Don't Kill the Bosses!

Escaping the Hierarchy Trap

Samuel Culbert (Author) | John Ullmen (Author)

Publication date: 01/01/2001

Don't Kill the Bosses!
  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability
  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability

The boss/subordinate relationship is an age-old problem cited in almost every management book and on-the-job survey as an area rife with dishonesty and inefficiency. All too often, subordinates spin the truth for those above while bosses fail to establish the conditions required for subordinates to tell it to them straight. The end result is warped communication, corrupt internal politics, illusionary teamwork, pass-the-buck accountability, and personal dispiriting-and the company is always the big loser.

Don't Kill the Bosses! reveals the "trap" created when people fail to differentiate between the positives of hierarchical structure and the negatives of hierarchical relationships. Far from being opposed to hierarchy, the authors believe strongly that an accurate and cleanly defined organization chart is vital. But they show how to implement an alternative model of hierarchy: two-sided accountability. Drawing on case studies from their consulting practice, Culbert and Ullmen show how this new model leads to a freer flow of information, more creative problem-solving, and quicker response to changing conditions.

Unlike other books that acknowledge boss/subordinate relationships as a systematic, continuing problem and offer skill development suggestions for dealing with it, Don't Kill the Bosses! tells how to think about the problem in a way that will enable readers to understand the steps they need to take to change things. It diagnoses what's missing in boss/subordinate relationships, connects what's wrong with them to personal and organizational outcomes, and defines the whole new mentality required to make them work successfully.

  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability

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Overview

  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability
  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability

The boss/subordinate relationship is an age-old problem cited in almost every management book and on-the-job survey as an area rife with dishonesty and inefficiency. All too often, subordinates spin the truth for those above while bosses fail to establish the conditions required for subordinates to tell it to them straight. The end result is warped communication, corrupt internal politics, illusionary teamwork, pass-the-buck accountability, and personal dispiriting-and the company is always the big loser.

Don't Kill the Bosses! reveals the "trap" created when people fail to differentiate between the positives of hierarchical structure and the negatives of hierarchical relationships. Far from being opposed to hierarchy, the authors believe strongly that an accurate and cleanly defined organization chart is vital. But they show how to implement an alternative model of hierarchy: two-sided accountability. Drawing on case studies from their consulting practice, Culbert and Ullmen show how this new model leads to a freer flow of information, more creative problem-solving, and quicker response to changing conditions.

Unlike other books that acknowledge boss/subordinate relationships as a systematic, continuing problem and offer skill development suggestions for dealing with it, Don't Kill the Bosses! tells how to think about the problem in a way that will enable readers to understand the steps they need to take to change things. It diagnoses what's missing in boss/subordinate relationships, connects what's wrong with them to personal and organizational outcomes, and defines the whole new mentality required to make them work successfully.

  • Offers a revolutionary approach to management that preserves the positive aspects of hierarchical structures while overcoming the warped communications and poor morale that often plague them
  • Provides the practical means for achieving open and above-board boss/subordinate give-and-take
  • Uses case studies from the authors' consulting practice to show how their approach leads to honest communication, authentic teamwork, esprit de corps, and greater accountability

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Samuel Culbert

Samuel A. Culbert is Professor of Management at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management. He also has an active consulting practice, specializing in areas of teamwork, organizational effectiveness, executive communication, trust-building and leadership development and corporate strategizing. Culbert is the author of several books, including The Invisible War: Pursuing Self-Interests At Work, which won the AAP award as the best business and management book published that year, and Mind-Set Management: The Heart of Leadership.



Visit Author Page - John Ullmen


John Ullmen, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed executive coach, and he has taught executives and managers from around the world in a variety of settings, including the UCLA Anderson School of Management. His clients include Disney, Apple, Nike, Raytheon, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, NASA, Bain, Deloitte, Yamaha, BEA, Wachovia, and many others. His education includes degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Harvard University and UCLA.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Recognizing the Hierarchy Trap

Chapter 2: Accountability is the Core Problem

Chapter 3: You've Got to Use What You Know about Human Nature

Chapter 4: Business Partnering Offers an Escape

Chapter 5: Business Partnering and Individual Effectiveness

Chapter 6: Business Partnering and Team Effectiveness

Chapter 7: Business Partnering and Organizational Effectiveness

Chapter 8: "Don't Kill The Bosses" -- Using Hierarchy to Promote Business Partnering

Chapter 9: What "Don't Kill the Bosses!" Can Do for You: Who Benefits and How?

