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Promote or Demote the Deadwood

December 13, 2011

What do you do with early employees of your company who are not as talented as the new people you’re able to hire. Do you promote them into fake positions, into management, try to ease them out. What about people who’ve just been around a while and maybe were talented before or maybe never will. If they’re not specifically incompetent or a bad employee, but just not as brilliant or fit for their role as newer employees, does it seem rude to fire them? Doesn’t it seem almost as bed to let them wallow in some mid-level position and never explain to them that you need more? (Photo is from my photostream)

I was thinking about all this as there’s a recent article in Business Insider on why so many engineers and executives have left Twitter. A former employee suggests there’s some favoritism going on, a lot of  employees with seniority getting high level positions over those who are more qualified, and a company focused on maintaining its success rather than driving after new challenges.

Sounds like most big companies. I guess the only surprise here is that Twitter is a baby company, or “start up” as the kids call them, newly minted in 2006. Most companies are probably best at driving after a proven good. If you make one successful product that has a stable customer base it’s hard to imagine dropping a lot of money on R&D either to change or improve or to work on new products or sidelines. R&D is expensive and as I talked about recently something US companies do not excel at.

Still I know many older engineers who have not been promoted in ages at MegaCorp. They go out for promotions, attempt to take on leadership roles on projects, and management pushes them aside. Sometimes it is for good reason. Sometimes they are just not of good caliber. But management is too lazy to be honest with people. They don’t offer suggestions for what these people who are basically “stuck” could be doing to improve themselves. And in many other ways, reward the deadwood over young ambitious engineers just as often when it suits them. When it doesn’t matter who takes something on, why not give it to the young buck who’s earned it rather than the guy who hasn’t done any real work in decades?

Seems like when it comes to engineers and personnel management path of least resistance is the one most often taken. You’d think critically thinking engineers who got promoted into management could be doing better.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2011 8:17 am

    I’m not an engineer so no little about career paths there. But in academia it certainly is true that you see a lot of senior faculty and administrators who are drifting toward retirement. Often they were hired at a time when the school was a different kind of entity, and so no, they never were as high-calibre as the young pups. Or they’ve burned out on the job — teaching and academic politics will do that to the best of us.

    On the other hand, it seems to me there’s some value in retaining such a person, assuming he or she is not just raving incompetent. There’s such a thing as institutional memory. Company managers, like a nation’s leaders, who have no understanding of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. In many cases, the company’s history resides in its older workers.

  2. December 17, 2011 8:18 am

    oops! she’s supposed to be a EDITOR!!!! Make that “not an engineer and so know little… Evidently!

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