• 10 minute read

     

    In the last post in this series, I argued that our nation’s business school professors really don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to managing.

    Nor, for that matter, do the teachers, instructors, and other academics charged with educating the managers, MBAs, and businesspeople of tomorrow.

    I based this claim on the weakness of contingency theory – an approach to managing that seems to represent the current state-of-the-art in management and organizational theory.[1] For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is a view of managing that might be summed up as follows:

    “There is no one best way of organizing. The appropriate form depends on the kind of task or environment with which one is dealing.”[2]

    In other words, when it comes to how to best manage a particular business, a contingency theorist would argue quite simply that “it depends” on the circumstances.[3]

    This sounds reasonable enough, I suppose. On some level, the best way to manage a particular organization is likely to be situationally dependent. For instance, I suspect very few people would argue that managing a team of synthetic organic chemists engaged in pharmaceutical research and development is exactly the same as, say, managing a bunch of bartenders.

    Nevertheless—and as I argued in that last post—the limitations of such a “theory” are probably immediately obvious to you.

    Imagine, for instance, if the engineering or medical professions subscribed to a form of “contingency theory” as well. What if it were acceptable, in other words, for a civil engineer to reply “it depends” when asked whether a particular bridge is still safe to cross, or is in need of renovations? Or if a pathologist was allowed to respond similarly when asked whether a particular cancer patient would be better off undergoing chemotherapy, or surgery? In either instance, simply saying “it depends” would be considered unacceptable – even ridiculous.

    Of course “it depends.” But it depends on what?

    And yet despite this perhaps obvious shortcoming, contingency theory is still widely accepted by the broader management community. Organizational theorist and management consultant Gareth Morgan is certainly an advocate. In the past, he’s argued that contingency theory “has established itself as a dominant perspective in modern organizational analysis.”[4] 20th Century business philosopher L.F. Urwick would seem to agree, having once proclaimed:

    “…no serious student of management has ever suggested that there was one best way of organizing a business.”[5]

    And even J.C. Spender, who I quoted at length in that previous post—and who has been highly critical of business schools and MBA programs in the past[6]—seems convinced. He argues that while contingency theory may have its limitations, it represents a step in the right direction.[7]

    So this week, part two of my efforts to expose and de-bunk this so-called “contingency theory” of management.

    I’ll argue that despite any insistence to the contrary, contingency theorists do actually believe there is only “one best way” to structure, organize, and manage a business.

    They just don’t seem to realize it.

     

    “Organic” management?

    First, a little history.

    The origins of contingency theory lie in the work of organizational sociologist Joan Woodward. Born in 1916, she was an early pioneer of the application of empirical research methods to the study of organizations. She was also only the second woman to be given a chair at Imperial College (UK). A prize has since been established there in her honor.[8]

    In the 1950’s, Woodward studied manufacturing firms located in South Essex, England, the results of which she published in Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (1965). Through these investigations, she and her fellow researchers hoped to discover “whether any particular form of organization was associated with management efficiency and success.”[9] And of the various organizational “forms” a business might choose to adopt, Woodward paid attention to two in particular – both of which had been previously defined by the sociologist Tom Burns:[10]

    • Mechanistic: These are organizations “characterized by rigid breakdown into functional specialisms, precise definition of duties, responsibilities and power, and a well-developed command hierarchy through which information filters up and decisions and instructions flow down.”
    • Organic: Such organizations “are more adaptable; jobs lose much of their formal definition, and communications up and down the hierarchy are more in the nature of consultation than of passing up of information and receiving orders. In this type of situation the chief executive is not regarded as omniscient.”[11]

    Based on the data she collected, Woodward was in fact able to show different organizational forms worked better under some circumstances, but not others. “[F]irms with similar production systems appeared to have similar organizational structures,” she wrote.[12] Furthermore:

    “…successful firms inside the large batch productions range tended to have mechanistic management systems. On the other hand, successful firms outside that range tended to have organic systems.”[13]

    This was unprecedented. Woodward had “demonstrated empirically” the existence of a “link between technology and social structure” as she put it – something that no organizational scientist had ever been able to do before.[14] Based on her findings, she furthermore concluded that “there can be no one best way of organizing a business.”[15] Depending on the circumstances, she contended, one organizational “system” might be better than another.

    And so a “contingency theory” of management was born.

     

    Let’s take a look at your chart

    At the risk of bogging you down in unnecessary detail, it is nevertheless worth examining some of the methods used by Woodward for her studies.

    One of those was her reliance on organization charts. She writes:

    “…a start was made by asking to see the organization chart. In about half the firms studied charts were available. Some were very elaborate. In one firm the general manager had a chart more that 20 feet long on his office wall…”[16]

    As you are probably aware, an organization chart is one of those “pyramid-shaped” organizational diagrams with all the boxes and lines on it.[17] There’s a lot that goes into drawing up one of these charts, but basically each box represents an employee or organizational position, and the lines indicate who reports to who. Woodward includes several in her text, and without exception they conform to the same basic layout and shape.[18] The chief executive sits alone atop the chart, while other organizational personnel are located at progressively lower levels depending on their position, responsibility, and authority.[19]

    References to organization charts can be found throughout Woodward’s text. For example:

    “In unit production…not only did short and relatively broadly based pyramids predominate, but they also appeared to ensure success. Process production on the other hand, would seem to require taller and more narrowly based pyramids [my emphasis].”[20]

    No less frequent are references to hierarchy – a term that is perhaps the more formal descriptor of what a “pyramid-shaped” org chart represents. For instance [my emphasis in each case]:

    • “…although all the successful unit production firms had short-command hierarchies, there was little evidence to suggest that the lines had been kept short as a result of deliberate decisions.” (p. 76)
    • “…particular reference to the nature and number of decisions taken at the different levels of the hierarchy.” (p. 86)
    • “The other two firms with divisionalized [sic] organization did not have this group of specialist advisers at the top of the hierarchy.” (p. 107)
    • “Direct and speedy channels of communication between one department and another were essential at every level of the hierarchy.” (p. 134)
    • “…at every level of the hierarchy…” (p. 157)
    • “…at all levels in the hierarchy down to…” (p. 159)

    The implication here is significant, and thus worth stating more explicitly: From the very get go, Woodward seems to have conceived of all organizations as some sort of hierarchy. Broadly based, or narrow. “Divisionalized” or not. Mechanistic or organic. To her eyes, these were different “systems” of organizing. But on another, deeper level, it is perhaps safe to say that they are all just variations on a single organizational theme. Namely:

    Hierarchy.

    Interestingly, this predisposition would affect the selection criteria Woodward would use for her study. She writes:

    “Preliminary contacts suggested that few firms employing less than 100 people had an elaborate formal organization.

    What Woodward and her fellow researchers then chose to do with this information is revealing:

    …it appeared that little would be lost if smaller firms were omitted.”[21]

    In other words, Woodward seemed willing to exclude from her studies those organizations that were not yet large enough (or established enough) to conceive of themselves in more traditional organizational terms.

    Nevertheless—and apparently despite her best efforts—a few firms lacking “elaborate formal organization” (i.e. an org chart) made their way into her study anyway. Her response in these instances is equally revealing:

    “In most cases…inability to produce an organization chart or state who was responsible to whom in the hierarchy—indicated an organic management system.”[22]

    In other words, the lack of an org chart was interpreted as evidence of “organic” management. And that, of course, is just one type of hierarchy according to Burns’ definition of the term (see above).

    But Woodward’s prejudice is perhaps most on display in how she chose to handle those firms who couldn’t supply an org chart of their own:

    “When no organization chart was available the research workers built one up for themselves through a process of question and answer.”[23]

    That’s correct. An organization chart would then be drawn up for that firm by Woodward and her colleagues. And as her text makes it clear, that chart is all but guaranteed to have been a traditional, “pyramid-shaped” diagram consistent with management by hierarchy.

     

    The many shall become one

    Mechanistic vs. organic. Rigid vs. adaptable. Narrowly-based vs. broadly-based. And “divisionalized” vs. not.

    To Woodward’s way of thinking, these were perhaps just some of the many different ways of organizing a business, or for-profit enterprise. Having defined and characterized such “systems” of management, she was then able quantify and establish their existence at the manufacturing firms she’d selected for observation. And all of this led her to posit that there was no “one best way” to organize.

    If Woodward viewed the organizational world through the lens of hierarchy, she might be forgiven for doing so, given the time. Hierarchical org charts had become commonplace in the preceding decades. Many large, successful corporations had drawn up such diagrams to describe their operations, and so in fact view themselves in this way.[24] Nor had any serious alternative to management by hierarchy been conceived of as of yet, much less proposed.[25]

    No less significant is the fact that many those responsible for organizational planning at the firms studied agreed with her conclusions:

    “The majority felt that there was no one best way of organizing a firm.”[26]

    Finally, it is also worth reiterating that since Woodward’s time, contingency theory has withstood every significant challenge to it. In fact, a “contingency theory” of leadership has been developed in the intervening years as well.[27]

    Of the criticisms that have been offered, however, most point out the weakness of simply concluding that good management practices “depend” on the circumstances. For instance, organizational scholars Longenecker and Pringle argue that an absence of universal management principles, or the lack of a general theory, can hardly be considered a “theory” itself:

    “The dissimilarity of management situations is a fact and explains why particular management practices work in some cases and not in others. Differences in situations affect organizational effectiveness and explain the weakness of over-stated universal principles. But dissimilarities or situational differences do not become a general theory…”[28]

    What they do not argue (or acknowledge), however, is what I hope I’ve been able to convince you of in this week’s post: That despite any insistence to the contrary, the origins of contingency theory are in fact based on the assumption that there is one best way of managing.

    And that “one way” is management by hierarchy.

     

    No “one best way” is not the best way?

    Okay…but so what?

    In other words, what if Woodward was blind to the fact that she was looking at different permutations of the same organizational form (hierarchy), and not identifying unique and distinct “systems” of management like she thought she was? Couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Big deal.

    Besides, what’s wrong with management by hierarchy, anyway?

    Well, Woodward herself might offer a clue as to what that might be, having this to say about the “successful” firms she studied:

    “In spite of their success…employment in these firms was characterized by stress and anxiety [my emphasis].”[29]

    At any rate, I’ll wrap up this week’s post by suggesting that maybe its time to re-examine some of what seems to known about managing – one of those things being this notion of “contingency theory.”

    Again, the failings of this theory of management would seem to be two-fold:

    (1) Contingency theory argues that the best way of managing a particular organization “depends” on the situation. And yet no one within the organizational community has thus far been able to describe specifically what it might depend on.[30]

    (2) Despite the insistence that there is no “one best way” to manage, contingency theorists nevertheless do seem to agree that management by hierarchy is that one best (or only) way – even if they do so unwittingly. It’s fair to say that this is contradiction.

    So maybe we do need to re-think what we do and do not know about managing more generally. Especially if the current state-of-the-art management theory is as suspect as it appears.

    And good place to start might be to go back to “first principles,” so to speak. So let’s re-ask the question that got Woodward started on her investigation in the first place. To paraphrase her study’s statement of purpose:

    What is it that makes a company successful?

    To be sure, good management systems/procedures/practices are important. And Woodward’s studies represents a well-intended effort to identify what those might be.

    But good managers and good management are only part of what’s really critical, aren’t they? More generally, it’s good employees—at all levels—that are required for organizational success.[31] Be it good managers, good frontline employees, good support staff, good executives, or a good CEO; what seems to matter most are the human resources – or employing individuals with “right stuff,” so to speak.

    So for the next post in this series, I’ll begin there:

    What can a business do to ensure that everyone it employs (managers included) is up to the job?

     

     

    Next in the series: The right stuff

     

     

    Endnotes 

    [1] Luthans, Fred, and Todd I. Stewart. “A general contingency theory of management.” Academy of Management Review 2.2 (1977): 181-195.

    [2] Morgan, Gareth. 1986. Images of Organization. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, Inc. and SAGE Publications, Inc., p. 44. (Page numbers refer to the Executive Edition, published in 1998. Most recent edition published in 2007.)

    [3] “It Depends: A Contingency Theory of Accommodation in Public Relations” by Amanda E. Cancel, Glen T. Cameron, Lynne M. Sallot, and Michael A. Mitrook, Journal of Public Relations Research, 1997, 9(1), p. 31-63.

    [4] Morgan, Gareth. 1986. Images of Organization. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler Publishers, Inc. and SAGE Publications, Inc., p. 44. (Page numbers refer to the Executive Edition, published in 1998. Most recent edition published in 2007.)

    [5] Woodward. Joan. Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (2nd Ed.). Oxford University Press, 1980 (1965, 1st Ed.), p. 246.

    [6] Spender, J.C. “The Business School Model: A Flawed Organizational Design.” Journal of Management Development. 2014, Vol. 33: No. 5, p. 429.

    [7] J.C. Spender, personal communication, October 2016.

    [8] From the “Joan Woodward” Wikipedia entry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Woodward. Retrieved Dec. 15, 2016.

    [9] Woodward, op. cit., p. 14.

    [10] Burns, Tom, and G.M. Stalker. 1961. The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock Publications.

    [11] Woodward, op. cit., p. 23.

    [12] Ibid., p. 50.

    [13] Ibid., p. 71.

    [14] Ibid., p. 50.

    [15] Ibid., p. 10.

    [16] Ibid., p. 12.

    [17] I place the descriptor “pyramid-shaped” in quotation marks because these charts are only two-dimensional – and as anyone familiar with basic geometry can tell you, for an object to be truly pyramid-shaped it must occupy three dimensions. Technically speaking, org charts are therefore triangle-shaped.

    [18] Woodward, op. cit., p. 101-119.

    [19] Ibid., p. 115, 127.

