Lesson for people managers

Quote of the day

Being the most talkative person in the room may be a good way to get people’s attention, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best ideas.As a neuroscientist, I’ve worked with large companies like Google and Deloitte on how to attract and retain top talent, and I’ve found that employers tend to favor extroverts.

But there are some surprising strengths that introverts bring to the table, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

Friederike Fabritius
February 7, 2023
A neuroscientist shares the 4 ‘highly coveted’ skills that set introverts apart: ‘Their brains work differently’

This could be the theme of my entire career. I clean up the messes of the incompetent extroverts who then get the promotions.

A couple of years ago someone who is not an engineer, never been an engineer, and never will be an engineer (lacking in math ability as well as some other things that are beyond them) was given a position as Principal Engineer that I also applied for. I asked HR, “How did they even get past the resume screening? They didn’t meet any of the ‘required qualifications’ and only partially meet two of the ‘qualifications’.” At my manager’s request, I had WRITTEN most of those qualifications around my skill set. HR assured me that the best candidate had received the promotion because, “This position requires someone who is well known.”

A Principal Engineer requires someone who is, “Well known”? But they are not required to have any engineering skills or do any engineering?” Being “well known” was not even hinted at in the qualifications for the job.

I was so upset at this I terminated the conversation. There was no point in further discussion with someone like this and I was not in any state of mind to talk without high risk of saying something which was “career limiting”.

Today I received notification of my yearly salary, bonus, and other compensation changes. No promotion. I’ve been in the same position for almost eight years with nothing but high verbal praise but not a single promotion. Being constantly called the team’s ‘Q’ (as in the James Bond movies) is nice, but I would rather be promoted. I’ve seen interns promoted to my job title in half that time. They were decent engineers, female, young, and, of course, extroverts.


21 thoughts on “Lesson for people managers

  1. Welcome to the curse of the competent, loyal white man. I suffered the same in the corporate phase of my career. You want the job? Get an offer for a similar role in another company and present it to your current company. I hate being mercenary like that, but that’s really the only way to get ahead in most organizations these days.

  2. Ah yes I remember it well. So glad to be retired.

    The Fortune 500 company that bought us years ago seemed to promote people who gave good presentations. I saw the same thing with USN briefing officers. They had no idea what they were talking about, I doubt they wrote their Powerpoint presentations or talking points. They could not answer direct questions correctly, they just shoveled bull shit until the questionare gave up.

    I got drug in to answer questions. Most could be answered in one or two sentence or with real numbers. Because my answers were not always what the top management or command wanted to hear, I became the bad guy, not the speaker even when I was dead on target.

    We worked with a young guy who was very sharp on the logistics side. He, like you, seem to have stagnated when he should be moving up the command ladder. He asked what was his problem. I told him it was easy, he was irreplaceable to his boss which made him unpromotable and unable to be transferred to any other department. His boss took credit for his work so he would not let him go. He was a quiet professional, not the glad hander dumb ass like his boss. He left soon after and I heard he was doing much better at a small company.

  3. You are straight, white, loyal, competent. Why should they give you anything more when you will continue to do the work well without promotion or perks, and it’s unlikely you’ll sue or cause drama? They know you are an easy and productive mark to use as a chump. Much better to give those jobs to people with the right skin color, or family connections, or degrees from the “right place,” or can socialize and schmooze with corporate “needs.”

  4. The “you need to be popular” requirement applies across the board. An asian female friend of mine was blocked from a position because she “didn’t have enough influence.” Which in this case was clearly code for “you’re not in the popular kid group.”

    High school never ends, it seems.

  5. “Well known”, is politics speak for ESG hire?
    Scare them. I want a raise. Not interested in the politics. I’m the one doing the work.
    Bonnie can make you all feel warm and fuzzy when you stare at her new tits during her power point presentation. Enjoy. I like to work and you’re going to pay me to do it.
    But, you would be making more than her.
    What’s your point? I do more than her. I make this company work. And lots of money. Pay me.
    (Sobiloff is spot on. Sometimes you got to be mercenary.)
    Then send a copy of “Corporate Cancer”, by Vox Day to owner of the company.
    One thing that surprised me in heavy construction was how small the pool was.
    I would go to a job in Arizona and meet people I had worked with in Colorado years before.
    My point is that your name, and the projects you completed are well known in the right circles. And everyone is on the lookout for solid hands. Even in hard times.
    And companies that aren’t, aren’t worth working for.
    That, and remember. The fastest way to screw your boss is to write down exactly what they tell you to do. Then do that, and only that.
    (Every boss in the world relies on their employees to use their head and innovate.)
    Well, I did exactly what I was told, boss. See here I wrote it down. Ya, I know it was crap. But I didn’t want to get in trouble with HR, they’re the ones running this outfit, right?
    Even Blackrock is having a hard time getting people away from that bottom line.
    And the ones that did are rethinking it.

