Bruce Webster is fast becoming one of my favorite IT-management authors right now. If you haven't already,1 check out his article The Dead Sea Effect which summarizes why some companies have high turn-over and only retain the worst employees. It's a good read and the main ideas in that article should at least inform your decision about what job offers to accept.

I also listen a lot to Jared Richardson and his advice which is usually about positive examples of how to lead teams and set up software shops. Jared's writings tend to be the exact opposite of Bruce's. Bruce focuses on what people do wrong and Jared tends to focus on what people do right.

I've taken Bruce Webster's writings along with things I've learned from Jared's talks and thought up these anti-examples of management. I call them anti-management tips... some are from Bruce's observations, others are Jared's flipped in reverse.

anti-advice for managers, CEOs, and leaders everywhere:

  1. Don't fire anyone, ever. The best way to demoralize troops is to avoid ever taking action against the incompetent, destructive, or otherwise evil employees you have. In fact, you should reward people with negative attitudes, poor work ethic, or destructive personalities by giving them the same or better salaries than the productive and positive people in the company. This way you show people that it doesn't matter if they do well or work hard and you will not remove negative influences or stand up for them. Not firing or ever taking action to remove harmful employees at all shows that you don't care to protect your company, the jobs of your employees, or create a non-hostile work environment.

  2. Fire people randomly. The less relevant to performance you can make the firing or layoff of employees the better you will destroy their work ethic. Just up and fire people for reasons that nobody can fathom. It will help people feel that your workplace is unfair and that their loyalty is misplaced. If you do this enough you can start your very own "Dead Sea" as competent people leave for new jobs to avoid the chopping block. If you have a fair process that tells an employee if they are doing well or headed for a pink-slip then you might accidentally give people the idea that your work place is fair. Don't do that. Be unfair.

  3. Never promote from within. If you never promote your people in-house you are telling them that they will never go anywhere and you see no potential in them. In other words, if you work here you must be a chump. If you want to advance in your career... this company is just a stepping-stone!

  4. Only promote from within. Promote incompetent people, hostile people, people who stuck around long enough. Don't promote for skill. That would show fairness. Never hire outside the good-old-boy network showing that it only matters if you've been with the company a long time. That helps people to either seek new opportunities or hunker-down and wait for the rising tide of high turn-over to eventually lift their ship up the corporate ladder. Whatever you do don't make promotions based on skills, ability, training, or any other metric that might seem fair.

  5. Never train your people. If your people have no real potential why bother training them. They might get better professionally and leave your company! Don't do that. You need to keep people from becoming talented enough to get other job opportunities. Only promote people who show a dis-interest in self-improvement to help underline this idea.

  6. Switch skill requirements and retrain constantly. Make people feel like the future is uncertain. Make them feel like any skill they learn will immediately become worthless.

  7. Never adjust plans. Don't change plans just because reality changed. This way you can further validate that you don't really care to protect your company, profits, and by extension the jobs of your employees. You further promote the image that you are detached, disinterested, and only drawing a paycheck yourself.

  8. Change plans constantly. Paradoxically changing plans too frequently gives the impression that you have no idea what the hell you are doing, have no long range vision, and are not competent to protect the employment of your staff. Finding the balance requires skill and thoughtfulness and you never want to display those otherwise people might start having hope for the future.

  9. Never sweat the details. Showing total disinterest in the details helps to foster that sense of detachment and disinterest in protecting the employment of your people. A well functioning company that is profitable and rewards its best employees is essentially ensuring continued profits for share holders and continued employment for the majority of its employees. Sometimes the details mean the difference between profit and loss. Never showing interest in the details shows not only a disinterest in the daily work lives of your employees as people but also a negligent disinterest in the affairs of your company. Smart employees will spot this and be effectively demoralized by it. So, go for two rounds of golf this afternoon.

  10. Last minute Micromanage. Sweat all the details, preferably only about three weeks before the due date of any project. Swoop in at the last minute and add more managers to a project and start micromanaging details and changing things right up to the deadline. Doing this right necessitates that you create project plans that are multi-year or multi-month and then ignore all status updates for as long as possible. Micromanaging this way helps people who work under you not only feel you don't trust them but you are also incompetent and may try and hide that by blaming them. Micromanaging is bad but most people either learn how to live with it or find a balance with their manager if it is consistent... don't give people the opportunity to think they understand what is expected of them. Inconsistency is how you keep people guessing and uncertain about their futures.

  11. Solicit feedback, then ignore it. Let people know you are just toying with them and don't take them seriously. Give them a party afterwards to rub it in.

  12. Celebrate mediocrity. Celebrate and reward meaningless accomplishments, never acknowledge super-human effort. This will create the impression that you either don't pay attention or that you find above and beyond performance meaningless. Conversely, we celebrate a baby's ability to walk but we don't celebrate a teenager's ability to do the same. Loudly congratulating a baby for taking a step gets a giggle from the baby, loudly congratulating a teenager for taking a step gets nothing but disdain from the teenager. Your employees at different levels of ability operate the same way. Of course, you could also throw a party for the person who didn't screw up this time consider comments in front of the whole group like: Hurray! You didn't totally screw up! We're so proud of you. Who's acting like a competent developer? You are! Yes, you are! Wooshee wooshee woo!

  13. Only listen to consultants. You need to let people know you think they are incompetent.

  14. Never hire expert consultants to help with projects. You need to let people know you will never get them the help they need. Let them know you'll never train them, get them what they need to succeed, or actually care about what they are burning their precious life's flame out on.

  15. Never cancel consultant's contract. Let people know you can spend lots of money, just not on them.

  16. Never get to know your employees. Keep them at arms length, don't get to know them, tell jokes to other managers in front of them without acknowledging their existence. This keeps the employee feeling distant and detached. You want to let them know you think they are a cog.

  17. Never tell your employees how the company is doing. Keep them in the dark and avoid telling them what's really going on in the company. That way they learn to use the grape-vine as the ultimate source of information. Your company will run on rumor and innuendo.

  18. Broadcast everything negative. Anytime something the slightest bit wrong happens run around like chicken-little screaming that the sky is falling. That'll help morale.

  19. Contradict subject matter experts. You should also contradict and constantly undermine your subject matter experts to show them that their expertise is worthless. If you contradict the best minds in the industry all the time you'll help people feel you are clueless. This will help heat up your little Dead Sea project.

  20. Abuse your employees. If you can't physically beat up your employees make sure you set up situations where you can emotionally beat them up. Set up processes with lots of negative interactions with people telling each other "no" a lot. Don't use technology to alleviate the need for negative interactions between people. Make sure everyone is forced to confront their coworkers frequently for the smallest infractions.

    Whatever you do... don't create or install any metrics, automated tests, dashboards, continuous integration servers, bug tracking systems, or anything that could impartially handle the tasks of negative feedback that help create a perception of fairness and predictability. That kind of action would positively affect morale. Instead, keep work-life nebulous, unpredictable, and as unfair as possible. Make people battle each other based on emotion, gut feeling, and innuendo forcing politics to rule decisions instead of cold hard facts.

Comedy aside, I think building a talented software development team is a lot like building a talented basketball team... or any sports team really. You may need talented developers that are really star players, but, you may have to play without them in which case having a good strategy is key.