Roll over, Beethoven

And tell Deming the news.

I don’t know what to say. As long-time readers of this blog, both of you, may recall, I’ve tried to cut Marissa Mayer some slack.  She inherited a difficult situation as the new CEO of Yahoo, and new leaders sometimes do dramatic things to signal the start of a new way. Patton was a master of this.

But now, she’s apparently decided to implement the worst leadership idea imaginable, one that even I can’t explain away. According to Kara Swisher’s article in All Things D, “‘Because Marissa Said So’ — Yahoos Bristle at Mayer’s QPR Ranking System and ‘Silent Layoffs,’” she’s introduced a ranking system for employees that forces managers to place their people on a bell-type curve. This means that some people are going to be ranked as sub-standard — possibly leading to being fired — no matter how good their performance actually is. In other words, if you, as a manager, have done the hard work of building a great team, you’re still going to have to offer up some percentage of your people.

What this does is introduce conflict into the team as people compete with their teammates not to end up in one of the bottom rankings. It puts a big premium on gamesmanship, brown-nosing, and in the current job market, maybe even sabotage. In other words, it’s a world class Einheit eraser, and without Einheit, you’re never going to have a world beating team. Well, you might if you choose your competition carefully.

To make matters worse, she doesn’t seem to be applying this same mechanism to her own team. As one employee put it:

Will the ‘occasionally misses’ classification apply to L2 and L3 execs also? At every goals meeting, we find senior staff who missed even the 70% goals. Thus, by definition, they should be classified as ‘occasionally misses.’ Two such classifications, and that person should be let go, amiright? How about we set an example for the rest of the company and can a few of the top execs who miss (or who sandbag their goals to make sure they ‘meet’)?

Which reminds me of Boyd’s concept of “moral isolation,” which he recommended you apply to your adversaries and not do their job for them on yourself:

Morally, adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their well being to the detriment of others (i.e. their allies, the uncommitted, etc.) by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.  (Strategic Game 47)

What about Deming? Oh yeah. Some of you may dimly recall his Fourteen Points. Here’s number 11:
Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective. (emphasis added).
And his reasoning was virtually the same as mine: you kill any chance at unity and eventually the organization descends into a pit of backstabbing and CYA.

28 thoughts on “Roll over, Beethoven

  1. Brilliant observation and information there Chet, thank you.
    So much of business today is based on sociopathic inane behavior.
    Short term, reactionary, single dimensional thinking.

  2. On the other hand, corporations are becoming trusts, and it is those customers who report on that trust that are doing the ranking.
    As fast as that trust changes, because of the internet, it is the corporations such as Yahoo, who find themselves without time to deal with those people who don’t hold the trust of the corporation at heart. #snowden
    I mean are there people who go home and brag about working for Yahoo?
    I suppose it could happen, but the last ex-Google employee that I met was working at our local dollar strore.
    God only knows where he came from.
    I think that, locally, locating a Google center in your town is like locating a prison here.
    There is always the posibility that when the inmates get out, they will locate here and take the jobs the locals don’t want.
    Not that I am saying there is anything wrong with that 🙂

  3. Awesome post Chet. It reminds me of the Steve Ballmer stack ranking concept over at Microsoft. It seems employees were not that happy at all with that system either.

    Now the question I have is what is the best employee performance system out there? Who is doing it the right way or what company out there has a system that is actually building Einheit? If you were consulting Marissa, what system would you suggest?

  4. After fighting, a faction of local resistance for over ten years, Walmart has finally established
    a location locally.

    Besides Walmart, Vermont is famous for also resisting McDonalds fast food franchises,
    and the state capital is the only one among the Conus without a local McDonalds.

    As Larry descibes,
    It becomes and culture and universe of it’s own, within the community.

    Walmart is a world economic power, with a GDP larger than many sovereign countries,
    for instance Austria, or Portugal, etc.

    They operate their own exclusive satellite telecommunications network, something that a lot
    of smaller long developed countries cannot justify or afford.

