Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April 14, 2008


The pointy haired manager in Scott Adams' "Dilbert" cartoon has become an icon for management incompetence. Although Adams' character may seem like an extreme, we have all encountered various examples of the Peter Principle whereby people have risen above their level of competency. We see this not only in our companies, but also in the nonprofit organizations we are involved in. Basically, these are some very nice people who simply haven't a clue as to what they are doing and stumble through each day making bad decisions which drives their subordinates to madness.

Before we address what to do with such people let's consider how they got into a position of power in the first place which, quite simply, is by error. Perhaps the three most common causes include:

1. Ascends through seniority - this typically happens when there is nobody else to accept the management position and, as a result, employees advance by seniority. This doesn't mean they are appropriately trained or suited for the new position, they are just "next in line." The common excuse is, "He may not be the most qualified, but he has earned it."

2. Ascends through politics - under this scenario, management selects a person because of his political maneuvering as opposed to any real accomplishment; facade as opposed to substance. This type of person knows how to dress and act the part, but doesn't have a clue as to how to get the job done. This is an example of the "wrong person at the right time."

3. Ascends through pity - due to personal love and respect, a person is selected who is perhaps handicapped or aged and, as such, everyone knows the person has attained the position through pity as opposed to merit. They also know the person is in over his head even before he starts, thus everyone recognizes they must bear the additional burden of supporting the boss. Pity is most definitely not a rational excuse for promoting a person to a management position and I have personally seen this cause some real problems on more than one occasion.

Two things may happen as the incompetent person ascends the throne: they will either decide to take charge of the job themselves (a talent which they are not particularly well suited for and begins to make mistakes), or they surround themselves with trusted advisors who do not necessarily offer the best advice. As a matter of fact, they offer some rather rotten advice and mislead the manager in order to settle their own political scores. Such advisors realize the manager is incapable of making a decision or understand what is going on and, because of this, they seize on the opportunity to promote their own agenda.

So, what do you do when it is well known that the boss is incompetent? Unfortunately, there is no pat answer and a lot depends on your situation, the type of business you are involved with, and the type of person you are. As I see it, other than foul play you have four options:

1. Overthrow the manager - this requires some good political skills, at least better than the manager you are trying to topple. But be careful; if the manager is loved (but not necessarily respected), you will undoubtedly face resistance from the troops and your political maneuvering may backfire.

2. Resign - this is perhaps the easiest option to implement, but it all depends on what you have invested in the company. If a lot, do not be too quick to rush out the door. Perhaps it is in your best interest to ride out the storm and hope better times are ahead.

3. Work harder - it might be better to simply bite your tongue and pitch in to save the department or business. Inevitably, the manager will bask in the glow of success while you will undoubtedly go unrecognized or thanked for your efforts. Nevertheless, you will have a job to come back to after the manager has moved on.

4. Practice passive resistance - if it is necessary to highlight the manager's incompetence so that it becomes painfully obvious to upper management, adopt a position of passive resistance. This means you assume no initiative whatsoever and go precisely by the book; you do no more or no less than what is required for your job. Whereas you had previously been willing to go the extra mile to help the manager, now you are putting forth minimal effort thereby forcing him to call the shots which he inevitably will get wrong. The only danger here though is to not cause the department or business to go into a self-destruct mode.


If the manager has truly risen above his level of competency, he will inevitably cause the department or business to fail. This can be prolonged if his staff pitches in and supports him, or will be accelerated if they back away from him. Therefore, how long you want the incompetent person to remain in charge is ultimately up to the supporting staff. But be forewarned: if the manager fails, will the ship sink with him? If so, you will have to support the manager out of sheer necessity, like it or not.

In some nonprofit organizations, managers are typically placed in a position of authority for a period of one year. Some say, "Well, it's only for a year." But a lot can happen in a single year, particularly if an incompetent manager is left unchecked and wrecks havoc over his area of responsibility.

Fortunately, in most instances, an incompetent manager is rarely allowed to remain in power for an extended period of time. Inevitably, the Peter Principle will kick in thereby forcing upper management to address the situation and hopefully replace the incompetent person with someone better.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...

"When it comes to working for an incompetent manager, you basically have three alternatives: fight, quit, or work; all of which are no-win situations."


Friends, we have just published a new book entitled, "MORPHING INTO THE REAL WORLD - A Handbook for Entering the Work Force" which is a survival guide for young people as they transition into adult life.

