scale, with 10 reflecting the most competent and one the least competent, then managers who score nine or 10 tend to hire other nine or 10’s. That’s a good thing, but unfortunately extremely rare. On the other hand, managers that rate eight or lower on the effectiveness scale will inevitably hire employees that score even lower on the same scale. Why? Because hiring lower on the scale will ultimately allow an incompetent manager to build an empire of adoring minions that will follow them with blind allegiance. Herein lies the problem.

What happens when you remove the incompetent senior manager? When that senior manager leaves, those that remain are, by design, their less-competent lackeys who have limited, if any, experience in making competent decisions. At this point, one of two things will happen. Either the lackey underlings will be promoted up the corporate ladder, or the organization will hire an external candidate to fill the void. Promoting lackeys up the corporate ladder is a classic example of the Peter Principle in practice, resulting in promotion of existing incompetent employees to more senior management positions. If, on the other hand, the decision is to hire an external candidate, then chances are the organization will hire a candidate fleeing from a previous incompetent position, or the selection committee (existing mainly of the subordinate colleagues of the previous incompetent manager) will hire beneath the current committee’s competence level. After all, what selection committee would recommend a candidate that appears smart enough to figure out how incompetent the committee members actually are?

The process of hiring beneath one’s station, coined the brown-nose nose-diving effect by yours truly, can be seen in virtually all organizations, and the long term implications of this effect can have devastating results. Just yesterday, for example, the Doctor met a recent high school graduate/cashier who was unable to make change without the aid of a calculator. In this example, the incompetent manifestation (i.e. the inability to perform basic math) likely germinated a few generations ago when struggling math students were being educated in the “new math” by teachers that were not properly trained in mathematics. These initial students were allowed to graduate, thus becoming math teachers of the next generation, some of which will, in turn, become math teachers of the next group of “calculation challenged” math scholars. In other words – incompetence begets incompetents. And on and on it goes.

Stay tuned for the next, and presumably last, entry in Dr. StrangeJob’s Crappy Trilogy tentatively titled “The Effluent Society”.

Dr. StrangeJob

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