Management Inbreeding with Darrin Ladd

Episode 40

December 28, 2011




The Agile Weekly Crew and Darrin Ladd discuss management inbreeding.

Episode Notes

Jade Meskill, Roy van de Water and Chris Coneybeer are joined by special guest Darrin Ladd from Big Visible to discuss management inbreeding.

Managers promote people that are most like themselves

Both positive/negative traits start to feedback on themselves

Innovation decreases as the organization becomes Homogenous

Larger organizations have greater inertia so the culture needs to have more disruptive members in order to change

It is extremely difficult to try to eliminate inbreeding within an organization from within

Reckless attempts can be met with blacklisting


Jade:  Hello and welcome to another episode of the Scrumcast. I’m Jade Meskill.

Roy:  I’m Roy van de Water.

Chris:  I’m Chris Coneybeer.

Jade:  We have a special guest with us, Darrin Ladd, from “BigVisible”. Darrin wanted to talk about management inbreeding, why do bad cultures grow and thrive at large companies, right Darrin?

Darrin:  Yes, it’s a topic near and dear to my heart seeing that I’ve been working with the same large organization for the last two and a half years doing coaching.

Jade:  Wow. Why don’t you tell us a little about why do you think this happens?

Darrin:  It’s a great question. Why don’t we define first off what this means, what I mean by management inbreeding. The idea is this, that within large organizations it becomes, sometimes this feeling of we don’t know what to do with this person. Let’s take a very commanding control Project Manager, who is really upsetting all of the project teams that they are working with and everything.

The HR organization and maybe there management doesn’t know what to do with them, sometimes unfortunately they say, “Maybe we’ll just try a new position, maybe we’ll try him as a team manager.” They suddenly get into the position of quite a bit of influence around, how people are rewarded formally and informally. As most people do they have, people are need this person had a strong need to survive. They kind of change themselves and what they do is they start to mold themselves around, how kind of the success that this person defines for them.

People who may originally have been very collaboratively minded, wanted to work together, wanting success for everyone, may suddenly become very focused on themselves, very much trying to be the Superman that stands out above everyone else and solves all the problems and makes everyone else look bad.

There is all sorts of, of course all the things that we have run into that we have seen that can be negative and suddenly that is, what they are doing to shine for this person. The interesting thing that happens is that this person recognizes that the person who stands out the most or does the most negative things, or it least negative to me, they recognize that as a positive. This is because they see a reflection of themselves in that person and they start to reward that significantly.

Soon what happens is that person who was a manager gets promoted to a senior manager or director or whatever your organizational structure is. They start promoting up underneath them the people who most closely reflected their own image.

Soon what you have is a whole organizational structure that has been grown up underneath this negativity. It’s very difficult for them to see any other options. That’s what am talking about management inbreeding, this perpetuation and growth of negative views. What happens within this is a self reinforcement because of the fact that as this individuals get promoted up they’ve been successful in this bad way of working, bad way of interacting or negative way.

The people above them and around them are like minded to them and therefore they continue to be rewarded for this. That’s really what I’m talking about here. I want to stop talking and open it up to you guys.

Jade:  [laughing] That’s great and I don’t think that it is limited to just large companies. I’ve seen very small companies that exhibit the same behavior. A lot of that driven by whoever that leader is, the CEO, the President, essentially doing the same thing. Maybe not to the same scale but replicating that same kind of behavior.

Roy:  A question I have, Darrin, is that you talked about working with some of the large organizations and Jade you brought up small organizations. Do you think that this inbreeding goes deeper and deeper especially if a larger organization is or the longer the organization has been around?

Darrin:  I see it worse in the larger organization. I definitely recognize that it can happen in a smaller organization. The reason why I feel like it happens more strongly in larger organizations is because the influence of just a couple individuals in a small organization and their seeing things in a different way can be larger.

The reason why I say that is even if you think about your circle of friends, if you are together with four other people and you are all having this debate, maybe it’s not even a debate, you are all agreeing on the fact that the current president is horrible or this or that or whatever. Sometimes in that small a group, all it takes is one other person walking over with a different perspective to start to change the conversation.

Whereas if you’re in a huge room of a hundred people and you section yourself off into a little group and you start having that conversation and everyone agrees with you and you reinforce that, an introduction of somebody else within that whole organism, within those hundred people isn’t necessarily going to change your conversation, your self‑reinforcement of your own views within that small group.

It takes a much larger effort to start changing that larger culture or that [indecipherable 6:07] cultures that happen within larger organizations.

Jade:  This manager in breading, the big promise that it causes that it creates a lot of [indecipherable 6:17] within the company? Because I guess the question that I’m thinking back to is this perpetuation of negative qualities. Is there a particular reason why it is only negative qualities that are perpetuated and not positive ones, like a [indecipherable 6:31] bunch of positive qualities as a manager and I see those positive ones in people below me that I promote for those types of things?

Darrin:  That’s a great, great, great point. It really points out the whole other side of this that I should have introduced when I started talking about this. Which was, it doesn’t necessarily have to be negative qualities or negative interactions. It really is just a set of people who are all like‑minded.

If we look at…I don’t know, large organizations, Nike is a good example of a large organization that had market dominance back in the early 80s. They had market dominance in just men’s sports shoes. If they had stayed with their sweet spot and continued forward, they would have limited their ability for growth and their overall success in the long run. Who knows, maybe they would have even had a downfall and disappeared like some of the other just strictly sports shoes retailers.

What they did was they started to realize that having all of these people who were single‑minded in the pursuit of men’s sports shoes wasn’t going to make them successful, and so they said, “We need to get new ideas. We need to get new perspectives. We need to have people in here that don’t think the way we do to challenge what we believe.” So, in the early 80s, they hired their first female director. They started hiring people that previously to that, they never would have thought of hiring. Suddenly, one of the things that came out of that was they started to align women’s leisure shoes which now they are the market leader.

It’s the trap of this idea of like‑minded. I’ll tell you, I’m one of the people who do a lot of the interviewing and hiring for my company BigVisible, and it’s a trap that’s very easy to fall into because when you’re interviewing somebody, you’re looking for how easy are they to talk to, how easy are they to work with. You really don’t want that, not on all cases. You want somebody who’s going to challenge the norms. You want somebody who’s going to think slightly differently, give those different perspectives.

It maybe feels a little bit uncomfortable to work with them because they don’t see things the exact same way that you do.

Jade:  That’s great I think. In Integrum our room, we have no problem with that. We’ve got a lot of very different perspectives. We don’t [indecipherable 9:05] It is a very good point. That’s a very important part of the company culture.

I think your example about Nike is a great one. From a company recognizing that they have a problem from the top‑down and taking drastic steps to change their culture and inject new life. What happens when, maybe, you’re a little bit lower in the organization and you’re seeing this monoculture ahead of you, what can you do to try to gain influence or make difference within the organization?

Darrin:  That’s actually a really, really tough thing to do, I believe, especially from within the organization, a lot of times, when a culture has built up that’s basically uniform and it has all of those self‑reinforcing antibodies that it’s built up. It’s extremely difficult to start working your way through that and help people to see that there’s a benefit from different perspectives.

I’m an external consultant. It’s a lot easier for me than somebody who’s internal within the organization.

Hopefully, I guess one of the things is brings somebody in from outside who can start modeling some of the different types of behaviors: