How do you know?

Bad mental models held by management is a root cause of bad business performance.

The “not invented here” syndrome is an example of a bad mental model in business.  This syndrome  prevents management from adopting the practices of outside competitors because they don’t want to copy success, they want to create their own.  The fallacy here is that competitors can have good ideas.

Not my idea syndrome is a sub-variant of the “not invented here” syndrome. This is when managers will only support their own pet projects and give no credence to ideas that come from others in their organization.  The flaw here is that others can have good ideas.

The manager’s job is to try the best ideas, not just his or her ideas.

Credentialing syndrome is when managers hire, promote and reward folks based on  college degrees from certain institutions, or have specific degrees, certifications or licenses.  A great example of this is K-12 teachers.  School districts often pay their teachers based on the certifications they receive.  The fundamental flaw here is that there’s usually not a great deal of relation between effectiveness and certification level.  Not as much as there is between prior results and effectiveness.

Input management syndrome occurs when managers hire, promote and reward based on how people carry out their work, rather than the results they produce.  The fundamental flaw here is in managing the inputs rather than outputs.  This is also called micromanaging.  My father-in-law was a capable foreman for his crew and produced good results.  But, he said one of his bosses would always tell him that he was too easy on his men.  That boss didn’t look at the results.

The manager’s job is to hire and reward the people who produce the best results.  It’s not to get the people who have best credentials or do things a specific way.

The fatal conceit syndrome, inspired by F.A. Hayek, is when managers believe their job is to control how things are done in far flung organizations.   Rather than hiring people who can produce good results, they hire people who do what they are told to do.  Two fundamental flaws exist in this bad mental model.  First, managers rarely have the information they need to control things effectively in far flung organizations, aka the knowledge problem.  Second, innovation is suppressed and limited to few ideas of the managers and they are soon overrun by the many ideas of their competitors.

The manager’s job is to develop an organization that can function.

I’ll explore more bad mental models in the future.

Unfortunately, bad mental models are tough to change.  I’ve seen many leaders go down with the ship and get fired for producing bad results without giving consideration that they may be wrong. I’ve seen them take their bad mental models to other organizations and eventually get fired from them as well.

But, one way I like to plant the seed of doubt is to simply ask what evidence folks have that their way of doing things is right.  They usually haven’t tested that evidence as well as they think they have.

Zero Sum Thinking at The Office

Zero sum game thinking can hold organizations back.

When the underlying assumption at the organization is that there are only so many plum jobs, politics — rather than merit — becomes the driving factor for who gets those positions, even in the best-case scenario where management intends to get the best people in those jobs.

That’s because the people seeking those plum positions do what it takes to make themselves look good by overemphasizing their roles in success and others’ roles in failures, while under-emphasizing their own roles in failures and others’ roles in successes.  Think Michael Scott in television show The Office.

The best at playing this game tend to get rewarded with the plum jobs.

Positive sum game thinking is implicit in high performing organizations.  In such organizations, plum jobs don’t exist.  Here, plum jobs aren’t used to reward perceived stardom.  Good jobs are used to test whether you’re any good and whether you can produce results for the organization.

Do you see an opportunity to improve on a process or start a new business?  At a high-performing you may be asked to prove out the idea by being put in charge of making it happen.

The Michael/Darrel storyline on the Halloween episode of The Office made me realize that Michael Scott’s Dunder-Mifflin is an excellent example of a zero-sum organization.

Michael couldn’t understand why Darrel went over Michael’s head to get an idea heard by Corporate — an idea that Michael had previously shut down and Corporate liked and implemented once they heard it.

Darrel pointed out that Michael never did anything for him and had kept him at the same level for years, while someone else had recognized Darrel’s potential, promoted him and listened to his idea.

In Michael’s world, the Scranton office is all about satisfying Michael’s ego.  He wants to be the star.  Even in this situation, Michael was more concerned that his employee disrespected him than he was that his employee had a good idea, which is the sure sign of a zero sum organization.

To Michael, having the power to shut down an idea was a perk of his plum position.  Also, Michael didn’t want Darrel’s idea to overshadow him.

Zero sum organizations will never meet their potential.  The people who hold the plum jobs will make sure of that.  They’ll use the organization to satisfy their own needs first.

In a positive sum organization, Micheal would have sponsored Darrel’s idea and both could have rode it to glory if it did well for the organization.