    [20] Ibid., p. 71.

    [21] Ibid., p. 9.

    [22] Ibid., p. 24.

    [23] Ibid., p. 12.

    [24] Chandler, Jr., Alfred D. “Origins of the Organizational Chart”, Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1988, p. 156-157.

    [25] So far as I can tell, the first substantial challenge to the traditional “pyramid-shaped” hierarchical organization chart was the “matrix organization,” an organizational form that allows for the possibility that a given employee might report to more than one person. Raymond E. Hill, Bernard J. White Matrix Organization and Project Management Michigan Business Papers #64, 1979, (Division Of Research, Graduate School Of Business Administration, University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI).

    [26] Woodward, op. cit., p. 122.

    [27] Fiedler, Fred E. A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. 1967. McGraw-Hill: New York.

    [28] Longenecker, Justin G., and Charles D. Pringle. “The Illusion of Contingency as a General Theory,” Academy of Management Review, July 1978, p. 682.

    [29] Woodward, op. cit., p. 180.

    [30] Longenecker, op. cit., p. 679-683.

    [31] According to the Gallup Organization, companies with highly “engaged” employees have a distinct and measurable competitive advantage over their rivals. 12, The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter. 2006 (New York: Gallup Press, NY).

     

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  • December 9, 2016

    3 minute read

     

    Change is hard.

    This is a frequent, and perhaps well-worn sentiment amongst those who concern themselves with the management of for-profit enterprises.

    It’s corollary, of course, is that change is necessary – that in order for an organization to be successful, it must be open to, and willing to accept change. Better still if your company is able to anticipate and embrace it.[1]

    So important is the capacity to “change”—and the idea that organizational change is good—the Academy of Management (AOM) created an entire subdivision to deal with these topics. According to their domain statement, the Organization Development and Change division “is devoted to empirical research, theory development, and practical application concerning all forms of organization change.” Notably, this would include:

    “The reactions and responses of people to change such as readiness for change, engagement in change, and resistance to change…”

    And “resistance to change” would indeed seem to be the issue.

    Or at least according to many of those who write about the subject. In “Why do employees resist change?” (from the Harvard Business Review), Peter Strebel writes that “for many employees…including middle managers, change is neither sought after nor welcomed. It is disruptive and intrusive.”[2] In “Overcome the 5 Main Reasons Employees Resist Change,” Lisa Quast (writing for Forbes Magazine) observes “…resistance can range from fairly subtle, such as avoidance or passive aggressive behavior, all the way to outright defiance, hostility, and sabotage.”[3] And in “5 Ways to Embrace Change in Work and in Life,” Rhett Power (writing for Inc. Magazine) insists “Change never seems natural. We naturally repel it…”[4]

    And so with this in mind, it is interesting to consider the work of pioneering organizational sociologist Joan Woodward.

    Back in the 1950s, Woodward studied manufacturing firms to determine “whether any particular form of organization was associated with management efficiency and success.”[5] Her findings, which she would publish in Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (1965), became the foundation of a so-called “contingency theory” of management (which will be the subject of an upcoming post.)

    Perhaps no less remarkable, however, are her observations from those studies regarding organizational change, and employees receptiveness to it. Yes, that’s right – receptiveness.

    Consider the following excerpted comments from Woodward’s text [my emphasis in each case]:

    • “…research workers obtained an impression of the way that people reacted to change. The surprising thing was the almost complete lack of resistance.” (p. 48)
    • “…for most people change was something that led to prosperity and expansion.” (same page)
    • “Indeed, the general impression was that the industrial population of [the firms Woodward studied] had been conditioned not only to accept change but welcome and enjoy it. In one firm the operators told a research worker that if the workshop looked the same for more than three months at a time they would begin to think the firm was going down hill.” (same page)

     

    See you next week.

     


    Bloggers Note: The point of this post is not to convince you that all employees welcome change. Quite the contrary. Surely some do, while others undoubtedly don’t. Instead, the larger point I’m trying to make with this, and all of the posts in my “Unconventional (mis)management non-wisdom” series, is simply this: For each and every pearl of management “wisdom” that you might come across, or have otherwise come to believe, there exists an equally sincere argument, or equally convincing observation that disputes it, or advocates for behaving in precisely the opposite way.


     

    Endnotes

    [1] “3 Ways to Embrace Change at Your Company” by Kathy Collins. Fortune Magazine (online), July 1, 2105. http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/kathy-collins-lead-transition/. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

    [2] https://hbr.org/1996/05/why-do-employees-resist-change. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

    [3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2012/11/26/overcome-the-5-main-reasons-people-resist-change/#7884cceb3393. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

    [4] http://www.inc.com/rhett-power/5-ways-to-embrace-change-at-work-and-in-life.html. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2016.

    [5] Woodward, Joan. Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice (2nd Ed.), Oxford University Press, 1980 (1965, 1st Ed.), p. 14.

     

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  • 3 minute read

     


    Blogger’s note: This week, another installment in my Paradox of the Week* series of posts.


     

    For those of you familiar with my blog, you know that in the past I have not been all that complimentary of texts penned by best-selling management advice guru Jim Collins. These would include Built to Last (1994) and Good to Great (2001), both of which are considered to be among the most popular business books ever written.[1]

    The problem with these two texts—as is the problem with all management advice books, in my experience[2]—is that the author (in this case, Collins) frequently and repeatedly contradicts himself. Indeed, one of my favorite examples of this phenomena is from Collins himself. In both Good to Great and Built to Last, for instance, he insists his text is not a “business book”…even though both were in fact published by HarperBusiness.[3]

    Unfortunately, one of his more recent offerings (published in 2009) is really no different. It too offers contradictory advice, and makes paradoxical assertions. And that text is:

    How the Mighty Fall.

    For example:

    • On page 25, Collins assures those CEOs and business owners who are perhaps struggling that “Just because you have made mistakes and fallen into decline does not seal your fate.” This is a perhaps welcome note of optimism given the book’s title. However, back on page 8 he doesn’t sound quite so cheerful: “Anyone can fall and most eventually do [my emphasis].”
    • On page 95, Collins writes: “Our research across multiple studies…shows a distinct negative correlation between building great companies and going outside for a CEO.” In other words, better to hire from within to fill that top spot. However, only 7 pages earlier Collins can also be found describing the successful turnaround of IBM in the 1990s. This was a transformation thought by many—including Collins—to have been orchestrated by Louis Gerstner, Jr., the CEO brought in by IBM from RJR Nabisco.
    • But let’s return to the text’s main thesis. In the book’s preface, Collins writes:

    “The aim of this piece is to offer research-grounded perspective of how decline can happen, even to those who appear invincible, so that leaders might have a better chance of avoiding their tragic fate” (p. xiv).

    So the purpose of this text truly seems to be to helping “the mighty” avoid “the fall,” so to speak. Nevertheless, on page 111 Collins can also be found arguing:

    “Not all companies deserve to last. Perhaps society is better off getting rid of organizations that have fallen from great to terrible rather than continuing to let them inflict their massive inadequacies on their stakeholders.”