    • “Marissa Mayer is undermining her team, the opposite of what Patton did, and it won’t be long until she hits the wall.”
      You are probably correct, but that in itself doesn’t mean her strategy is wrong. And I believe a person in her position still needs Strategy.
      Strategy comes out of what we observe in the environment at both ends (the beginning of the end and the end of the end) considering the ways and means of the process (OODA).
      And what the strategist is observing is the resources (means) within the environment (human and otherwise) and how to use those resources in a “way” that makes their strategy a winning strategy.
      As I have said before, I believe that all strategy is flawed (as you described the flaw of Pattons strategy), but there is really only winning and losing strategy, and Patton’s strategy was a winning strategy.
      So instead of judging the orientation she is destroying, maybe we should be looking at this in terms of strategy.
      I believe she is using strategy over process (the OODA process), which means strategy includes Orientation, but the process itself is divided into the strategy (strategy/process) to enable all the time-steps within the OODA loop to act in different times and steps through control of the feed-forward and feedback.
      Feed-forward and feedback must be something that she is getting a lot of, as in this post.
      Do you believe someone in Marissa’s position could not have a strategy?
      Perhaps she is a elitist as you say, but an elitist is a person without resources of their own (so called “leet men”), so it is not a position of command, but, for the lack of words, a position of exquisite self-control.
      Is this state of “exquisite self-control” instead of a commanding presence where corporations have gone?
      If so, it seems to me that today’s corporations (as well as congress) are ripe for a insurgency to take over, instead of civil war.
      Which I think civil war would be a counter to a corporation’s destruction of the 14 points, COIN would be the 14 points or some other rule-sets to orient towards.

      • Interesting application of the OODA loop. Is that to say in her strategy, she considers the members of her team in the lower decision latitude positions “opponents”? Her strategy is analogous to Patton demanding a percentage of his field officer corp killed in every battle. Not all leaders are capable, and not every strategy is sound.
        Corporations that are built upon “hard” commodities, (i.e.. oil, mining, manufacturing etc.) operate in a different environment than those built upon “intellectual” commodities (i.e. social networking, internet, news etc). It might be entirely possible that she has applied the wrong productivity metric or protocol. Perhaps her focused and determined first moves as the CEO represented the depth of her arsenal, as it were.
        I was once a maintenance manager for a regional airline, and now work in the healthcare field in a clinical job. I have seen upper management try to measure productivity in a hospital setting by the same measure as performing tasks (both scheduled and unscheduled) as that of an airline. The twain shall never meet despite many isolated parallels and prima facie corollaries. Doing so is a misread of the “terrain” the company operates in and hinders achieving goals, modest or otherwise.
        By way of historic perspective, it represents the same difference as applying the tactics of Heinz Guderian to Rommels’ Fortress Europe, or vise versa. Two different tactical problems altogether with the only real commonality being that both were expected to be accomplished by soldiers and their field officers.

      • “Is that to say in her strategy, she considers the members of her team in the lower decision latitude positions “opponents”?”
        No. To me she must be considering the members of her team in the lower decision latitude positions as the enemy, not opponents.
        In this case the enemy is behind the leader and her opponents are in front. The “enemy” wants to change the incumbent forces that management represents, all her opponents want to do is dominate the gap between like corporations. What I am thinking is that she and her “enemy” have no gap between them, it’s an insurgency.
        I think this comment sums it up:
        “In an nutshell, it is an exercise where people who don’t code fire people who code not just yahoo but all over the place. as long as the shareholders don’t realise this, their money will be used by those who dont actually contribute.
        It is like a hospital with 5 doctors and 500 administrative staff.”
        Only I don’t believe it is like a hospital with 5 doctors and 500 administrative staff. It’s like a hospital with two different cultures, and the administrative staff (people who don’t code) is applying COIN to rid the hospital of the other culture (the people who code).
        One of the problems in a COIN operation is understanding who it is that you need to “isolate”. It could be her strategy is a way of finding those people who need to be isolated out of the environment, i.e. those who are able to be controlled by those in command.
        I think Stalin had a similar strategy when he tried to purge his country of all of those so structured as the Right. I think something like 5 million of his own countrymen were put to death.

