Let’s go vampire slaying

Vampire ideas

Cold, undead relics from a past age haunt the corporate world, spreading fear and carnage wherever they go. These monsters can look good, seductive even, but if you let them, they’ll suck the life force out of you and leave you dead. Or worse: One of them.

I call them vampire ideas and all they deserve is a stake through the heart. Vampire ideas can be found in stock management philosophy, tired old leadership theories or business advice from an earlier era. Wherever they come from, they’re bad for you and they’re bad for business.

Here’s a table comparing vampire ideas to actual vampires:

Actual vampires Vampire ideas
Can look really good Can look really good
…but are actually disgusting and evil …but are actually disgusting and evil
Are undead Should’ve been dead a long time ago
Suck people’s blood Suck a company’s energy and creativity
Are deterred by garlick and crosses Are deterred by good leadership
Can’t enter your house without an invitation Can’t enter your business without an invitation
Are really hard to kill Are really hard to kill
Wither and burn in the light of day Wither and burn in the light of logical thinking
Cast no shadow or mirror image That’s kinda where the analogy breaks down

So what are some commonly seen vampire ideas? Here are a few examples.

Fire the bottom 10% of your employees every year

This is one of the most inhumane, cynical and just plain stupid ideas I’ve ever heard about. Who on earth still believes that this is a good way to do business and to get the best performance from employees. This idea keeps employees constantly afraid, but if that’s what you want, go for it. The exact opposite view is described here and trust me, it works much better.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it

Vampire ideaConsidering how many things in a business are unmeasured, not to say unmeasurable, this is one more bad idea in need of a final resting place. I’ve written about it previously here. This idea of management-by-spreadsheet stifles new ideas and reduces a leaders focus to things that can be expressed in numbers.

Long work hours are good for business

No. They’re not. In fact, laziness will take you much further.

Nice guys finish last

That’s not true either. In a networked world it’s more important to be generous and likeable than to be ruthless and efficient.

Wooden stakeI’m sure there’s more. What vampire ideas do you know, that we should get rid of once and for all?

Let’s break out the wooden stakes and go vampire slaying together!

38 thoughts on “Let’s go vampire slaying”

  1. Good posting; I think we all have wondered why we felt so worn out at work. It must have been those Vampire Ideas. I have talked to (and been myself) so many people who started working in a given company with loads of enthusiasm only to have it sucked out of them within a very short time.

    Thanks for pointing to a better way and extending the conversation all the way to Iowa!

  2. These are just trivialities… which you replace with more neo-conventional-wisdom which is just as inaccurate or unsupported.
    This post is useless in terms of granting any useful insight to anybody who needs to manage or coordinate developers.

  3. Sorry you didn’t like the post, Brian :o)

    I’ll be back in later posts with facts to substantiate my claim that these practices are bad for business. As it stands right now, I freely admit that it’s a judgment call on my part.

  4. I’m guessing Brian’s either a manager or director? Here’s a simple idea that might make things better for you – have you tried ‘talking’ to your staff and ‘listening’ to what they have to say?…just an idea, but one that I’ve found very effective.

  5. “Fire the bottom 10% of your employees every year

    This is one of the most inhumane, cynical and just plain stupid ideas I

  6. RE Welch

    “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

    May all managers take that to heart.

  7. I found this post interesting, and the responses even more so.

    Regarding the concept of squeezing out the “bottom” 10% of employees, I would just comment that I’ve seen few organizations that could even make this determination (e.g. where the weakest links are) effectively. Incorporating the concept as a business policy is indeed dangerous.

    Having said that, it’s critical that any company ruthlessly eliminate bottlenecks, including those with human faces. Not pleasant, but keeping those people around is a larger threat to everyone involved.

  8. I agree Mark – firing a set percentage of employees is bad. Letting employees stay who obviously don’t perform or fit in is equally bad.

    As i mentioned in the post, Hal Rosenbluth In his book “Put The Customer Second” argues that if you want your employees to be happy, you need to fire those employees who don’t belong.

  9. Okay, I’m a former techie now progressing into a management-type role (currently a tech-oriented project manager)… I believe I can see both sides of the coin. Overall I agree with most of the above article, but I think the viewpoints need a bit of balance for both sides.

    Let’s start with management view. The fact of the matter is that too often in large companies, it’s senior/upper management (mgmt) that sets the tone to middle mgmt who have no say in that vision except to figure out how to execute. This sucks, but it’s life.

