This post by Elizabeth Scalia touches on something I’ve been thinking about lately – When Workplaces are Wussified:
The man I know has considered moving to a new job, several times, but friends of his who have moved report that it is the same everywhere: there is a class divide, and the urbane upper-management sorts seem not to understand that managing people means more than making sure you have an appropriate women-to-men ratio. It means valuing not just an employee’s skill, but the whole, human person. It means understanding that sometimes passion trumps policy, and should be encouraged; that every raised voice should not require a negative notation to the personnel file; every case of “hurt feelings” should not require three-days of “sensitivity training,” until your fed-up employees choose to divest themselves of anything smacking of personality, color, emotion or enthusiasm, simply to avoid the grim “facilitated interface,” full of meaningless corrective language, that will send him back to his cubicle feeling frustrated, confused, emasculated (even if “he” is a female) and ultimately defeated.
How can anything great be born of such sterility? How can anything hopeful and alive be harnessed in a stream full of dead things, going with the flow?
Indeed. Even before such travesties as “microinequities” I regarded most of what HR was putting out as useless at best, when not actually directly harmful to the success of the company in its stated business purposes. I could write a whole post on my thoughts about corporate performance review processes and what a joke they are, but I’ll simply say that I was immensely relieved to have changed jobs a week before my last “self-appraisal” input was due, and found that the more they “improved” the process, the more it seemed to stay the same in any meaningful elements, and the more it demotivational I found it.
The post actually ties into a bigger theme I’ve been thinking about than mere performance appraisals: the overall culture of ineptitude that has arisen over the past three decades. It’s something that I can see in operation almost everywhere, from the space program to road paving to political leadership to art to retail clerking, but something I can’t quite articulate to others (I’ve tried). At some point, American culture (if not the entire Western world) passed an inflection point where ineptitude began to overtake capability…we continued on an ascending trajectory for some time due to the continued-but-dwindling presence of those who predominated before this transition took place, but from that point on things proceeded to a peak and then began to decline. It’s not just in one discipline or industry, but everywhere. We’re coasting, but the initial velocity is falling off at an increasing rate, with nothing in sight to restore it.
It’s hard to explain it, but once you see it, you see it. Things are not done the way they were successfully done even in the relatively recent past (either in method or in quality of results), the people doing these things don’t seem to notice or to be interested in fixing things if they do notice, and the resulting decline is perversely interpreted as a need to double down on the same ineptitude or the adopt the latest unhelpful management fad-of-the-week, continuing if not accelerating the decline. The focus is instead on the bullshit the linked post highlights, ensuring that no improvement will occur. Meaningful criticism and accountability are absent, so no meaningful correction is possible.