      • I think Stalin used the purges to enforce the notion that in the regime, nobody was safe or totally essential. The effect is that even well educated and informed people have a sense of utter hopelessness and are therefore easier to manipulate and keep suspicious. That suspicion is what kept any potentially effective revolt from taking root for a very long time in the Soviet Union. The gravest comparison between Marissa Mayer and the purge would be the imposition and maintenance of a “cult of personality”, which is what took place under Stalin, and in more recent times, Saddam Hussein. That is not an unheard of phenomenon in the corporate world. Obviously, Stalin and Hussein operated at an entirely different level, but I think that one of the essential characteristics of that type of dominance lies in an aggressive narcissistic streak, coupled with the ability to enlist a nearly fanatic adherence to the corporate line, whether the corporation is a body politic or a Fortune 500 company irrespective of any moral undertones.
        One of the most frightening examples of what I am attempting to describe is a film where Saddam Hussein is sitting in front of the entire legislative body,perhaps three hundred men, speaking about traitors. He smokes, laughs, and sheds alligator tears as he starts naming those who he has determined are traitors to the regime. The camera pans into the audience and the fear is evident, with men sweating and fidgeting. Every time someone is led away by security, the fear component visibly grows, and while he continues his cajoling, certain members jump out of their seats and shout their loyalty to him. It is a difficult thing to watch. To cement the lesson, he had those whom he spared perform the actual executions of their former peers. Conformity equates to the lifting of the yoke of responsibility for those who are caught in such a situation.

      • “I think Stalin used the purges to enforce the notion that in the regime, nobody was safe or totally essential.”
        The problem of fighting a strong army, such as the German army, is that those behind a leader such as Stalin could observe many advantages in the structure of the other side. I think the US even picked up a few of the traits of its enemies in its fight against the weak army that attacked it on 9/11, but these traits were mostly cultural.
        The main advantage of a society that is structured as the Right: the internal forces that are trying to tear the society apart are held down with a vertical normalizing force that enables those internal forces held in friction to act greater as a whole than they would separated.
        But to change a society’s structure, which are what the “coders” perhaps are trying to do to corporate structure of tech companies, there needs to be an insurgency, and Stalin, even as mad as I think he was, seemed to understand this concept.
        You can break structure with a civil war, but not bust it enough to change it beyond repair. To really change structure it takes an insurgency. An insurgency goes after culture as well as structure. An insurgency either knocks down that wall or builds one, depending which direction the insurgency is going.
        Considering the allies of Stalin were mostly structure to the Right, it was a small wonder his country didn’t restructure itself more towards the Right after its fight with Germany was over. As it was, his country of edges and nodes survived mostly intact until its economy was destroyed by Capitalism.
        Which, as China (a country of edges and nodes) has shown so far, works with a country so structured as the Left as well as those countries structured as the Right. I think Marissa has made the first strike against the insurgency structured as the Left that has formed inside many of the tech corporations. The coders are writing the rule-sets that the non-coders are following, and the non-coders are scared (fear, honor, interest).
        If she loses Yahoo may not survive. There will be some walls knocked down and corporations like countries can become failed-states before they are able to recover.
        If Yahoo does recover from this restructuring , it will look perhaps more like Google, isolated from the Right, than the old Yahoo structured as the Right.
        If she wins, Yahoo will look more like the old Soviet Union after Stalin, at least culturally very Conservative true believers, but will differ structurally.
        Structurally, if she wins, Yahoo will still look a lot like the old Yahoo, only perhaps decentralized instead of isolated on the Right. Perhaps more like the Charter Communication Corporation than Google.

  5. Just like Patton, her mistake is to think everyone else thinks just like her or can relate to her vision. Patton was brilliant in ways that did not translate across sensibilities, and where he paid for it was offending his superiors, or at least putting them in a situation where they had to explain his actions. Marissa Mayer is undermining her team, the opposite of what Patton did, and it won’t be long until she hits the wall. Elitist CEO’s or upper level management have ruined viable companies by giving in to the type of hubris you have described. Making others pay for her inability to turn the company around rapidly is a foolish move and belies her inner ineptitude as a leader.