    The ‘fire 10% of bottom performers’ approach is definitely harsh, but the fact of the matter is that 10-20 years ago, the work mentality held seniority (years of experience at company) higher than skills and intelligence, and these people have been allowed to stay in companies for too long… they rest on their laurels and are not productive… it is these people that are targets of the bottom 10% rule. I think most of this approach works, though I think it is also unfortunate in that some good people get forced out due to a numbers game. The fact is that it’s the top 10% (high) performers that get pissed off seeing the bottom 10% get by doing jack-sh*t… I know, because I’m one of them — and it’s HR bureaucracy that in the past has been a challenge to get rid of the low performers properly.

    I definitely think management needs to put in more of a collaborative effort with all employees and create a work environment for the people who do the real work to be empowered and motivated but more importantly, give them credit for their contributions!

    I also think that management by spreadsheet just by itself is not the solution, but you do need to measure something in order to improve. If there was nothing to measure, then how do you know if you get better at what you’re doing? How does one person win a gold medal vs. silver/bronze at an Olympics without measurements?! Or should everyone win a gold medal? :^) The point is we challenge the status quo to improve all the time.

    From an employee perspective, there are definitely ways companies help energize employees, and I think as managers we have some influence to create that environment… I’m actually rather impressed that my own company is steering a great position of integrity and giving credit to the team in the management training I’m going on (I know it’s the right thing to do but I haven’t seen as much of it and I’d like to see more). Really, to me it’s just validating the common sense position I’ve always taken when it comes to doing any work – give people credit for the great work they’ve done, and since not everyone who does work in a role is in a position of visibility for recognition, help make it happen when it’s not there, but most importantly, a manager’s job is to remove the barriers to people getting stuff done.

    I think with all the management philosophies that come out in books/etc, the intent is really just trying to teach the common sense, honesty and integrity that some people forget… I’m sick of managers’ promotions based on incompetence… managers should not be forced into these roles, they should want to be there because they want to make a difference and help other people get stuff done… a manager is there because this is not a world of black and white, sometimes it’s grey, and you need to figure out the right solution based on all the constraints placed upon you.

    The battle between management and employees is never easy… someone’s always pissed off about something… look at any sports team you might join, condo associations, or even friends… there’s always something to disagree about with someone… and that’s life… you can try to help people understand… and sometimes it works… but some people refuse to listen or refuse to accept change… you can’t save the world in one shot, but along the road, for those who want to listen, you can bring those people on board and enjoy the ride called life.

    In the end, just try and find something that makes you happy… work isn’t everything either. sometimes work sucks, and that’s why people have other hobbies… There’s always going to be something that you don’t agree with, so you either make a choice to stay and deal with it, or live with it… don’t sweat the small stuff… sometimes you need to just let things go. Depending on how large the problem or frustration, you decide whether to stay or go… it’s your choice.

    Have a good one!

  10. “Coffee’s for closers, you son of a bitch”

    So this ten percent thing – a numbers game? And you just chop?
    What if I’ve been doing a great job and my dad dies and a few otehr bad things pile on?

    Rememer only rats can win a rat race.

    The world is what we make it.

  11. Thanks for the movie quote (fyi, I haven’t seen this movie, but I hear it’s entertaining). First of all, let’s separate *extremist* Hollywood imagery from the real world.

    The *real world* decision should not be THAT simple to chop just anyone… there has to be discretion and an overall “big picture” view — you don’t make blanket decisions indiscriminately. I would certainly hope that no one gets put onto a low performer list if they have extenuating circumstances like a family death or other home issues. From what I have seen, high performers can get awarded a lot of extra benefits – work flexibility like working from home, and if there are family issues to deal with, it’s a lot easier for a manager to send a high performer home, despite work not getting done, because the employee is important and valued. Because it’s an inherent TRUST between manager and employee.

    So let’s separate the hostile antagonistic attitudes and be real about it.

    If your work environment is not lenient like this, then I’m sorry to hear
    this. You have every opportunity to look for another place where this may exist… that is your freedom of choice.

    If you are a “quality” employee, (approx. 70% of employees) and are simply happy to do your job, there’s nothing wrong with that either. As I said, you need to do what you are comfortable with.

  12. New spirit: Thank you very much for your contribution!! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. Here are my thoughts on your thoughts:

    [too often in large companies, it

  13. New Spirit! Hey – that wasn’t really intended as hostile to any good managers out there. It does apply to the bad one’s though. And you don’t seem like a baddy so I apologize if you felt that was overtly directed at you.

    However, in the era of mergers and aquisitions, law-offs, out-sourcing and contractor based employment replacing full time with benefits work – let’s admit that many many good people get the shaft.

    Let’s also say that there are businesses that strive NOT to do that sort of thing to good people. And that many of them do just fine.

    I think also sometimes ‘common sense’ – masks unscrpulous ambition – certainaly not in your case.

