The US Army is more Sobol than Google (Part 4)

The US Army is more human than Google.

The Army is not like its portrayal in most movies and television. Commanders, who are not in the field, need to trust the teams they place in the field. Pretty commonsensical, IMO. Stanley McChrystal in Team of Teams wrote, “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.” In short, firm dictation and control does not yield true, organic growth and success.

At Google, I often would have three separate managers tell me why my slide design and color choices were wrong, but mention nothing about the substance of the presentation. Most frustrating was that these slides were for internal use only. It was just supposed to be a way for me to present ideas to a broader group. When I’d ask for feedback about the content of the slides, I wouldn’t receive any. I would be told that I needed to get better at picking my shades of yellow. No humanity in those meetings.

Google pioneered the idea of “Twenty percent time.” Meaning, you had one day a week to work on a project you found personally motivating. At the Google I joined, the idea of twenty percent time had morphed into pure cynicism. It had been stripped of all humanity and authenticity. People sneer-smiled and cynically joked, “It’s 120% time since a manager would never let you work on something not directly related to their success.” I would look at people funny when they said this. I didn’t understand what they found humorous about the de-evolution of an idea originally meant to empower employees. A great idea, due to management, was morphed into organization wide cynicism. Definitely not human.

Another factor that makes the US Army more Sobol than Google is that pay is based on time and rank (now, I’m not saying that’s the best incentive structure, just that we were in a service job). Nobody is focused on hitting a payout target. From my experience, the “what does my manager think of me” based bonus structures make employees act in strange ways. I think a world without biased, confusing incentives that don’t provide value to value creators is possible. Compensation is a meaty topic and one which we’ll return to in future posts.

So, why am I writing all this? To sell software? Sure. To let others know it’s okay if you don’t thrive at Google? Absolutely. (I really thought something was wrong with me). But also – and more importantly – to let people know that autonomous teams with humanism embedded in their core operations can thrive at massive scales. The ideas of performance reviews, stacked rankings, promotion committees, OKRs, budgets for the sake of budgets, administration for the sake of administration, Pixar-quality slide decks, ineffective and expensive name brand consulting, extreme executive compensation, commuting to an office at the same time as everybody else, sitting in an office like a caged-animal for nine hours, doing bullshit jobs, mindless paperwork – none of it needs to exist. It’s a part of our culture – but it doesn’t need to be. It only exists because some ineffective, expensive name brand management consultants told us it had to exist. Then those consultants (definitely sociopaths) went into companies, and such the vicious cycle of corporatism repeats.

Fight back against corporatism. Work like a human. Create value. Spread energy. Build the future.

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