    So how are you supposed to know if your organization doesn’t “deserve to last”?

    And if “society is better off” without your company…well, why bother reading—much less purchasing—Collins’ book in the first place..?

     

    See you next week.

     


    *An instance in which a business or management “expert” contradicts him- or herself, or otherwise offers paradoxical advice. Often this is done without any apparent awareness on the part of the advice-giver. For more examples of this all-too-frequent phenomena, click here. For an explanation as to why this happens so often, please see my post: Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1, 2, & 3).

     

    Endnotes

    [1] The Top 50 Best Selling Management Books of All Time. http://www.topmanagementdegrees.com/management-books/. “12 Business books every person must read” by Mike Templeton. Forbes (online), Nov. 10, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/miketempleman/2015/11/10/12-books-every-business-person-must-read/#55ff5ad23bca; “Was ‘Built to Last’ Built to Last?” by Jennifer Reingold and Ryan Underwood. Fast Company (online), Oct. 1, 2004. https://www.fastcompany.com/50992/was-built-last-built-last. All retrieved Dec. 1, 2016.

    [2] For more on this, check out my posts “Why you can throw out that management advice book (Parts 1,2&3)”

    [3] In the preface to Built to Last, Collins writes “At it’s deepest level this is not a business book” (p. xiv). And in Good to Great, “This might come as a surprise, but I don’t primarily think of my work as about the study of business, nor do I see this fundamentally as a business book” (p. 15 ).

     

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  • November 25, 2016

    3 minute read

     

    Happy Black Friday.*

    Consider the following:

    • In the US, it is estimated that at least 25 million people are expected to be at work today. This of course includes retail workers and many public officials (policemen, fireman, and postal workers), but increasingly those employed in other professions as well.[1]
    • Furthermore, nearly a quarter of all Americans will likely work on at least one holiday this season (either Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day). And 45% said there was a chance they’d have to work at least one of those days.[2]

    So if your office/place of work looks like the one pictured above today…well, consider yourself lucky.

     

    See you next week.

     


    *Black Friday traditionally signifies the beginning the holiday shopping season in the US, with many stores holding sales that day or offering discounts to shoppers. The first recorded use of “Black Friday” in reference to the day after Thanksgiving was in 1966; a stamp dealer used the phrase in an ad, pointing out that it was the nickname given to the day by the Philadelphia Police Department because of the “massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks” caused by holiday shoppers.[3] More recently (since 2005), Black Friday has become the single busiest shopping day of the year.[4] This year (2016) it is expected that nearly 138 million people will shop on the weekend,[5] spending an anticipated $655 billion on Black Friday alone, or about $940 per shopper.[6] For many retailers, sales between Black Friday and Christmas Day have increasingly come to account for much of their revenue – anywhere from 30%-40% of those sales in many cases.[7] This has resulted in an increased need for seasonal workers,[8] but perhaps at the expense of more stable, year-round employment. Nor does this day pass without the occasional shopping-related tragedy. Since 2006, there have been 7 reported deaths and 98 related injuries occurring on Black Fridays,[9] including:

    • In 2008, a crowd of shoppers in Valley Stream, New York trampled to death a Wal-Mart employee.[10]
    • On the same day in Palm Desert, CA, two people were fatally shot during an altercation at a Toys ‘R Us.[11]
    • In 2012, two people were shot outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, FL during an argument over a parking space.[12]

    Finally, Black Friday has slowly expanded to include “Black Thursday” as well. In 2011, several retailers opened their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving, including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Beall’s. In 2012, Wal-Mart announced it would opens its doors at 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, which prompted calls for a walkout by some employees.[13] This year, over 20 major retailers will be open for business on Turkey Day, including Best Buy, CVS, Dollar General, JCPenny, Kmart, Macy’s, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart.[14]

    (From the Black Friday Wikipedia entry, unless otherwise noted. All retrieved Nov. 23, 2016.)

     

    Endnotes

    [1] According to the Christian Science Monitor, 25M people worked on Black Friday in 2010. From: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/1126/Working-on-Black-Friday-A-look-at-who-doesn-t-get-the-day-off.

    [2] According to USAToday, one-quarter of all Americans worked on one of the [major] holidays in 2014. From: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/11/25/employees-that-work-holidays/19487341/.

    [3] “Black Friday – why and when?” by Eric Zorn Chicago Tribune, Nov. 28, 2008. http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2008/11/black-friday-why-and-when.html.

    [4] International Council of Shopping Centers, Holiday Watch: Media Guide 2006 Facts and Figures. http://holiday.icsc.org/2006/hw06_fullguide.pdf.

    [5] National Retail Federation. November 2016 Consumer Survey. https://nrf.com/resources/consumer-data/holiday-headquarters.

    [6] What is Black Friday? Sales Trends” by Kinberly Amadeo. The Balance (online), Nov. 15, 2016. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-black-friday-3305710.

    [7] See note #6.

    [8] “Why A Happy Holiday Is Ahead For Retailers” by Deborah Weinswig, Forbes (online), Nov. 8, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahweinswig/2016/11/08/merry-and-bright-holiday-season-for-retailers/#505281ba45b3.

    [9] Black Friday Death Count. http://blackfridaydeathcount.com.

    [10] “Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede” by Joe Gould, Clare Trapasso and Rich Schapiro. The New York Daily News, Nov 28, 2008. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/worker-dies-li-wal-mart-stampede-article-1.334059.

    [11] “Shots fired at Toys R Us in Palm Desert; 2 dead” by Michelle Maltais, Richard Winton, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Andrew Blankstein. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28. 2008. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/11/shots-were-fire.html.

    [12] “2 shot at Florida Wal-Mart over parking space, police say” by FoxNews (via Asosciated Press), Nov. 23, 2012. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/11/23/2-shot-at-florida-walmart-over-parking-space-police-say.html.

    [13] “Wal-Mart workers plan Black Friday walkout” by Emily Jane Fox, CNNMoney (online), Nov. 15, 2012. http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/15/news/companies/walmart-black-friday/.

    [14] “Stores Open On Thanksgiving 2016: Target, Walmart, Best Buy And Other Store Hours On Nov. 24” by Nicole Massabrock. International Business Times (online), Nov. 23, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/stores-open-thanksgiving-2016-target-walmart-best-buy-other-store-hours-nov-24-2450475.

     

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  • November 18, 2016

    13 minute read

     

    For those of you who follow my blog, you by now know that I don’t think much of management advice books.

    These sorts of texts—and their flaws—have been the subject of previous tirades (“Why you can throw out that management advice book – Parts 1,2&3”). They also continue to provide fodder for an ongoing series of posts I call the “Paradox of the Week.”

    What you may not be aware of, however, is that when I do take aim at a particular text, I make an effort to contact its author(s) whenever possible.[1] Typically what I do is shoot them an email that reads something like this:

    Dear ______

    As a professional courtesy, I am writing to let you know that I cited your work ______ in a recent blog post. If you feel that I have misquoted or misrepresented that text in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me.

    Best, Etc., etc.

    For the most part, the exchanges that have resulted have been civil. (Most of the time though, I simply never hear back.) That is, with one notable exception:

    Professor Roger Martin.

    His reply begins as follows:

    Dear Mr. Rys: My advice would be for you to stick to pharmaceutical science where you might know something useful…

    It kind of goes south from there.

    So this week, an “open letter” to Professor Martin. In it, I’ll attempt to address his concerns, criticisms, accusations, and insults – and in so doing, clear up any questions you might have of your own.

     

    Playing to win

     

    What seems to have rankled Prof. Martin was my juxtaposition of a couple of passages from a book he co-wrote with the former CEO of Procter&Gamble A.G. Lafley titled, Playing to Win (2013).

    Here’s what I had to say back in February:[2]

    In Playing To Win…Lafley writes that during his tenure, P&G’s corporate statement of purpose included producing “products of superior quality and value [my emphasis]” for its customers (p. 19). And yet several pages earlier Lafley describes pricing a skin care product at $18.99 instead of $12.99 because market research showed that “prestige customers would doubt its efficacy” if it were priced “too low” (p. 12-14). Savvy marketing certainly, but hardly consistent with a commitment to providing customers with products of “value.”

    And pointing out the apparent contradiction here seems to have, well…gotten under Prof. Martin’s skin.

    First, a little about Roger Martin himself. Until recently, he was the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He is now the Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, and according to his website, Martin is a “thinker, author, advisor, speaker” as well. And a business concept known as “integrative thinking” has been attributed to his work and research.[3]

    Martin has also received a bunch of awards. Here’s just a few:

    • In 2013, he was named “Global Dean of the Year” by the business school website “Poets and Quants
    • That same year, he placed 3rd on the Thinkers50 list, a biannual ranking of the most influential global business thinkers, moving up from 6th (in 2011) and 32nd (in 2009)
    • Thinkers50 also named Playing to Win—the book I excerpted those passages from—the Best Book of 2012-13

     

     

    Roger Martin is “terrified”

     

    So back to my reply to Prof. Martin. As I already pointed out, his email begins as follows:

    (Note: the text of his message is in bold-faced text; mine is plain-faced)

    Dear Mr. Rys:

    Actually, it’s “Dr.” if you want to get technical about it. Not “Mr.” But call me David – I’ve never been much for titles.

    “My advice would be for you to stick to pharmaceutical science where you might know something useful. You certainly know nothing useful about management from what I can see – though I only read the first couple of paragraphs – which are nonsensical.”

    Two things here, Professor Martin.

    First, I’ve always found it to be a mistake to criticize something (especially so unequivocally) before having read it in its entirety, no matter how “nonsensical” it may at first appear. This is for all the obvious reasons, of course. Your questions or concerns may be addressed later on. Or you may have misinterpreted the author’s argument, etc. (More on that in a moment.)

    Second, and with regards to your charge that my argument is “nonsensical,” I’d just mention that the substance of my post was peer-reviewed and then presented for critical review at 7th International Critical Management Studies (CMS) Conference in Naples, Italy on July 13, 2011. (This is something I noted at the end of my post, had you bothered to read that far.) And it was well-received, if I do say so myself. Of course, this doesn’t really prove anything, does it? So perhaps you’d like me to inform the conference organizers that you feel their review process is substandard in some way, or otherwise lacking..?

    “Let’s imagine the following situation circa 1998. The biggest skin care market is face care and the biggest part of that market is face care creams sold for $20 – $500 in what is called the ‘prestige channel’…”

    At this point, Prof. Martin goes into a somewhat detailed explanation as to why it was justified for P&G to price that skin care product at the price they did. Specifically, P&G charged $18.99 for a product that they could have sold for $12.99 and still turned a profit. For the purposes brevity, I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing Prof. Martin’s argument, but lest I be accused of giving it short shrift, or inserting my own bias, I have reprinted the full text of his email below for you to read for yourself, if you so desire.[4] Basically, he argues the following: If P&G had charged less for the product in question, “prestige customers” would not have been attracted to the brand, bought the product, and P&G would have lost out on a billion+ dollars in revenue. The “challenge,” he concludes, was getting “prestige customers” to believe that P&G’s skincare product is as good as anything offered by their more expensive competitors. He goes on to say:

    “You can chose to be an idiot and ignore that challenge (of convincing prestige customers to buy the product) and start selling a much superior product to anything that has ever been sold in the mass channel for $12.99…

    But all those prestige shoppers that you are attempting to help get a much better solution simply won’t show up and you won’t do a damn thing for them.  

    That would be the idiot strategy – something you seem to support!”

    (Sigh)

    No – I don’t support such an “idiot” strategy, as you call it. And you would probably have realized that had you read on. But no worries. It seems that you were blinded by your frustration at being singled out for criticism, and thus unable read further. So allow me to reiterate and perhaps clarify.

    For starters, let me just say that Mr. Lafley was justified in pricing his company’s products however he liked. As a firm believer in markets and the economic efficiencies they have to offer (provided the right conditions are met), I wouldn’t dream of arguing otherwise. Companies are free to charge whatever demand allows for their products and/or services. Period.

    So, no – I am not the anti-capitalist that you seem to assume I am. (Nor the business neophyte, perhaps?) I do not think that P&G necessarily “cheated” its customers in any way, which I’m guessing is the charge you’re anxious to level at me? In the end, P&G’s customers felt they got what they paid for. Or at least enough of them felt that way for P&G to turn a profit. And this is not something P&G should be embarrassed by (nor something that you should feel the need to get defensive about).

    However, if we can agree on this one point—as it seems we do—you cannot then also argue that P&G was being guided by the lofty principles contained in the company “statement of purpose.”

    To charge customers more just to make them think your products are of superior “quality” on the one hand, and then on the other claim to be committed to providing products of “value” just doesn’t add up.

    That IS contradiction to my mind – and that is the substance of my criticism.

    But go on, you were saying…

    “Instead, you choose to help the prestige customers gain the confidence to give your new product a try by pricing it just below the…prestige entry price of $20 – i.e. $18.99 – which drives trial by prestige customers…

    And by helping those prestige customers discover a new brand, you help them trade down in price…and at worst sideways (for some of the $250+ brands) and mostly up in quality of the product…

    And that is in contradiction to the principle of delivering products of quality and value in what way?”

    Yes, yes – I get it (although I’m not sure you’re really “helping” your customers as much as you’d like to think). Nevertheless, I would agree that charging your high-end customers $18.99 does makes your product a “value” relative to the $20 (or $100) they might have had to pay for some other company’s skin care product. Furthermore, your low-end customers now might be able to purchase a much superior product, at a more affordable price relative to what they’d been paying in the past. And that too, is something that they are apt to “value.”

    But your mistake lies in your failure to acknowledge (or perhaps recognize) that you’re playing a little fast and loose with the term value here. Specifically, there is a distinct, but perhaps subtle difference between a product that is “a value,” and one that customers “will value.”

    Here’s another way to think about this:

    When it comes to sneakers, for example, consumers may choose a brand (such as Nike, or whatever) because they like the idea of being associated with the athletes who endorse those shoes. This is something that they “value,” and are willing to pay a little (or a lot) more for. But those shoes aren’t really “a value” in the more absolute sense of the word, because you can probably find footwear of comparable quality and durability at a lower price. Again, two entirely different meanings of the word value – as well as two strategies for shoe manufacturers to adopt, neither of which is “right” or “wrong,” in my opinion. Just different.

    To return to the scenario you and Mr. Lafley describe, clearly P&G sold their skin care product at a price many customers were willing to pay. Truly it was something they “valued” in that sense. But this alone does not prove—nor even suggest—that the product was “a good value,” or even “a value” in the more absolute sense of the word. After all, the product could have been priced lower, but wasn’t. And if I read it correctly, P&G’s mission statement describes being committed to producing products “of value,” not simply ones consumers “will value.”[5]

    But that’s just my opinion, of course. Perhaps more illuminating would have been to ask P&G’s customers their thoughts (particularly the non-“prestige” customers)? Would they still have “valued” that skin care product as much had they known the price had been raised almost 50% just so it would be taken seriously by high-end shoppers? Or would they have preferred the lower price, and an effort on P&G’s part to educate customers (at both ends of the spectrum) of its true “value”..?

    Again, I’m not criticizing P&G’s pricing decisions here. Charge your customers more, or charge them less. I honestly don’t care. But if you do choose to charge more than you might have otherwise to in order to deceive them—as you all but admit—don’t tout the company’s principled adherence to providing products of “quality” and “value.”

    It’s contradiction – and frankly, it just doesn’t ring true.

    “Stick to pharma, my friend. Your understanding of business is too weak to possibly attempt to create a coherent argument about something as simple as this. And this one isn’t a complex business issue.

    I am terrified to see what you would do when faced with a complex business issue.”

    Roger

    “Terrified”? Well, okay Roger. I’ll make you a deal.

    I’ll go back to pharma if you can correctly and coherently answer even one of my following questions.

    You see, the whole reason I quit my job as chemist in the first place, and instead decided to write about (mis)managing is this: I’d become frustrated with how little my managers seemed to know about good management, and how to manage me. And that frustration turned to astonishment when I figured out that the so-called management “experts” (like yourself) really don’t seem to know what they’re talking about either.[6]

    First, however, some advice. Indeed, since you’ve taken the liberty of offering me some unsolicited counsel, allow me to return the favor:

    CEOs like Mr. Lafley should price their company’s products however they want. (Just as an aside, I’d be curious to learn what Lafley has to say about all of this, since I’ve not yet heard back from him.) But he should take a pass when it comes to writing a management advice book.

    You see, Mr. Lafley may know a thing or two about how to run a business, but like most CEOs, he doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how to explain how to run one. Like virtually every other management advice book I’ve ever read, his (yours) is a text based upon a set of contradictory principles and paradoxical assertions. And this renders it useless to the practicing or aspiring manager – and the critical reader.

    (To understand why yours and so many other management advice books fall victim to this same fatal flaw, you’re going to want to finish reading that original post, as well as its sequel.)

    In this particular instance, I would only add the following: Why do CEOs continue to insist on the importance of crafting some BS, milk-toast, corporate mission statement, when they’re obviously not guided by it? Even if P&G were to have adhered to their “statement of purpose” more rigorously, does Lafley really believe that this is what distinguished P&G from its rivals? Don’t either of you realize that thousands of businesses—both successful and unsuccessful—trot out, or pay lip service to similar “visions”?

    So stick to managing, Mr. Lafley. And leave the management advice business to someone else.

    As for you, Roger…well, I’m not sure what to say. I’d argue that you should also stick to running companies, except that’s not really what you do, is it? As for your capacity to teach, that concerns me as well. I mean, if this is how you react to someone who pushes back on one of your ideas, I can’t help but wonder how you treat a student who dares to do the same in your classroom. Do you try to shout her down too? I hope not.

    There is of course an irony in all of this. The rebuttal you offer, while off the mark since you seem to have misinterpreted the point of my post, is nevertheless thoughtful – and even thought-provoking. So I have to ask: why didn’t you include it in your book? I for one believe this to be just the sort of detailed discussion of a real life business predicament that most people (especially managers) are absolutely desperate for – and that is so obviously lacking in most management advice books.[7]

    I mean, really – why hold back?

    Okay – back to those questions I would have you answer, so I can finally return to chemistry:[8]

    1. If the person closest to a problem is usually best equipped to solve it, why is it that at most organizations the employees closest to those problems—namely, the frontline—are typically denied the authority to address them?
    2. If the companies we work for are supposed to be little meritocracies, as we’ve all been led to believe, why are office politics still so prevalent?
    3. Why are managers routinely expected to act as both “advisor” and “evaluator” with respect to their subordinates, given that these two roles are fundamentally incompatible with each other?
    4. If managers are in fact supposed to evaluate their subordinates performance, how do you explain the catch-22 this creates? After all, one of things that most effects any employee’s performance is how well he or she is being managed.
    5. Employees are usually expected to work as a team, but that can mean subordinating their own interests to those of the group, department, and/or company. And yet acting for the good of the “collective,” as it were, and against one’s own best self-interests doesn’t seem very capitalistic is it? So how do you explain that?

    And please keep your answers brief and jargon-free…lest they come across as “nonsensical.”

    Regards, David

     

    To be continued?

     

    Alright, that’s it. Care to weigh in on any of this? Submit your comments below.

    And I’ll be sure to let you know if I hear back from Roger.

     

     

     

    Endnotes

    [1] This is entirely dependent on whether I can find an email address for them, or a Twitter account.

    [2] From “Throw out that management advice book (Part 2): The Ten Commandments.”

    [3] “How Successful Leaders Think” by Roger Martin. Harvard Business Review, June 2007. Online at: https://hbr.org/2007/06/how-successful-leaders-think. Retrieved Nov. 17, 2016.

    [4] The full text of R. Martin’s email reads as follows:

    Dear Mr. Rys: 

    My advice would be for you to stick to pharmaceutical science where you might know something useful. You certainly know nothing useful about management from what I can see – though I only read the first couple of paragraphs – which are nonsensical.

    Let’s imagine the following situation circa 1998. 

    The biggest skin care market is face care and the biggest part of that market is face care creams sold for $20 – $500 in what is called the ‘prestige channel.’  These are ‘high street’ department stores and specialty stores that sell brands from counters staffed by beauticians who are employed by the skin care company, not the retailer (e.g. Clarins, La Prairie, Estee Lauder, etc.)  Women (95% of the market is women) like the quality of the products (better active ingredients, consistency, etc.), the fact that since the company owns the counter the full line is always in stock, the packaging is both lovely (so it looks appealing to them on their bathroom shelf which matters to them) and functional (better applicators/delivery systems, etc.) and the advice.  They don’t like two things – the beauticians tend to be pushy because they are commissioned; and it takes a special trip to the store – they aren’t in it on a regular basis. And they are ambivalent about one further thing: the pricing is high – typically the highest price they pay for any disposable personal care product – and while they know they have to pay for quality and quality is really important for the future of their faces, they wonder if they are paying too much. 

    As P&G, you know that you have the technical capabilities to create a product that is as good or better than products being sold in the prestige channel at the $100+ price point and you want to deliver that value to consumers in a place in which it is easier to shop – I.e. the mass channel where they shop on a regular weekly basis for other household needs, plus they won’t be pressured by an aggressive sales person – and at a superior price to what they are used to paying. 

    However, as P&G, you have a challenge.  Those prestige shoppers don’t believe that a brand sold in the mass channel can be of the quality that they think is the minimum necessary to take care of their face in an appropriate manner.  That is a big barrier 

    You can chose to be an idiot and ignore that challenge and start selling a much superior product to anything that has ever been sold in the mass channel for $12.99 – at a price your research shows won’t attract any prestige channel buyers.  As a consequence, you will have a little business that encourages mass channel buyers who have been paying $3.99 for a mediocre product to pay $12.99 for a better product. 

    But all those prestige shoppers that you are attempting to help get a much better solution simply won’t show up and you won’t do a damn thing for them.  

    That would be the idiot strategy – something you seem to support!

    Instead, you choose to help the prestige customers gain the confidence to give your new product a try by pricing it just below the Clinique prestige entry price of $20 – I.e. $18.99 – which drives trial by prestige customers.  It won’t guarantee continued usage by those customers – the product has to be a great quality/value combination for them.  

    And by helping those prestige customers discover a new brand, you help them trade down in price, up in convenience and at worst sideways (for some of the $250+ brands) and mostly up in quality of the product.

    That grows the business from $750 million to $2.5 billion – with most of the incremental $1.75 billion coming from customers who receive from P&G a product that is lower prince, more convenient and same or better quality than they previously had.

    And that is in contradiction to the principle of delivering products of quality and value in what way?

    Stick to pharma, my friend.  Your understanding of business is too weak to possibly attempt to create a coherent argument about something as simple as this.  And this one isn’t a complex business issue.  I am terrified to see what you would do when faced with a complex business issue.

    Roger

    [5] According to Lafley and Martin’s book, P&G’s full “statement of purpose at the time read as follows: “We will provide products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.”

    [6] For more on this, please see my post: “Why that MBA might not be worth as much as you think”.

    [7] I would also point out that you are not the only person to have struggled with the question of whether businesses should put profits before other, perhaps more “ethical” considerations. For instance, that late Peter Drucker grappled with this question as well (albeit unsuccessfully, in my estimation). For on this, please see my post: “Drucker’s Dilemma”.

    [8] For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll recognize these questions from my inaugural post: “Why your boss probably sucks”.

     

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  • November 11, 2016

    8 minute read

     

    What happened in the presidential election on Tuesday wasn’t democracy.

    That’s not just the opinion of one voter in a state of denial either. It’s an entirely rational, and even obvious assessment of what occurred.

    Let me back up for a moment.

    I blog about management. In particular, the (mis)management of for-profit organizations operating in some approximation of a free market economy.

    As a general rule, I do not weigh in on the management of public or not-for-profit organizations. This would include any of the institutions of government, or the political process. To my mind, they are different beasts entirely – or at the very least, worthy of their own blog.

    But I do consider myself to be a sort of expert on organizational (dys)function. And in the wake of Tuesday’s election result, some of my readers have expressed…well, dismay, confusion, anger, and sadness – and are looking for “answers,” or some explanation as to what happened.

    So this week, an exception to my usual rule.

    I can’t tell you why people voted the way they did. Or what they were thinking when they pulled the lever, pushed the button, or sent in their ballot.

    But I can offer a perspective on the election that you probably haven’t heard before…and that, ultimately, I hope you will take some comfort in.

     

    Democracy is messy

     

    Of the two myths concerning Tuesday’s election that are currently being circulated (yes, by the media) the first is this: the Trump win was the result of a democratic election process. It may have been unpleasant for some, but this is just how it works. Democracy is messy, as the cliché goes.

    But this claim is easily debunked, as even a cursory look at the election totals show.

    Consider again the outcome. According to the latest data I could find,[1] the ballot totals for each candidate are as follows:

    Clinton: 60,458,647

    Trump: 60,068,599

    First of all, yes – as it stands, Clinton won the popular vote. In the absence of an electoral college, Clinton would have been declared the winner. Any twelfth-grade political science student can tell you that.[2] Importantly then, the 2016 presidential election does not meet even the lowest bar for any “democratic” process: the most votes wins.

    But the presidential election held on Tuesday fails to meet another basic criteria for a democracy: majority rule. Take another look at the those results again, this time converted to percentages:

    Clinton: 47.7% of the electorate

    Trump: 47.4% of the electorate

    Trump, in other words, did not receive a simple majority of the ballots cast in the election. And this will almost certainly be the case even if Trump’s total eventually surpasses Clinton’s once the last vote is counted. (Of course, neither did Clinton, the remaining percentage of votes going to third party candidates.) At the most basic level then, the election failed a second litmus test for democracy: majority rule.

    Based on this, it is thus entirely accurate to also say that President-elect Trump will occupy the oval office without a popular mandate from the voters. Or, to put it another way, of those who turned out on election day, most voted AGAINST a Trump presidency.

    And I for one, take just a little bit of comfort in at least knowing that.

     

    Divided we fall

     

    There is a second myth circulating regarding Tuesday’s results. But this one has  been fomenting for awhile now – from well before the election was held. And it is the following:

    The US is a deeply, deeply divided nation when it comes to its politics.

    Whether you look at ballots cast in terms of numbers or percentages—or even the electoral map—we, as a country, would appear to be split down the middle. Basically fifty-fifty in who we voted for (or against), red state/blue state in the electoral college, and a congress that can’t seem to do anything but disagree with each other. Throughout the electorate, and at all levels of government, there would seem to be deep divisions and little appetite for compromise.

    Well, not so fast.

    Consider the following: The United States is a nation of 324 million people,[3] 226 million of whom are eligible to vote.[4] Furthermore, only 142 million of those eligible are actually registered to vote.[5] That means last Tuesday, almost 25 million chose NOT to support either candidate.

    Why is this significant?

    Well, for starters it means that a convincing 58% of the registered electorate effectively voted AGAINST a Trump presidency – opting to either vote for one of his political rivals, or by abstaining from the election entirely. (For you Trump supporters of course, that means roughly the same percentage voted against a Clinton presidency.)