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Excerpt

Don’t Kill the Bosses!

Introduction and Executive Summary
Why Not Kill the Bosses?!

I don’t want any “yes-men” around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.

Sam Goldwyn



You don’t have to read beyond Sam Goldwyn’s words to see what Don’t Kill the Bosses! is about. It’s certainly not about killing bosses per se; it’s about fixing companies by killing the reality-resistant idea of boss-dominated relationships so the virtues of hierarchy can be fully enjoyed. Operational effectiveness depends on people speaking their minds candidly, without fear that speaking the truth, as they know it, will cost them their job, pay, assignment, or career. Why would a decision maker not want to hear the truth from whomever was speaking it if, at the end of the day, that person knew the decision was his or hers to make and that he or she would actually be held accountable for its results? It’s a situation that defies rational logic. Yet it takes place almost all the time, every day at work.

The illogic of this dynamic offers a clue to the fix required. Bosses who want to hear the truth need to create the circumstances for subordinates to tell it to them straight. Another clue comes from noting the illogic of thinking that bosses or subordinates can ever be counted on to provide a version that’s totally objective. Despite the pretense of rationality, what is said and done at work is more subjective and self-interested than objective and exclusively company focused. People are self-interested; their self-interests are different than yours; and the only way to identify someone’s motives and self-interests—to determine how they align with company needs and what adjustments might improve that alignment—is to inquire about them, listening carefully to what you don’t hear as well as what you do.

But there’s an intermediary set of interests distorting all alignments. Standing between each individual’s relationship with the company is that individual’s relationship with the “the boss,” the person whose behavior he or she sees determining benefits and insecurities. Herein lies the perversion. Incorrectly, people place pleasing the boss above doing what’s right for the company. It’s a paradox. Though hierarchy provides a basic orientation and defines accountability, it also perverts relationships and ultimately damages both individual and organizational effectiveness.

On the surface most bosses ignore, and even deny, hierarchical domination, treating it as if it were a secret, business profitability expedient. If it’s a secret then it’s an open secret that subordinates readily discuss. They grouse about it at lunch, they complain about it in the corridors, and they seldom go in a group for an after-work drink without raising it as a topic of disdain. Every once in a while an extreme situation is sensationalized in the press like reports of intimidation and moral corruption wrecked on Sunbeam’s managers when “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap was CEO. Intellectually it’s a background topic in all the management and leadership books, especially those focused on participation and effective teamwork. Nevertheless, despite all the notoriety and theoretical arguments to abate it, boss domination is a relentless dynamic that doesn’t go away. Bosses shamelessly exercise their “right” to dominate while subordinates manipulatively submit, putting a self-interested spin on all upwardly directed communications.

Of course, almost every boss is also a subordinate with firsthand knowledge of the double-think and truth slanting that goes into conversations with uppers. But a type of schizophrenia sets in that shields these “sometimes subordinates” from thinking that the sincere accounts their subordinates give might be infused with a devious or a self-interested spin. In fact, almost everyone, boss or subordinate, speaks as if his or her thoughts are objective and thinks likewise about the thoughts of those who agree. Spin, bias, and self-interested motives only become active suspects after disagreement is sensed.

We’ve done the fieldwork, analyzed the structure, and figured out what causes people to form boss-dominating relationships in which subordinates feel they better tell it the way the boss wants to hear it, depriving bosses of the version that will do them and the company the most good. What’s more we know what needs to be fixed and we’re ready to tell you how to produce better outcomes. But most people won’t have an easy time changing. That’s because what’s off can’t be fixed using the conventional hierarchical paradigm. Basic assumptions about people and the politics of team play need to be changed. The paradigm needs transforming.

