Jerome Alexander. 160 Degrees of Deviation
This book is an account of Alexander's experience, as an MBA and CPA with twenty years background in management, with the often psychotic misbehaviors of lower management. The title comes from his willingness to spot the company 20 degrees for good intentions. [p. 2]
As regular readers of this blog might guess, this is my primary disagreement with Alexander: the assumption that the people at the top of the pyramid mean well.
This may seem hard to believe but managers, executives and CEO's are fallible. When executives make hiring decisions and promote individuals to higher-level positions, they have an implicit trust that these managers will act in the best interests of the company. [p. 28]
For Alexander, apparently, the policies formulated at corporate headquarters are by and large good. The problem is with lower levels of management deviating from senior management's general plan.
It's much more plausible, in my opinion, that every level in the management hierarchy, all the way up to the CEO and Board of Directors, has essentially the same tendency toward self-dealing at the expense of customers, workers and shareholders. Every rung in the hierarchy distorts the data flowing upward in order to pad its resources, inflate its performance, and deflect attacks on its perks and autonomy. The CEO does this on an organization-wide scale in order to inflate quarterly returns and fool the shareholders.
And while I've seen plenty of cases of atrocious lower management (some of them probably in need of exorcism), I've seen about as many cases of a front-line supervisor attempting to defend his or her department from the cluelessness or mendacity of senior management.
Nevertheless, despite my reservations about Alexander's misplaced faith in senior management, his scathing evaluation of lower and middle management is very much an insider's testimony from experience. He comes across as a sympathetic, no-nonsense kind of guy who wants managers to just do their damned job and stop interfering with those of other people, so everybody can get their work done and go home on time. My sentiments exactly.
This is a highly readable book with quite a few horrific anecdotes (quite entertaining, if you weren't involved) about unbelievably bad supervisors and middle managers. I don't know if you've ever read Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card, but the management of the dysfunctional software company in that book have some real-life counterparts in Alexander's experience.
You may even recognize an old boss of your own in there somewhere.