Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kingdoms of Influence

Its funny to notice how many times capitalism and communism converge.  I have heard productivity compared to production pushes before by my Russian coworkers. But what I would like to consider is the client Patron relationship.  Specifically the Soviet Nomenklatura and a few of the pointy haired evil bosses I have worked for in the past. 

Both are examples of a client patron relationship in which a powerful person invests a lower with some power and the lower is in turn beholden to the former.  The Nomenklatura were often called the sons and daughters of the party.  Basically children of the people in power who were given positions because of their relationships.  They were then expected to support the position of the elder that assisted them.  In general seems pretty normal as you would expect loyalty from those you have helped or at the very least that those you help to have similar views as your own.

Really it brings into question if nepotism is necessarily bad?  I mean if you are working at a small business it's expected that parents would offer their children a job and groom them to take over the ownership of the company.  Also in the political arena families often take an interest in government.  While I have some problem with the underlying reason of this it would be wrong to say any family only gets one politician.  My problem is that people with connections to power get power and those connections run in families.  But certainly giving a job to someone they are unable to do because of relationship isn't good either.  What what I am getting at isn't nepotism but rather empowerment through relationship.

When addressing the Evil Bosses that exist within the capitalism system you have to understand a few points.  This isn't an attack on they system but rather individual corruption.  While generally bad it may be the only way to accomplish goals in certain environments and it looks a lot like the standard boss employee relationship.  With the Evil Bosses I have worked for their strategy is to build a network of cronies through their organization.  This is something I have taken to calling a Kingdom of Influence.  Once in place they consolidate power by restricting information and resources that flow out of their Kingdom.  It is sort of like a working Maxwell's Daemon.  Resources and control go in but are maintained within that pocket.  Access to systems is restricted or limited at best.  Basically these kingdoms operate for their own benefit rather than company benefit.

Here you are probably thinking so what.  I have worked with teams that maintain systems and you cant allow everyone to come in ad fuck up your database.  Also it seems normal that you work for your bosses interests that's is the job you are paid for.  A good boss should shield employees form management so they can get on with their jobs.  You are correct.  I remember a conversation with a boss named Brian where I mentioned that "my job is to make you look good" what I was saying was recognition flows downhill.  That is pretty standard.  When you see recognition making a jump is a sign that you may have a problem.  A Director taking a very personal interest in a few individual contributors and then those contributors moving quickly to management may be a bad sign.  Also any time a new boss comes in and quickly hires employees from their last company.  There can be exceptions some people are very good and should advance and some people are very loyal to their bosses.  But you have to take notice what comes next.

When you are working in a good organization you collaborate with other teams and work for common goals.  Kingdoms work internally or offer support in a quid pro quo fashion.  Good organizations have many individuals with Kingdoms of influence you are often directed to a single mouth.  A good organization will accept when their proposals and working style are not used for a project.  The kingdom of influence will plot downfall and often work to re implement their ideas when trouble is met.

Generally the failure of these Kingdoms is their insularity.  They are good at maintaining and growing power but not at getting anything done.  These sorts of organizations are most often in companies where maintaining a product has become more important than development.  Ideas like SCRUM and cross functionalism are foreign to those devoted to a Kingdom of influence.  I have seen a few of these dealt with and both used tactics very much like those used for cancer.  One involved the complete cutting out of those in power and the second just starved them out.  The first as both rewarding and scary as I have never seen senior management directly fired.

Personally I think these power bases clashing has been harmful to every organization I have seen them occur.  It just seems corrupt to see people working for individual benefit rather than the goals of the company or organization.  What is worse is these Kingdoms occurs everywhere from politics to PTA organizations, and outsiders like myself have no hand on the wheel that steers the ship.  I find any organization that desires to extend influence beyond the individual invariably orients itself in the insular direction of these Kingdoms of Influence.  All I know is that direction is one nobody wants to go.

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