  6. My understanding of the OODA loop as developed by Col. Boyd, is that it only exists when strategy, mission, and analysis, come together harmoniously under carefully considered and unique circumstances. It is not a tool, per se, that corporate leaders or anybody else can put on their hard drives, or keep in the back of their minds to use at random. It is more than the sum of its parts. John Boyd was a truly revolutionary thinker in that he understood the pitfalls of taking a fluid concept such as the OODA loop and assigning it a specific definition based on component parts (i.e. feed-forward / feedback, time integral etc.). In fact, what I have taken away from reading Patterns of Conflict, and the OODA loop, is that it cannot exist within a totally rigid framework of approach to anything. In fact, I consider it more akin to his remarkable Energy Maneuverability Theory as it could be applied to human performance characteristics. Conflict of any type is fluid and dynamic and those who studied his concepts were admonished to “look beyond the beachhead” and be ready to change rapidly, forcefully, and then reshape and reform with the same alacrity (fast transient). Very few leaders are capable of doing so. Those who recognize what they are truly reckoning with in a conflict (financial, market share, or in combat) and can harmonize their effort and resources to neutralize opposition and gain the advantage, have applied the OODA loop concept.

  7. “My understanding of the OODA loop as developed by Col. Boyd, is that it only exists when strategy, mission, and analysis, come together harmoniously under carefully considered and unique circumstances.”
    Me too, only I call it strategy, process and D&S (destruction/construction), which is all in the analysis.
    Only in my scenario, strategy is over process, and D&S is how mass moves.
    In the power law of a distribution of energy, mass moves without force–it simply moves from where it was to where it is able. Therefore the vector of mass can be in another direction than the force of the distribution (potential energy).
    But in the process, it completely destroys itself in one space and constructs itself in another. This means that you personally,only have to deal with time.

  8. “it only exists when strategy, mission, and analysis, come together harmoniously under carefully considered and unique circumstances”

    Tim raises a good point, in many situations businesses, governments and institutions operate
    outside the OODA loop entirely, and serve only their internal bureaucracy.

    This is more common that we might realize, it might even be the rule, as opposed to the exception.

    The Yahoo example that Chet brought forth, but see also
    Hewlett Packard, Sears, etc, among those who operate in a vacuum. Once upper management
    is loaded up with only YES men, and those who question and bring forth new ideas, are discouraged, all is lost.

    Some companies and even countries can remain successful to an extent, for a while anyway, despite all that, but not indefinitely.

    I’m watching Kodak, to see if they can turn things around, while their neighbors at Corning, have never done better.


    • “Tim raises a good point, in many situations businesses, governments and institutions operate
      outside the OODA loop entirely, and serve only their internal bureaucracy”
      I didn’t think that was Tim’s point. They are not operating out of the OODA loop entirely, they are just operating outside of harmony. The loop is a process and when it reaches harmony all Actions are in harmony. So to me it means they can be in the “loop” without any strategical means, but they are still inside the a loop.

      • Larry, that was exactly my point. The OODA loop is not part of the scheme when you have CEO’s doing battle within their own ranks. If all actions were in harmony, then you would never have a concept such as the OODA loop, which represents a total application of strategy. There is a distinct difference between harmony and strategy. Strategy is a managerial trait, while harmony is the result of leadership. In James Fallows’ book “National Defense” this very difference was recognized by the Army. In the book, Dandrige Malone at the Army War College had among other things posted on his blackboard, “Management is the physics of things, but leadership is the chemistry of people.” In a subsequent paragraph James Webb states “”Management is not leadership. Management can be approached as an academic discipline; one can be taught to analyze data, to weigh alternatives, and to make a decision. Leadership is something else. It is a subjective chemistry filled with human variables. It takes more than the ability to analyze data to make a leader; one must be able to motivate those who are being led, to reach their emotions through command presence, force and example. It is much easier to educate a manager than to develop a leader.” This separates those who want to Be something from those that wish to Do something, and was one of the crossroads where John Boyd harvested those who ended up shaping events that are still relevant today. Unfortunately, Marissa Mayer who, like so many in her position, is merely a glorified manager, who mistakenly believes that what she is providing equals “leadership”.

