Monday, October 27, 2003
"Abraham "Kill Me your Son"
Abe said, "Man you must be puttin' me on"
God say "Huh?", Abe say "What?"
God said, "Man you can do what you want, but
next time you see me coming. man, you'd better run."
Abe said, "Where you want this killing done?"
God said, "Out on Highway 61".
--Johnny Winter via Bob Dylan
Anyone who saw Yankee owner Geo. Steinbrenner's face during the final World Series game, or who saw any of the pictures fished out of the files by New York papers in their game wrap stories "know" there is about to be a bloodbath in the Yankee dugout and front office. And the New York sports pages (here's one and another)are full of Live Autopsy grist, as well. After all, the team won only 101 regular season games and then advanced through a couple of rounds of playoffs and split the first four games of the Series before going down. They'll be remembered as being the second-best team this year, better than merely 28 out of the 30 teams that started the season with an apparent chance to win it all.
The bloodbath is a ritual in certain organizations, though it's only in a small a subset of what I call "Theory XYY" organizations that relish bloodbaths after very successful periods. Theory XYY shops are run by (usually) men, always with "family of origin" issues. They grew up in homes where the dominant parent, usually the father, believed people who got approval would slack off, so the parent would pit the children against each other, belittle them to their faces and to each other behind the victim's back. It's MBT (Management By Terror).
I worked for a boss who was programmed this way. For him, (I don't believe this is true of all Theory XYY types) there was sexual component as well. He liked to pick a victim and set her or him up for a firing for a few weeks or a month. As it became apparent to each of the rest of the staff that they were not the next victim, he'd watch them closely to see who showed the most fear, helping him pick his next victim. This turned him on, and he'd end up having sexual relations with someone, sometimes a staff member, sometimes a supplier to the company, and then publicize it.
Over time, of course, people who aren't managed well by Theory XYY approaches tend to drift away from this, the organization reflecting a selection for other kinds of people. Two interesting things to me (as a people manager) are this: First, that some people perform better with a Theory XYY executive, and the second is that some of the managed are immune to this. When I first observed instances of Theory XYY organizations, they were crippled and not very competent. I came to believe Theory XYY organizations were doomed to mediocrity at best.XYYankees
But the Yankees do quite well. They are competitive, even in this environment. It would be hard to call them mediocre. They are, imnsho, the most consistently-excellent organization in baseball over the last 23 years, and especially since the Joe Torre ingredient got plopped into the recipe. Torre acts as graphite rods in the nuclear pile that is the indicted felon who owns the team. But while you can belittle the owner as a despicable person, his technique has not caused the team to fail. And I think the team has done a fairly good job of collecting players who, while they don't thrive in Theory XYY, are in that group who can just ignore the bloodletting and resulting social effects.
Theory XYY is obnoxious and it's practicioners reprehensible and the employees who thrive in it pitiable. But it's not a prescription for failure. The three great religions of the Middle East that dominate the World's faiths and are very strong shapers of its intellectual traditions all come from Old Testament roots with a sometimes-Theory XYY deity (just ask Abraham).
I'm confident the Yankees won't be "worse" next year. They may not get to 2-2 in the World Series, but the organization with its current Theory XYY ownership can continue to deliver excellence in terms of ROI and regular season record and post-season success. Freaky, isn't it.
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