"Out of many, one" was the translated motto on the Seal of the United States of America. It is a brilliant phrase, and speaks to the one nation formed of first 13 and eventually 50 states, to the principle of democracy shared by all Americans, to the idea that so much more unites Americans than divides them, to the idea that in being one, we are greater.
This was so from 1776 to 1956, when Congress officially replaced it with the motto "In God We Trust." Just a little bit ironic, especially today that a conceptually pluralist society chose to embrace a monotheist declaration isn't it?
We are human (I suppose Congress-people are as well, but I could be wrong). We each have strengths and weaknesses (not sure they have many strengths). How we deal with them is what makes us more or makes us less; our response, our actions are the true measure of who we are.
In changing the motto, Congress chose to shift accountability, to pass the buck. When management faces their shortcomings, what do they do? I think most embrace Congress' proven skill at passing the buck.
My last post was about the mistake America is making in seeking to measure teachers based on student performance. The meta point was that merit pay doesn't work in most team settings; it pits members against each other, and measures them based on their relative achievement - your "success" requires others in your team to "fail."
Merit is the easiest way to pay people - it is not equitable, but is perceived to be. It does not create a true team, but most MBA and HR-types will argue that it does. There is no e pluribus unum-ness with merit, unless your interpretation is "I emerged from the hoard and am the one." It requires you to not care if the team wins or loses, just as long as you win. Here's the other thing - in normalizing performance, you also normalize roles.
By normalizing roles, contrary to Jim Collin's Good to Great, you don't try to get the right people on the bus, you try and get the same people on the bus. That might be OK for certain jobs, but it's not realistic for most work done today. Having a team filled with like-minded and similarly-abled employees isn't ideal in today's competitive and complex world. Is it any wonder that there is so little innovation and creativity in the workplace?
These same MBA and HR-types will argue that merit is also the way to manage the herd and weed out poor performers. Hmmm... recalling the Congressional buck-passers, isn't merit management's way of compensating for their own recruiting, hiring and management failures? If managers were effective, the right employees would have been hired, perform optimally, work together, and achieve greatness as a team. This is exaggerating to make a point, but it might still resonate for some of us.
Passing the buck isn't just about normalizing the workforce. It's also about trying to get by without making tough decisions or more appropriately, deferring tough decisions to others. Steve Lohr wrote an article in the NY Times last week about the economics of elitism where he reflects on Steve Jobs' rule over product development at Apple. Lohr says: "They are edited products that cut through complexity, by consciously leaving things out — not cramming every feature that came into an engineer’s head, an affliction known as “featuritis” that burdens so many technology products."
As engineers, rather than ex pauci plures (out of few many), they chose e pluribus unum - out of many minds and ideas and approaches, they would make rather than defer the difficult decisions; they would design based on the ideal, and not the compromise.
Matter, people, our very world tends towards entropy - it is easy to accede to chaos. The tougher path is to resolve to be one, to be a team, to make a choice.