      • “If all actions were in harmony, then you would never have a concept such as the OODA loop, which represents a total application of strategy.”
        I am not sure what you mean by “all actions”. If there wasn’t harmony in an OODA loop, then you would not have “Re-harmony” in Boyd’s PISRR movement. The loop harmonizes itself in, what is called in physics, a moment of inertia.
        “Strategy is a managerial trait, while harmony is the result of leadership.” I think that is correct if you are thinking top-down, and the leader represents an image of the loop as the loop harmonizes into a moment when a decision is made.
        But if you can think of strategy coming from the bottom up, or if you can think of a leader who is less representative of the loop than other structures or cultures inside the loop, then the statement is not correct.
        I mean isn’t a person just as likely to follow a system that is structured to bring you security and a culture that is created in a image that you can relate to, as someone who develops into a “leader”.
        I think to call Marissa Mayer as something less than a leader is simply getting stuck in Orientation, and not able to either observe what is before you nor look ahead towards some kind of decision.

      • Larry, I think you have some misconceptions about the loop. I suggest re-reading Patterns of Conflict. It is more of a synthesis involving numerous components applied to conflict of any type. I don’t really know what the acronym PISRR stands for unless it has something to do with the reform movement during his time in the Pentagon. He would eschew anything that was “move-countermove” in structure, or in other words, a step by step, set piece approach. The same could be said for his Energy- Maneuverability Theory. John Boyd was unique in that he never regarded any of his theorems as a “finished” work. At least that is what I take away from what is known about him. Those who worked with him may offer other more unique insights into the man. The more I comb through Patterns of Conflict, the more I see EM Theory as it applies to human patterns of energy. The OODA loop is a “fast transient” and his view is that the quicker one is able to apply the tactic and maintain dynamic fluidity of thought and adaptability, the more likely the adversary will prevail. Max understands my contention that most corporate “leaders” are more managerial and thus more dogmatic in the way they set out to achieve goals, none of which embody the concept of OODA loop.My observations have noting to do with orientation, top down or bottom up. Those statements are proof that you have not grasped the concept. Nothing personal, my friend, but debate such as this is how we learn to apply scientific theories. John Boyd was a true scientist in the mold of Albert Einstein or Buckminster Fuller.

      • Hi Tim,

        “PISRR” could mean a couple of things.

        1. When applied to conventional conflict, it stood for: penetrate, isolate, subdue, reorient (yourself), reharmonize (also yourself)
        2. When applied to guerrilla warfare: penetrate (the target society), isolate (government from people), subvert (the institutions of that society), reorient (the people), reharmonize

        Boyd offered PISSR as an alternative to the principles of war that the Army was using at that time. Note that all of Boyd’s “principles” are transitive verbs in the imperative voice, that is, they are telling you to do something, to accomplish something.


      • Thank you for pointing out my ignorance. To me the OODA loop is more of a physics problem (a distribution of energy equation) and my abilities in physics is obviously limited, as is my knowledge of Boyd.
        I meant PISRR to mean (in the simplest terms I have read in references to it) Penetrate, Isolate, Subvert, Re-Orient, Reharmonize.
        When applied to conventional conflict, I take it to mean Penetrate the environment Observed, Isolate (actually means to kill but that is not always what it means) Orientations within the environment Observed, Subvert the environment through change in what the enemy Observes, Re-orient the enemy into a different loop, and Re harmonize the enemy within said loop. Reharmonize in this case means to form a moment of inertia for your enemy to move in another direction in life, but as you have subverted the environment to mean something else to your enemy you will reorient and reharmonize to this change also, while still maintaining one’s ethics.
        I agree with Chet meaning as to unconventional warfare.
        To me it is the ethics of the loop that is the most important element of the loop. They are the command and control forces that create the structure of the loop.
        The structure is the result of the command and control forces being perpendicular to each other instead of at odds with each other.
        The advantage of their positions (of one being vertical as the other is horizontal) in creating the structure of the loop is that a direction and magnitude of force is created. In a perpendicular position one is pushing the other in a direction and magnitude that represents their relationship to each other. It is the force (in a direction and at a magnitude created by all ethical forces) in this relationship that creates infrastructure.
        Of course structure and form is important because I believe one Orientation depend on Observation, while at the same time receiving feedforward from the past and feedback from the future. Being a loop the past and future is only relative 🙂

      • Perhaps we can return to the original post that began the discussion. I would like to know how PISRR would relate to the Bell Curve of performance that Marissa Mayer has decided to implement on her team (forces). In particular, I would like to put that into perspective as to how such a management decision harmonizes with the concept, and how does it foster allegiance to the cause, which I assume is to form a competitive cohesion within the company with the grand strategy being domination of the market.