Bonnie Wooding, the President of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) said, "Many of our members are just starting their careers and I will be recommending that they read this book, especially Chapter 3, Professional Development - a primer for business skills and filled with basic common sense advice that is simple, easy to follow and extraordinarily practical; and Chapter 5, Do’s and Don’ts of the Workplace, an excellent resource for those questions you are too embarrassed to ask for fear of looking foolish."

The Miami Hurricane recently reviewed it (10/22/2007) and said,

"the abundance of information the book provides is a good start for anyone about to take the first step into the real world. Though the concept of adulthood may seem intimidating, it's comforting to know that someone has at least written a guidebook for it."

Reviewer Bill Petrey praised it by saying, "Every young person entering the workplace for the first time should be given a copy of this book."

The book includes chapters to describe how a young person should organize themselves, how to adapt to the corporate culture, develop their career, and improve themselves professionally and socially. Basically, its 208 pages of good sound advice to jump start the young person into the work force. Corporate Human Resource departments will also find this book useful for setting new hires on the right track in their career. It not only reinforces the many formal rules as contained in corporate policy manuals, but also includes the subtle unwritten rules we must all observe while working with others. The book lists for $25 and can be ordered online through MBA or your local book store. Complementing the book is a one day seminar of the same name which can be purchased separately for $4,000.00 (U.S.) plus instructor travel expenses. For more information on both the book and the seminar, visit our corporate web site at:
ISBN: 978-0-9786182-5-4


I was flying home recently and picked up a copy of the airline magazine. Have you ever really read one of these lately? They have got to be one of the most bland and innocuous publications around. I don't want to pick on any particular airline in this regards, because I think they all pretty lame.

Most airline magazines are used to pass the time of day (particularly when you're backed up on the tarmac for takeoff). Not surprising, there are also articles promoting air travel. Most allow third party advertising, but I question its effectiveness. I think most people use these magazines to scribble down notes as mine are always marked up one way or another. Even if you want to pass the time by playing some of the puzzles contained in them, they are already completed (usually wrong).

The articles contained in the magazines are not exactly thought-provoking and are generally regarded as fluff pieces. I guess they don't want to offend anyone or challenge them to think. If it's their intent to put people to sleep for the remainder of the flight, I believe they have succeeded.

Years ago, airlines distributed decks of cards for people to play while on the flight, but you don't see this anymore. The chairs and tray-tables are now much too small to play any game and there is barely enough room for a laptop or DVD player. Now, your choices are to either: catch a few winks, read a book (oh yea, I forgot, people don't like to read anymore), or peruse that God-awful airline magazine.

It seems to me these magazines say the same tired thing over and over again. This leads me to believe that it is actually the same issue, but they just change the cover every month. I think the last original issue of an airline magazine was back in the 1950's as they were ushering in the Boeing 707, but I could be wrong; it could be the 1940's.

Actually I don't think they ever throw out the magazines. Instead they are all collected and sent to somewhere in Passaic, New Jersey where they erase all of the scribble, press the pages back into shape and apply a new cover. Nobody has noticed until now.

Next time you get a chance to read an airline magazine, I defy you to read it from cover to cover without falling asleep. Heck, it's better than a sleeping pill.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.


I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Late Night Erotica Infomercials":

A C.S. in Florida wrote...

"Let's not forget the good old "Girls Gone Wild" commercials that run all night as well. Ever fall asleep to a show and wake up to girls $&*$%$ on the TV" NOT GOOD! Anyway, good article."

A J.R. in Wayzata, Minnesota wrote...

"What's more disturbing is that sex is taboo and put on TV only at around 3am but blood and violence goes on during prime time."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "How we Dress":

A J.M. in Texas wrote...

"I agree, especially the part of dressing for church. You don't have to be rich in order to dress up. Now I have noticed that anything goes: shorts, haltar tops, those pants that ride so low that they leave nothing to the imagination. Respect, or lack of respect for yourself and others is what is missing. I sometimes have to hire individuals for my business and the first thing I look at is how the prospective employee is dressed. If you walk in dressed like you are going to the beach or walking in wearing flip-flops, your resume goes in the trash can."

A D.B. in Tarpon Springs, Florida wrote...

"As a Florida native, I am curious to see if the standard of dress has lowered to the same degree in other areas of the country. 'Florida casual' has become its own style it appears and it is not so much cruisewear (as you might think it would be given from all the vacationing visitors) as much as it is an excuse to wear shorts and whatever shirt is clean and doesn't hurt your sunburn. I realize that outside, the temperature may be stifling, but it is still curious to me that so many folks wear such abbreviated clothing when the air conditioning in most public establishments is set pretty low at oh...about 68-70 degrees (fahrenheit)."

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."




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