  6. In 2010 we moved west and settled in Boise. I had a job lined up at one of the two big hospitals, where I found out almost immediately my Dept was run by the mean girls from high school; I was written up within five weeks and repeatedly within the first four months. I sat with the mgr and talked it out. He stayed another month, then was let go. I also talked it out with the next supervisor, who lasted less than three months. When I saw an opening in my specialty at the other hosp across town, I quietly applied, got it, and at the end of that clinical day walked into the newest supervisor’s office, placed my badge on his desk, told him I’d not be back, and walked out the door. It was a very satisfying moment… and the excellent new job lasted 9 years until my retirement at the beginning of the scamdemic, which is a whole ‘nother story.
    There are all kinds of work places, but if you’re at one like that and expect it to all-of-a-sudden be humane, well good luck to ya. Your future is in your own hands.
    SP RN Boise

  7. Just a data point … Every major raise and promotion I’ve ever had in my career, has come with a change of employers. Even leaving Company A for Company B, and then returning to Company A a year or so later, resulted in a net >20% raise at A.

    I am a “general specialist.” My field is rather small and highly technical, and I am somewhat unusual in that I am vaguely competent in a number of different aspects of it, as opposed to being highly focused on one particular facet.

    • You are never compensated properly for new skills learned while at a company, whether outside schooling or internal learning. You must always transfer to a new company to be properly rewarded for a new level of competency. Even a transfer within the same company to a different department rarely gets one a proper rate unless the job switch also entails a change in job category that forces the company to pay more. I saw one instance where the company created a new job title just so they could pay a new hire enough to keep him onboard. (didn’t work, as he decided he didn’t want to work for a place that was tossing his trainer, who he discovered he was replacing. He got a late job offer from a prior application, and left.)

  8. To continue Gerry’s and Sobiloff’s thoughts (above), the only thing worse than being the Reliable And Quiet White Male Who Cleans Everyone’s Shit Up is being the RAQWMWCESU who, after the mops and brooms are put away and the brown stains on desks are eradicated, tells them exactly what the cleanup involved, why the cleanup was required in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again. They will not just hate that, they will despise you for doing that.

    Because it’s always the Handsome (or Pretty) Favored Ones who screwed up royally because they did not have the skills or the specific understanding necessary. You ain’t favored, bub, you’re just one of the Old Faithful shit moppers kept around to help make everyone else look good.

    There are a few ironclad, absolutely true rules about Working In A Corporate environment:

    1) Upon assuming any new position your second most important job is training your replacement because your first most important job is looking for your next job. Your third most important job is keeping your resume updated, weekly if necessary (never, ever travel anywhere, even to the restroom, without a current copy of your resume in your pocket, and you should have your 20-second elevator pitch down pat), and the fourth most important job is Networking, Networking, Networking; there is no person, however superior or insignificant they may be or appear to be, who is not deserving of a minute of your time, delivered pleasurably and with a smile (I landed a job once because a shipping clerk I bought a coffee for once in a while called me about something he overheard in the hallways).

    2) Kill House Rule #1 is “No One Is Coming To Save You.” That is also Business Rule #1. It’s all on you. Kill House Rule #5 is “Always Be Working.” (Rules 2 through 4 may also be applicable, but 1 and 5 are mandatory.)

    3) Have a solid, reliable, personally-controlled means of secure communication. Yes, that means you have a second cell phone. A private cell phone you hand out the number to very, very, very carefully and which no one, and I mean no one, in Corporate World knows exists, and which you and you alone pay for with your own money. And, a blind email account which is never, ever, checked, even for a moment, on a work device. There will be a Work Phone that everyone calls and your phone which is NOT a backup to the Work Phone, but completely and totally separate and the two never, ever overlap, and the Your Phone never, ever rings in the office. Pro Tip: The Spouse needs to know about it, what it’s for, and must fully and completely understand that if you cannot be reached on the Work Phone the Your Phone is not the fallback. He or she must learn patience and practice it. Your Phone is for those very confidential comms that provide information for leverage (eg. Promotion or Lateral Opportunities) within The Corporate Environment and Info That May Produce A New Job. Pro Tip #2: Being geo-tracked by the Work Phone is a given; it should not be possible to geo-track you with the Your Phone.

    3B) Sometimes a lateral move, even sometimes a temporary one, opens up opportunities. Just like the view from the north side of the building is different from the view from the south side, so does the view (and information flow) differ between departments (and different departments also means more, and different networking contacts).

    • While I agree that you are mostly correct, that is a hellish and depressing way to live, which is why most of us don’t do that.

      It didn’t used to be like that. As an exercise to the reader, what changed and why?