      • The Bell Curve is a tool to find those in the “insurgency” that are without ethics.
        “It puts a big premium on gamesmanship, brown-nosing, and in the current job market, maybe even sabotage. ”
        If you are willing to stick your nose up the ass of those who command you, the personal ethics you follow are probably suspect. In other words, your ethics are probably more like non-coders than your fellow coders who are a part of the insurgency. Likewise, once the saboteurs act, it all comes down to identifying the saboteurs as such and isolating them.
        Marissa is simply seeking out those people without the ethics to maintain an insurgency. As you can imagine, re-orientation and later re-harmonizing is awaiting these “brown-nosing” and sabotaging coders who Marissa is able to control either one way or another.
        And that is what I believe is the whole point of her strategy (if she actually has a strategy), to enable management to gain control of a system that has mostly been taken control of by others.
        Management commands with force, but, in any command and control system, control is mostly in the form of self-control. It could be that many leaders in Marissa’s position have found that the “coders” are exhibiting too much self-control, and Marissa is in front of a larger insurgency.
        Another way of thinking about this: the non-coders represents an orientation that is able to command a handsome wage from the system, but little else, including control.
        I think Jesus of Nazareth said it best. To paraphrase, let Caesar command you through material wealth, for, in God’s OODA loop, control of your actions is all yours, under the command of God.

      • Interesting. I would think that it would be much easier to just fire those suspected of being insurgent to the direction of the company. Granted, you may take out some who don’t deserve it, but the message will be clear to those left. In other words, the re-harmonization will take place. This whole “Bell Curve” model seems flawed in that those with the ability or position/ connections to game the plan will remain. Again, I find the model to be more “managerial” which throws the whole concept of leadership out the window.

      • Tim,

        Thanks. I can sympathize.

        However, Boyd suggested that whatever disciplinary action you take as a leader has to be seen as fair and just by the rest of the organization: He got what he deserved. If you use the Joe Stalin / Saddam Hussein approach, what you usually get is extreme risk avoidance. This is a form of harmonization, but tends to kill initiative and creativity.

      • ” I would think that it would be much easier to just fire those suspected of being insurgent to the direction of the company.”
        I think what the US learned in Afghanistan is that you can’t “fire” insurgents, or just knockout their top leaders with the use of drones. Our use of drones is not a counter insurgency strategy. They are used to change the center of gravity of AQ’s position in the world, which gets in the way of decision making. We basically treat AQ as a military unit and go after its resources.
        An insurgent can’t be fired because it lives in an insurgent culture that has to be penetrated, Isolated, subverted, reoriented, and reharmonized.
        I never really thought about it in this way until now, but this rating program she initiated could be considered a form of penetration and the insurgency is being isolated by the bell curve, a direct result of the penetration.
        Also it may be that the manner the coders act after this program is put in place is a subversion of the coder culture.
        “Again, I find the model to be more “managerial” which throws the whole concept of leadership out the window.”
        You could be right. I make the assumption that Marissa is a leader who is using the force at her command strategically against an insurgency that is trying to control her company. Managers would simply let the inmates run the institution, i.e. all control being equal.
        And if all control is equal, why not just let her company become another Google, if Google is actually ran by “coders”? Wouldn’t it be easier in the long run? Or was the ouster of Steve Jobs not an accident, and his return not in the best interest for all concerns?
        I mean much of the OODA loop is meant to be observed in complete transparency, but much of it can only be cloaked in deception, if it is to be successful.
        As an example, if the industry actually said they were going to breakup the coders little lovefest, which I assume (making an “ass” out of “u” and “me”) is going on inside most of the data mining company’s (think snowden here), I doubt it would ever happen.
        The NSA through Snowden has shown the global worth of the data they are pulling out of the cloud, and it might be hard for the culture of the inmates to act in such a way as the NSA.
        So it might also be that a company such as Yahoo is going after other revenue, but they first have to change a culture (COIN).
        If that is the case, a change is going on industry-wide, then it may be true that Marissa is showing some leadership qualities in her industry after all, as she takes up the challenge that Microsoft may have dropped.

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