Don’t Kill the Bosses! is aimed at having transformational impact for people who are willing to spend the time in an honest, self-reflecting, cover-to-cover read. Getting these ideas into your emotions, so that your understanding of them actually influences your behavior, requires vicarious, personal learning. That’s what we’re hoping you’ll accomplish relating to the true-life cases, stories, and dilemmas interspersed throughout this book. Each was selected for its ability to stimulate reflection about like situations that you have experienced in your own life at work. We invite you to rerun “the tapes,” apply our analysis to how you felt and reasoned when you were in those situations dissatisfied, and decide for yourself whether our recommended ways of proceeding would have gotten you and your company more desirable results.

Chapter 1 begins with a broad-ranging discussion of hierarchy to help you differentiate between the positives of hierarchical structure and the negatives of hierarchical relationships. It’s a distinction that most people haven’t thought through sufficiently well to realize why it is so critical to make. We call not distinguishing between hierarchical structure and hierarchical relationships the hierarchy trap and immediately roll out five categories of negative consequences that predictably follow: warped communication, corrupt internal politics, illusionary teamwork, personal dispiriting, and pass-the-buck accountability.

Simply put, hierarchical structure is the organizational chain-of-command. It’s the road map for seeing who is responsible for taking what action, who has the authority to make decisions and direct, and who is supposed to oversee and insist on corrective actions when specified results are not forthcoming. Its essentiality to effective organization is without question.

In contrast, hierarchical relationships are the top-down, power-deferential ways people think, talk, and behave with one another when hierarchical, chain-of-command authorities are imported into problem-solving discussions. By hierarchical relationships, we’re talking most centrally about boss/subordinate interactions, but we’re talking about other nonparity relationships as well. We’re also talking about relationships contracting firms have with their suppliers, relationships between joint venture partners with unequal resources, and relationships firms have with independent contractors such as specialty lawyers, auditors, consultants, and even travel agents. In every instance, when a relationship is engaged hierarchically, the company loses out. Thus, hierarchical thinking poses a burning ember threat to any business’s bottom line.

Hierarchical relationships cause higher-ups to self-inflate on rank and stature, believing that they know more than they do and that people lower down the chain know less than they do. They have some basis for thinking this way because lower-downs are hesitant to speak their minds, fearing that speaking with candor will negatively affect their reviews. Instead, they see agreeing with uppers and ego-flattering as paths to outcomes they desire. We explain how such relationships stifle open-minded thinking, discussion, and cooperation and inevitably compromise corporate effectiveness.

Briefly describing the antidote to hierarchical relationships, and labeling it “two-sided accountability,” we present three compelling case stories chosen to illustrate the prevalence of hierarchical relationships and the aforementioned categories of negatives. The inner dynamics of these stories are universal to the point that we expect readers to reflect on like entrapments that they have faced without, at the time, seeing they had an alternative.

The first case depicts a classic hierarchical trap. It describes a group of managers enmeshed in hierarchical relationships trying to solve a critical lack-of-teamwork problem using the logic of command-and-control. Graphically it illustrates how hierarchical relationships preclude the very teamwork a company’s management desires most. The second case shows how readily hierarchical relationships lead to warped communication, corruption, and the type of internal politics that devastates careers. The third displays the core dishonesty that shadows all hierarchical relationships, with dispiriting and self-delusion the predictable consequences. Taken together these cases begin our mapping of the destructive dynamics that inevitably accompany hierarchical relationships and serve to establish the need for what we later propose as the ultimate system remedy.

Chapter 2 first explains how the five categories—warped communication, corrupt internal politics, illusionary teamwork, personal dispiriting, and pass-the-buck accountability—overlap, each one feeding the others. Then it presents a case illustrating major problems caused by pass-the-buck accountability in the management of the LAPD. This example sets the stage for our analysis of precisely what causes hierarchical relationships to corrupt. It also allows us to establish the inevitability of the corruption, the illogic involved, and the organization ineffectiveness that results. Our focus is on interlocking dynamics, not malevolently intentioned people. The subtext bears on the dynamics created when lowers are put in self-interested binds by self-intoxicated uppers defending inflated personas.

Our analysis takes up the pay, assignment, and career progression stakes that cause subordinates to package, shade, and spin the truth to please the boss and the insecurities, ego problems, and self-inflation issues that cause bosses to take at face value what they are told. Then the discussion deepens by pinpointing precisely what causes hierarchical relationships to corrupt.