      • Raising to the level of one’s incompetence is human nature. And just part of the business cycle. As it is in civilizations.
        Reading that cycle would appear to be a big part of survival.
        Especially in the corporate world.
        As Francisco says. You’re going to have to be cunning and sometimes ruthless to make it. Self-confident, and never let them see is you sweat their BS.

      • What, you thought Don Draper was a fictional character?

        Of course it’s hellish and depressing, that’s what it is designed to be. “Corporate” is a life form unto itself, with only minor cultural variations between “corporations.” Originally created to provide an organizational operating system for achieving defined goals, “corporations” morphed into their own unique Life Form. That it benefits the early adopters, aka “The Founders,” is the point. Everyone else must engage in Corporate Combat to survive, both inside the Borg and in the marketplace. Structure, Rolf, structure; it’s everything.

        The only socio-economic operating system unit worse than “a corporation” is “a government agency;” the origins are the same, except in keeping with that old joke about the Army and the Boy Scouts, corporations have adult supervision in the form of markets and stockholders.

  9. Getting management to look at the things that are important rather than the things that are obvious should be something taken for granted. Problem is management is very often taken from the ranks of the incompetent. A lot of companies simply do NOT promote the competent because they need them where they are to perform the process correctly. The people who get promoted are the ones that gum up the works at the production level. Instead of doing the risky thing by firing them upper management simply promotes them. Often because upper management is ALSO lacking in the comptence department. There are exceptions which are becoming rarer these days but generally competent people don’t want to be ‘managed’ and neither do they want the pain in the ass of managing others. Thus the people promoted to such positions simply don’t belong there.

  10. “The people who get promoted are the ones that gum up the works at the production level. Instead of doing the risky thing by firing them upper management simply promotes them.” And, once promoted, the error compounds because the Army of Incompetents get shuffled around in the game of corporate musical chairs.

    Aided and abetted, of course, by the Policy of Corporate Incest: “We don’t parachute outside people in, we promote from within.”

    Should someone from outside – and “outside” can be from a different company or even a different division of the same company – they will be an Invading Organism against which every corporate antibody will be called to muster to resist the infection.

    (And, for real, industrial strength Incest, one has only to look at law enforcement; it’s the foundational operating system.)

    It’s a very long way from conclusion, or even reliable stability, but I have a hunch there will be some books written about Musk & Twitter in half a decade or so; one, perhaps two, of them might actually be worth reading (but Sowell’s 92, and I suspect that banner will go uncarried for some time).

  11. It’s ALMOST never too late to read this book:
    “Neanderthals at Work”.
    This explains the framework that (US?) corporations work within. This will explain how, and why, the puzzling things you see going on inside companies continue to frustrate and confuse those who pay attention.
    It was a real eye-opener to me, and it would have helped if I had had that info decades earlier.
    It’s companion book is “Dinosaur Brains”, which is referred to on occasion. NaW is the important one.

  12. In my career I have found myself to be reasonably “popular”—or at least well-liked—by nearly everyone except the management. Who eventually, in general, keep me from moving anywhere, notice “stagnation” after several years, fire me, and then come to bitterly regret having done so.

    Really motivating.

    • I am extremely well liked. My boss even commented on that in my performance review last Friday. I just don’t seek out people at work to socialize/”network” with.

      • Neither do I.

        When I was younger I did a little more of that. But it was really as peers/friends, it was never about politics or ambition. It was just for fun. I’m not one to kiss up or step over other people, I don’t want to be, and I don’t really like people who do.

      • I suspect you are well-liked because you are seen as highly competent, helpful, and not a threat to anyone’s job higher up.

        • “… highly competent, helpful, and not a threat to anyone’s job higher up.”

          THIS is NOT a common situation. Normally this will trigger those who feel a little bit incompetent in their position to fend off those under them who make them nervous. Those above you must feel invincible, to not feel that way. Even if you don’t want their job, they assume that EVERYONE below them aspires to it. It’s how they got to where they are.

  13. “I’ve been in the same position for almost eight years with nothing but high verbal praise but not a single promotion.”

    Which, alas, is part of the problem. The work itself and the recognition of your peers was satisfying enough that you didn’t emit strong enough dissatisfaction signals. So, they allocated their review budgets to hungrier/angrier people. Made that mistake at MSFT myself, but it was somewhat deliberate. Advancing up the ladder demanded more “visibility”, but I wanted to put all the energy I was willing to give to the company into the product. Didn’t take on extracurricular improvements to the engineering processes and such. At a certain point, this turned my reviews into anti-raises (not keeping up with inflation). To be fair, my lead made it clear what sort of thing I needed to do to keep moving forward, but my heart wasn’t in it.

    Also: As you approach retirement age, the company investing in your career has diminishing returns.

    All this chafes at one’s sense of meritocracy and fairness.

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