    That bears repeating: Almost three-fifths of the electorate don’t want Trump (nor Clinton) to be President of these United States. Had that been the result in the popular vote, it would have been considered a landslide.[6]

    Now, sure – you could argue that those registered voters who didn’t cast ballots weren’t making a political statement. They’re stupid, or lazy, or simply unpatriotic.

    But if that’s the case, why bother registering to vote in the first place? And what about those citizens who we know didn’t vote, but can be sure aren’t any of these things? For instance, Jeb Bush didn’t cast a ballot in this year’s presidential race,[7] and I don’t hear anyone calling him apathetic or un-American. Nor has Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) been shy about his decision not to participate in the election process in the past.[8] Certainly no one can accuse him of being stupid, or lazy.

    Maybe you’re with me here, and maybe not. But if I might indulge just a little more, consider the picture should we factor in those eligible to vote. Since that number is closer to 226 million people, this means that of those who might have cast ballots on Tuesday, only 26% could bring themselves to vote for Trump, while a whopping 74% did not, would not, could not, or simply didn’t care enough to.[9]

    All of which is to say that we, as a country, seem to be more “united” than we might have been lead to believe…united in our dislike of Trump, that is.

    And I take comfort in this as well.

     

    The fix is in

     

    I was trying to explain all of this to a friend of mine late on election night, but she wasn’t finding it as reassuring as I’d hoped.

    She proceeded to point out that while it might be nice to think that a majority of voters had gone on record as being against Trump, basically I was arguing that the problem was systemic. That the way we elect our presidents in this country is fundamentally flawed, in other words…and perhaps even failing us. And I got the impression that fixing it, to her mind, would always be a far more daunting task than the challenge of trying to convince people to vote for the better (or less terrible) candidate.

    She’s right, of course. By no means would changing our electoral process be easy. It would require amending the constitution – which we haven’t really done since the early 1970s. Still, it’s not impossible and, perhaps ironically, 10 of the last 15 amendments concern either voting, or the election process in some way.

    Logistical concerns aside then, here are the changes that one self-described (dis)organizational scientist suggests we should make:

     

    (1) Abandon the electoral college

    As we’ve learned twice in the last 2 decades, the electoral college does not always reflect the popular vote.[10] Both in 2000 and 2016, it has effectively suppressed the will of the people. So no-brainer here: No electoral college. One person, one vote. Votes shouldn’t count more because of the state you live in, any more than whether you can vote or not should depend on your sex, or the color of your skin.

     

    (2) Hold run-off elections

    When no candidate gets a simple majority of the votes in first round of balloting, a run-off election should be held. There are a variety of possible protocols to implement here,[11] which I won’t go into, but a run-off is a process which in effect winnows the candidates down to two, so that on the final ballot, one person is guaranteed to receive a majority of votes. Again, nothing ground-breaking here – other democracies do this to good effect (Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, for instance), and the process is even used in some jurisdictions in the US (San Francisco, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN).

    In fact, for those Republicans who have been so uncomfortable with a Trump candidacy all along, it should be pointed out that he might never have won the party’s nomination had they opted to hold run-off elections in their state primaries.[12]

     

    (3) Make it easier to vote

    This suggestion is perhaps the most obvious of the three – but for the sake of thoroughness, it should be acknowledged that this would do two things:

    • It would likely encourage more people to participate in the political process. And the more people that vote, the more likely it is our elected officials will act on and reflect the will of ALL the people they represent.
    • It would also force candidates to appeal to a broader electorate, thereby perhaps ensuring that they offer generally more palatable policies, or exhibit more mainstream ideals and attitudes.

    So let’s hold our elections on weekend. Or better yet, make it a national holiday. Or simply make it easier to vote by mail, or electronically.

     

    Back to the basics

     

    Alright, that’s about it. Next week, it’s back to blogging about (mis)management.

    However, before I go a couple final thoughts:

    If it’s not already obvious to you, I did not vote for Mr. Trump in this election. I voted for Ms. Clinton. Why? Well, I have a theory as to why women do better in leadership positions than men. (That’s right, women seem to be better at leading than men.[13]) So as scientist, I guess I had a hypothesis I hoped to test.

    But a Trump presidency also troubled me, and still does – and for all the usual reasons which I needn’t go into in any detail. Others have done so already over the past few days, and far more eloquently than I would be able to, so I will spare you my attempt. I would just add, however, that as someone who was bullied as an adolescent, I feel that a(nother) terrible example has been set for our nation’s children.

    What has also troubled me these last few days is this: I fear there are those who might now at the end of this long process believe that democracy has failed us. That it is somehow a moribund or outdated system, and that we need to find a different (or God-forbid, more hierarchical) means by which to govern ourselves. In fact, I think we might all now agree that it is this very frustration that lead voters to support Trump in the first place, at least in part. Theirs is a disgust, and anger at a political party and a system that they feel—and rightly so—doesn’t listen to them, and is thus failing them. I can honestly say I commiserate with Trump supporters on this point.

    But as I hope I’ve been able to convince you, democracy is not failing us.

    We have failed (again) to practice democracy.

    To my mind, this organization that we call our republic can be improved upon only if we choose to more faithfully adhere to the principles of democracy, and its elections and voting processes, as opposed to our current half-assed attempts at it.

    Why is this so important for me to point out? Because it is the difference between trying to figure out where to go, and the perhaps far easier task of figuring out how to get there.

    And I take comfort in having come to this realization.

    I hope you will too.

     

     

    Endnotes

    [1] http://www.cnn.com/election/results/president. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [2] This is precisely what some 12th grade political science students concluded in an “All Things Considered,” segment on NPR, aired November 10, 2016.

    [3] https://www.census.gov/popclock/. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [4] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/03/2016-electorate-will-be-the-most-diverse-in-u-s-history/. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [5] http://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-577.html. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [6] This is roughly the same percentage of the vote Ronald Reagan received when he defeated Walter Mondale in the 1984 Presidential Election. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_elections_by_popular_vote_margin. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [7] https://www.facebook.com/jebbush/posts/876702172458827. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [8] Wozniak, Steve, with Gina Smith. iWoz. 2006. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, p. 77.

    [9] Keep in mind too, that these numbers don’t account for the so-called “protest vote” – those who didn’t vote for Trump, so much as they voted against Clinton. We might get some idea of what that margin is by looking at the results of the 2016 Republican primaries. In total, Trump received a total of 14,015,993 votes, or 45 percent of the ballots cast. Again, this is not a majority (although it is more votes than any of his Republican rivals received.) In fact, Trump did not achieve a simple majority in any primary until very late in the Republican primary process, when most of the other candidates had withdrawn. The first was the New York State primary, which was held on April 19th, and the 42nd primary of the season. In it, Trump received 59% of the ballots cast.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_Republican_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [10]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_elections_by_popular_vote_margin. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runoff_voting. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2016.

    [12] See endnote #9.

    [13] According to the Gallup Organization, women make better managers than men. From “The State of the American Manager.” Gallup. 2015, p. 26.

     

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