One-sided accountability! That’s the cause of the problem and a relationship dynamic that must be fixed. One-sided accountability is the defining attribute of a hierarchical relationship and the crux of disorientation and truth withholding. It is the mind-set that provides bosses the means for evaluating subordinate demeanor, methods, and results achieved without the subordinate being assured that his or her perceptions, views, and intentions are considered or that the boss’s subjectivity and bias has been reviewed and checked. It’s what allows bosses to walk away unscathed from firing the very employees they hired, selected for an assignment that failed, and for whom they were supposed to provide direction, oversight, and support. Something is wrong here, and we want to make sure you know the root cause.

The alternative is two-sided accountability, the highlight construct explored in this book. It leads to outcomes that every clear thinking organizational participant idealizes and which contrast dramatically with the negatives produced by hierarchical relationships and the hierarchical paradigm. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 sequentially analyze individual-to-individual, team, and organization-wide effectiveness problems with case examples to demonstrate how two-sided-accountable relationships readily lead to straight-talk communication, authentic teamwork, aboveboard politics, esprit de corps, and stand-and-be-counted accountability.

Chapter 3 initiates our transformational effort and campaign to have you change the logic you use when interacting with people at work. We ask, “Given the problems associated with hierarchical relationships, why haven’t people smartened up? Why do they persist in forming the types of relationships that inevitably become losing propositions for themselves and the company?”

We present a set of human nature “truths” that everyone recognizes as valid but that most fail to utilize in their daily hierarchical thinking, truths that, if pointed out to them, they are inclined to dismiss as insignificant omissions, rationalizing, “I already know this.” Our goal is to convince readers that they don’t really “know” these essential “truths” until they are actually able to apply them. Why? Because when these “truths” are clearly represented in one’s consciousness, the absurdity of hierarchical relationships becomes apparent. Hence the motive to overlook them. People who feel stuck, not knowing how to create a different type of interpersonal dynamic, resort to treating human beings nonhumanly.

Thus, this becomes the crucial chapter in convincing readers to break from set predispositions to engage in hierarchical relationships. Its goal is to make readers self-accountable for using human nature truths. Readers who take the lessons in this chapter to heart should acquire the capacity to self-invent alternative ways of responding to the hierarchical relationship dynamics that everybody encounters daily at work.

Chapter 4 addresses the second transformational imperative: changing how people think about political forces at work and the conduct of their political behavior. Without dragging in more “horror” stories, we argue that politics as usual can’t get you where you need to go. Of course, the destination is two-sided accountability relationships.

We continue with a high-involvement case describing a salesman who, during a big storewide sale, comes in late without calling. We ask readers to respond as if they were the salesman’s manager. Then we present a surprise answer that, in our experience with this case, few people think of and most quickly say is totally correct. We want readers to see how easily this is done when not using a hierarchical relationship mind-set.

Next we specify the precise elements of the thinking entailed in a paradigm in which the objective is two-sides-accountable partnering. We take pains to be thorough and precise, believing our precision pushes out the theory on relationships involving partnering to make it far more interesting and practically useful than the many platitudinous and moral treatments that have heretofore appeared in print.

The chapter culminates with a description of the greatest business partnering exercise we’ve ever seen or even heard about. It describes the proactive partnering advances made by a twenty-plus company consortium working to design and price Teledesic’s $14 billion, 150-satellite broadband “Internet In The Sky.” Leading this project was a partnering genius whose efforts became industry legend.

Chapter 5 begins our effort to demonstrate systematically how two-sides-accountable thinking can improve everyday interactions at work. In this chapter we’re interested in what an individual can unilaterally accomplish when engaging people inclined toward hierarchical relationships. Three short vignettes are presented as practical example illustrations of the immediate personal and organizational benefits an individual can receive from using a two-sided accountability mind-set. Then to anchor the reader’s understanding and to provide confidence that the reader has it straight, we consolidate our discussion of two-sided accountability in a systematic presentation of underlying principles and tenets.

Chapter 6 applies two-sided accountability to people working in teams. It begins by indicting the American work culture’s highly acclaimed but illusory notion of teamwork, the one that entails “snap-together” thinking. It’s also the type of teamwork we find students using in the MBA courses we teach, which provides a neutral foil for criticizing how most people are inclined to operate at work. This critique allows us to state the positives gained from using this alternative, nonhierarchical model.

