Friday, February 27, 2009

Trickle down incompetence

On Thursday, a poster added one of the most insightful comments I've had in a long time to this post. They were responding to this article.

It got me thinking in the middle of the night about why I was, and continue to be, frustrated by the way Booth newspapers in particular, and newspapers in general are operated. To be clear, I love newspapers, I want them to succeed and I feel for my friends left behind and the uncertainty of their futures.

Then it hit me, "trickle down incompetence." Inspired by the blog comment I began to piece together the frustration in my mind.

While we at the bottom of the food chain were carrying out the mandates and goals of those above us, no matter how stupid or off target, they always knew that no matter how badly it all turned out they would not be harmed.

Kind of like being in a war foxhole with a leader that you know is never going to make the charge with you. In my humble opinion, this is not only what is wrong with Booth, but wrong with corporate America today.

It's why I trust pilots when I'm flying. The way I figure it, my life is directly tied to theirs. I know they are always going to do their best to get the plane up and down, not because I'm on it, but because they are.

In the new business model, the "pilots" are on the ground flying the "planes" by remote control. When they make a mistake, it's the passengers who crash and not them.

It's the decisions and mistakes by the people at the top that end up impacting, negatively as of late, the folks at the bottom. But while those mistakes result in jobs losses and hardship on those at the bottom, the folks at the top reap rewards well beyond their achievements.

That was not the case in days gone by. People who risked capital and investment paid the price for mistakes. Today, the CEOS travel from company to company raking in millions of dollars whether they are successful or not.

In fact, they are rewarded in spite of their abject failure. We have seen that at Booth, we have seen it at banks and we see it everyday in other businesses.

Capitalism works only when success is rewarded and failure is not. Today, especially for those at the top, it doesn't matter whether you succeed or fail, you get a big, big check and/or you keep - as Mel Brooks would say in "Blazing Saddles" - your "phony, baloney jobs."

That would explain how people are promoted higher on the corporate ladder even though it was their mistakes, their misjudgements and their lack of vision that created the problem.

During the bank hearings for the first TARP, I heard Secretary Paulson say, "if we don't let these people (speaking of CEOs) keep their bonuses they will leave the companies."

That's a bad thing? After all, these are companies seeking massive bail outs for their financial failures. It wasn't the bank clerk or lower level loan officers who were making the bad decisions to move forward with policies that provided bad loans to millions of people. But guess who paid the biggest price?

The "buck" President Harry Truman used to talk about no longer stops at the top, it simply flows down and stops at the bottom with massive layoffs. That's what I call "Trickle Down Incompetence."

Their "incompetence" trickles down on those who work at the bottom.


Anonymous said...


That's a long way around the barn just so you could use a quote from "Blazing Saddles!"


I must agree though: They say things will be bad if we let the banks fail.


Then we'll see if executives play games anywhere near like this in the future.

Same is true for politicians who violate the law and then are allowed to keep their pensions.

They violated the public trust. If they automatically lost their pensions, I suspect their behavior would improve dramatically.

Eric said...

I agree with you 100 percent.

When was the last time you heard of management layoffs at a newspaper, or anywhere for that matter? That's because the people that are making the decisions are going to do what they can do to save themselves. In the end, that's where they're true interest lies, they don't care about the people at the bottom. They are simply making the decisions that will put more money in their pockets.

If they can do that and put money in your pockets too, they often will. But if by taking it away from the people at the bottom, they can get more themselves, they will choose that route in the end.

Problem is, that's capitalism. How do you fix it? You don't, short of communism. That's the problem with Barack Obama's plan. Tax cuts to the lower and middle class, tax hikes to upper class. Sounds like a great idea, but it's not capitalism.

So which would you prefer? Capitalism or communism?

I know I'm being a little extreme here in my argument, but in the end, if you strip it all right down to nothing, that is what it comes down to.

Find a way to fix the problem in a capitalist society — that's the solution...if there is one.

Eric said...

Had to add...I agree with the other comment here. Instead of the government stepping in and saving the corporations that fail, let them fail. They will be replaced by other, more competent businesses, and these execs will (hopefully) not make the same mistakes again.

That is also capitalism.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'm sorry, but your comparison is completely off base.

It's simple: when things are good, everyone has it good (and should). CEOs can have a fair salary (in Japan, it's about 30 times the lowest paid worker; in the US, it's more than 1000 times... see the difference?) and workers can have their fair pay. When times are tough, we should ALL SHARE in the sacrifice! Are sailors communist because they're all in the same vessel? When the ship goes down, you're all going to drown. It doesn't matter that the captain has been enjoying wine and a private bathroom and the sailors have been on rations -- it's a shared risk/reward system still based on capitalism.

Here is what is most troubling about what Jim and the commenter have posed: as stated above, capitalism is inherently based on risk, and the newspaper business rewards tradition. They are stuck in the same business model, the same way of thinking from what, the 60s maybe? The people they put in charge aren't even in contact with the digital age. I doubt most of them have ever visited their own website! They've never participated in an online forum, and they have little technological acumen. And you see, they don't WANT to know. Who isn't afraid of change? It's nice to keep comfortable and enjoy your fiefdom, and to make sure no one comes along who can ruin it.

No one is mentored at the Flint Journal. No one is sent to training. No perspective from outside the business is welcome; by and large, no one has any original thoughts or ideas except management... at least, according to them. I think this is because the older folks in charge are afraid of being shown up for what they really are -- out of touch.

I don't think anyone really has a big issue with what the publisher gets paid per se. It's the idea that everyone else is losing out and they (management) are untouched. They're not saying, hey, we're all in this together, we're also taking pay cuts and cutting back on our social, society events (which carry a hefty price tag, I assure you). They're firing people and fiddling away at the bacchanalia!

I could go on and offer some personal anecdotes to really shed some light on current practices, but then my fans would know exactly who wrote this.

The worst salt in the wound is that there are people who are willing to try new ideas and who are willing to fail, and who are even willing to serve -- they are not wanted. Again, tradition is rewarded, not risk. An oft articulated tenet among management: "not my problem, let so-and-so deal with it".

It's everyone's problem. It should be all hands on deck!

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that rather than giving all that money to GM and Chrysler we should have bailed out all their workers (White and blue collar), their retirees, the workers at the small US shops that supply GM and Chrysler, and everyone that owns a GM or Chrysler vehicle that's still under a warranty, and let GM and Chrysler die. In the long run it would probably be cheaper.