    So back to the question…

    Can good people create work environments that lead to MORE genuine happiness or not…and how do you get there?

    If you are saying – It’s a dog eat dog world and being a big bad dog is the bottom line –then perhaps you are taking a very old position – in a world that does and does not exist.

    Is the world what we make it or not?

    Yes – we have choices, the choice to leave… we also have the choice to remake the place we work and how we work and that very much includes how we manage our process.

    We’ve all worked in good places and bad…. and I think we know the difference. Are we really arguing there is no difference?

    So what was your BEST work experience? What did it feel like? How were you treated? What kind of range of motion did you have? How did you work with your team? How many were on your team?

    (PS — RUn out and rent Glen Gerry, Glen Ross — it’s a masterpiece!)

  14. “the work mentality held seniority (years of experience at company) higher than skills and intelligence, and these people have been allowed to stay in companies for too long

  15. My 2 cents about Welch and “fire 10% of underperformers” strategy.
    I’ve read his book “Straight from the gut”, but never worked for GE and know noone from this company. But from the book I got the impression, that they didn’t exactly fire 10% every year. They took into account, talked to person, trained them, tried to improve and help, but if results were not improving (in consequent years)… the person had to go.
    Compare this to Consultants: “up or out” strategy (50% up, 50% out), and 10% doesn’t seem so bad :-)

  16. Thanks for the tip on Whelch, Pauly. That makes the approach sound more palatable, though I’ll still maintain that if you need to fire anywhere NEAR 10% of your employees every year then there is something seriously wrong in the organization.

    Up or out – I don’t think that one ever made it here to Denmark. That sounds even worse!!

  17. Enron fired the bottom percentage of their employees every year like clockwork. And their traders were basically a company of backstabbing two-faced sociopaths.

  18. If you get your performance management schemes working right (clear performance objectives, reward linked to performance) you don’t need to fire your bottom 10% as they will naturally drift away to more profitable employment. Unfortunately, few companies seem able to get their performance management schemes working.

  19. Well, I recal a layoff losing 16% (financial issues, not “management being management idjits” as the reason) and the guy who sat next to me was gone.

    Next day I’m called in to be asked about the work that guy did. Nobody (and I mean nobody) even knew the language he coded in (product specific) much less knew the code, installing, debugging, etc. He was the one man who ran the development, installation and final escalation support for the product. It was a “plus-one” product optionally sold by us… but we lost any ability to modify it unless someone trained for likely half a year to learn what he did.

    So we outsorced it to a differnt company we had worked with. That other company hired him… any bets as to whether the company “saved money” on this layoff?

  20. Chris: You’re right, very few companies do get it right. I’m not sure it’s even possible in most kinds of business because individual employees’ contributions can be so difficult to quantify. I think t’s a better bet for a company to focus on other ways of making people happy at work and increasing performance than financial rewards.

    Gekkobear: Great story, thanks.

  21. I think that the fallacy about the “fire the bottom 10%” story is that it didn’t necessarily contribute much to GE’s bottom line. I think that Welch’s ideas about how to diversify GE had much more to do with the success they had under his leadership than firing the bottom 10% did. Remember, there are costs for training the new 10% who come in to replace the ones that were fired. There’s also a startup lagtime while these people come up to speed, a management overhead to get people inducted into the organisation, and the like.

    I note from the Economist that Welch’s successor has had a bit of difficulty, and the imperial style that Welch showed as head honcho (lots o’ perks) has also begun to sour in many companies.

    Working with your bottom 10% and giving them the assistance they need to move themselves into a skilled position which they love and in which they shine is fulfilling both for the employee and for the company.

    And remember, when you fire the bottom 10% there is always another bottom 10% to replace them.

  22. Fire the bottom 10% = fire 1% of bad ‘uns+ 9% of staff randomly. I’d leave even if I was in the top 10%. Welch & GE are dinosaurs.

  23. Companies simply cant afford to fire the bottom 10%. The training costs are way too high and the volitility in teams will only cause turbulence which reduces both productivity and creativity. Sure you need to have the right people in the right positions, but assuming that 10% or your people are wrong for the jobs they have indicates a VERY serious problem in your ability to hire resources. This course of action is a knee-jerk reaction to the symptom rather than a fix to the problem that lies in recruiting and leadership. Hire the right people in the first place an enable them to do a good job.

  24. I’ve always been told “you don’t know the real world”….but honestly, I think every experience people go through is real no matter what case. We are living and breathing. We cry and we die. What difference does it make? What are people trying to prove when they say that? I am quitting my “impossible greedy moneymaking through required numbers” job and going for what is real inside my heart. Composing music. What you are inside is what makes up the so called “real world”. I said my peace.

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