After a quick illustration of two-sided accountability teamwork, featuring a story about basketball great Magic Johnson, the chapter presents a longer case describing the highly effective teamwork practices used at The Home Depot, a company that wants to make team play its corporate DNA. It’s instructive to review how the management of a large company that has been on a growth tear, doubling in size every four years, has created a training and development program using a two-sided accountability model.

Chapter 7 is about organization effectiveness and the corporation’s need for two-sided accountability at the top. While one can point to successes, it’s far easier to find organizational errors created by executives reasoning with one-sided accountability self-indulgence. We say “self-indulgence” because in most instances their actions are more driven by ego excesses than a desire to optimize team performance. Exposing these errors is the final stage setter for the radical proposal in Chapter 8 for reorienting people who haven’t yet reasoned themselves through the boss domination problem.

The case for two-sided accountability at the top is made in Chapter 7 using examples that relate back to the “Internet In the Sky” case described in Chapter 4. In critiquing the power-denying tactics used by top executives, we ask, “Whose company is it, anyway?” This question lays the ground for a philosophical discussion to debunk the forked-tongued “We’re working to improve shareholders’ equity” answer so often provided by chief executives of large companies. The deeper issue, of course, is to benefit everyone in the company, which can happen only after top executives engage in stand-and-be-counted activities. We find it useful to draw a contrast in the reasoning used by executives directing start-up dot-coms and those directing mature corporations. The chapter concludes with a detailed discussion of the concrete actions that a boss committed to standing accountable can readily take.

Chapter 8 presents a radical proposal for fixing the structure, one that contrasts dramatically with what’s mainstream in organizations today. The idea is to introduce two-sided accountability behavior to people who haven’t yet acquired the mind-set so that they can enjoy the consequences and begin identifying with the result. We expect that people experiencing the benefits will acquire the rationale to produce more of that behavior on their own, thereby assuming a role in what we hope will become a chain reaction.

We begin with six quickly stated case vignettes that vividly point up glitches in the extant system to establish the need for a system like the one we are about to suggest. Then we state our proposal to change boss/subordinate relationships by infusion of a high degree of two-sided accountability. We describe how to fix accountability so that bosses who need to hold subordinates accountable also pay their accountability dues. Our proposal holds bosses accountable for positioning their reports to perform effectively. It promotes candor from below, real-time dialogue between the ranks and diminishments in ego indulgences.

Chapter 9 concludes our exposition by recognizing that the management and leadership lessons framed in this book will not be the same for all readers. People at different levels will benefit in different ways. Executives will learn how to change the system to promote honest, give-and-take interaction between bosses and subordinates within all levels of the ranks. Managers will learn how to reconfigure their relationships to better align with and support the people they want to lead. Subordinates will learn how to determine when it’s safe to speak their minds and how to take more responsibility in creating those conditions. MBAs will learn how to size up potential employers when deciding which companies have the capacity to value their efforts and viewpoints at work.

This summary chapter revisits the five problems created by hierarchical relationships and presents a wrap-up contrasting the positives and negatives spelled out in the first two chapters and continuing throughout the book. Of course, the corporate goal is real teamwork, on-the-table politics, straightforward communications, two-sided accountability, and spirited participation up and down the line. Avoiding fairy-tale indulgences, we matter-of-factly conclude our case.

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Endorsements

"If you really, really read this book, it'll change your life. (I guarantee it.) If lots of people read this book closely, it'll change the world. (No bull.) The book is that good!"

- Tom Peters

"Culbert and Ullmen introduce a stunning new concept, two-sided accountability, which reframes the foundations of how people view hierarchy and relationships."

- Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Management, University of Southern California, and author of Managing the Dream

"You will learn in this book that two-sided accountability leads to straight talk and better communications. Finally, a book with practical advice that managers can use day-to-day to get better results."

- Philip J. Harkins, President and CEO, Linkage, Inc.

"As a manager very much concerned with the effectiveness and dynamics of teamwork I can assure you this is a must-read book for anyone with similar corporate goals."

- Mitch Kupchak, General Manager, Los Angeles Lakers

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