Friday, October 24, 2003

Toxic Environments, Baseball Reporters &
The Death of Assessment  

I think I wasn't clear enough yesterday in my connection between internally toxic environments based on second-guessing and Yankee manager Joe Torre's choice to leave 2003's Punching Bag of the Year Jeff Weaver in to pitch the bottom of the 12th. I got a note yesterday from Gordon Whitesmith asking me to elaborate, so I'll try.

A highly-politicized big-organization environment where every decision that doesn't work out becomes grist for rumors, subversion and erosion of other managers' credibility quickly generates the next logical step: active campaigns every time a decision does work out. Soon, managers are swapping testimonials or other favors to have peers pitch a decision they made to the executive consumers of such storytelling as "genius" or "brilliance", or shamelessly (for those that have the lack of self-restraint required) doing it themselves.

The corporate/military/academic society in which this occurs starts becoming like Pravda or Fox news or the old ABC Wide World of Sports: there are "heroes" and "villains", "geniuses" and "dolts", "winners" and "losers". Simple dualities packaged for simple propaganda techniques. This simplifies consumption for the consumer of such info (in this case, executive management) and that diet slowly (sometimes quickly) converts the consumers' palate to such easy-to-digest pablum.

This binary evaluation results in the death of evaluation itself, at least as something functional. For baseball reporters, it guarantees a readable headline and a story with bite: "Torre Blows Bullpen Decision" or "McKeon's Genius Strikes Back". But in the big organization world, it's a quickly spreading cancer that devours the usefulness of evaluation, and eventually serves to promote those who can best (most-simplistically) package their accomplishments to their executives. And that will be those who either take on the simplest work, or those who take on the work that's hardest to actually measure, or those who have the most time on their hands for self-promotion, because their work is least-demanding.

Eventually, the big organization (I keep saying big because small organizations don't usually generate enough overhead to attract people who thrive in this social system; & a mom-&-pop grocery store with two clerks is always going to know who does their work how well) completely loses its ability to evaluate people on anything that matters. They become the Sports Page of an afternoon paper.

It's the death of evaluation as a benefit.

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