Monday, November 30, 2009

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Yes-men & Their Effect on the Large Business

An Essay by WildBourgman
(The author of this essay is a participant in the Lead Forward Forums, a virtual discussion hub that compliments this blog. To follow or even partake in this discussion, visit

Throughout my working career I have noticed a major change in the culture of our business and the personality types that run the mid to low level management of our business. The change has went from one where those levels of leadership have totally shifted away from a more entrepreneurial decisive type of leader, which evolved to command and control and then eventually to the yes-man culture. The last culture shift has solely gotten by due to creating and following policy and by not being tied down by or cornered making tough decisions. This new type of leadership, which in my opinion is not leadership at all, is fostered by fear, laziness and possibly common sense in the name of personal security. The consequences are far reaching and possibly detrimental to our future growth potential and the current bottom line of the business. In my opinion, we in business are leaving money on the table if we continue to allow this behavior pattern to grow and root it self into our daily practices. It’s a cancer that must be removed before it ruins our company for good.

I should start with my opinion on why a person and eventually a company's culture shifts away from the entrepreneurship that created the company and grew it into a large well performing company that strived for excellence, into a yes-man company that may possibly a failure. In a word my best guess the cause is, fear. People fear many things and that fear manifest itself in many ways. Fear of becoming a statistic is the concern that I'm thinking causes people to become yes-men. In the world of downsizing, layoffs, and even reduction in rank by being "bumped back” people do what they are told and they don't rock the boat. Now during good times after many years of seeing past managers make their way to retirement, by not rocking the boat, younger employees instinctively will follow the pattern set for them by their predecessors. If this pattern is one that I describe, then the behavior grows exponentially and organically with very bad future consequences.

One other cause of the yes-man behavior pattern is managers hiring people that they get along with. This practice is self explanatory and fairly logical, so I won't go too deeply into that practice, but a manager that surrounds himself by people that won't express them selves, help him if he fails and correct him when he is wrong, is surrounded by nothing and no-one. If you’re a manager and you surround yourself by automatons, you have set the stage for your failure and demise within the company. The other possible causes that stand out are laziness and complacency. It’s much easier to bake a cake if you follow the instructions on the back of the box, rather than developing a better idea about cake making.

The effects of the yes-men culture are usually not apparent to the observer from outside the company or from indirect customers and when they are apparent to those passive observers, the end is in sight. These effects are wide ranging unlike the cause which is mainly fear based. They include poor retention of quality personnel, because they can't achieve their personal goals in a work environment that rewards the sublime and elevates the mediocre. Another effect is the growth of new business adversaries and competition from upstarts companies, which seize the opportunity that your largess can not and will not grasp quickly. Large companies that have intensive internal and technical training, such as ours loose those trained employees to these new companies. This ill effect is a total waste and loss of revenue and future revenue growth. The question must be asked, how many billions of dollars have we given away with our lost employees? The smaller faster companies that eventually grow from the waste and overburden that a large company leaves in its wake are extremely happy to reward your employees in compensation for the skills that your revenue and investors paid for them to attain.

In this culture a large government like bureaucracy is inevitable when yes-men have gained control of a company’s middle and low level management. The folks that start these companies usually hate government bureaucracies, but due to their success in business the company they created eventually looks like the that same bureaucracy, with regulations similar to what they had to meander in order to get things done. If a business man had the ability to tax the population and print money with no need to perform, then this wouldn't be an issue, but since we in business must perform and produce, we can't regard government as a successful pattern to be copied and glorified. I'm thinking the founder of this company is turning in his grave to know what we have become and why.

The inefficiencies that occur as a result of "yes-men" are more than I could ever know or explain. When a company is run by yes-men, its employees at the mid and low levels follow policy and shirk decisions to a point where the company eventually must employ more people, and then they truly need to get a job done. In many instances the decision making process gets pushed either down to it's frontline employees or gets pushed up to higher management. This takes responsibility, possibility of failure and eventually much, if not all risk away from that individual manager. Now this indecisive behavior has many ramifications and most of them have poor outcomes, unless you’re the one passing the buck. One outcome is you will get to a point where a poor decision made by an underling causes problems for the customer, followed by loss of business and or profit. This in turn causes the frontline employees to get reprimanded, dismissed or simply be unable to perform at a high level, because they now live in fear. Another outcome is the loss of timeliness for workers and customers, due to passing a decision up the chain of command, which undoubtedly adds time to the process. As we all know time is money!

In summary I can not and will not endow my monetary to an organization that becomes harnessed by this type of circumstance. It's a danger to our company's growth potential and it's a waste of our talent. Any boss that surrounds himself with yes-men should be fired as well as the men around him. Thomas Sowell writes that “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.” How do upper level managers plan for the future if our most precious resource (the employee) is hamstrung by fear? We need to push for open dialog between all employees and we must have decision makers at all levels not allow fear to be the catalyst toward their paralysis.

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