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  • Big Brother Watches Dilbert

    Posted by Ginny on January 23rd, 2021 (All posts by )

    Chicagoboyz are excellent managers – and have opinions. I’m curious how effective you see:
    TECH THAT AIMS TO IMPROVE MEETINGS.

    If you aren’t sufficiently paranoid about 25,000 National Guards brought in for a nonexistent “coup” sleeping on the freezing floor of a parking garage and hearing they will be there until March (I don’t know how Abbott’s order to bring his men home is going – at least the Texas contingent should leave sooner), then consider Big Brother recording your blood pressure and eye contact at your next business meeting. (Does this seem a breakthrough in efficiency or something akin the Stasi in The Lives of Others?)

    It gives useful information; it might encourage quieter members and rein in talkative ones. Could interest be faked for the camera? But a leader who doesn’t sense the mood of the room and who doesn’t encourage contributions and differing approaches tactfully would probably not use AI information well either.

    Neither as employee or employer did I find these necessary (probably incorrectly). Forced into biannual meetings, I fell asleep or went off on diversions. This technology would quickly cull me (“Doesn’t play well with others”). But I’m not sure that makes it, well, bad. Invasive, yes. Nonetheless, I suspect it fosters conformity and forces consensus: in short, is UnAmerican. But maybe that’s just me.

     

    22 Responses to “Big Brother Watches Dilbert”

    1. Dan from Madison Says:

      So, a few things here to unpack.

      Aren’t they going to have to change the HIPPAA laws to allow employers to get the health related information? This almost seems as a way to set a baseline for “engagement” and thus make it easier to fire someone.

      But the fact is that most managers know (or should know) who their engaged and productive people are already. I sure do. Being a tiny business, it is probably easier for me to fire someone for poor performance and not get sued, vs. Disney, who probably has some sort of quota system, corporate diversity minimums, and all the rest.

      So in short, if they can get away with this, I’m guessing that these metrics might be a better/easier way to be able to fire a poor performer who might be someone who would not otherwise be easily fired and avoid EEOC/other lawsuits. If you get my drift.

      Sorry that the glass is half empty.

    2. David Foster Says:

      A good manager should be able to detect how well people are ‘engaged’ in a meeting, and…very importantly…how *usefully* these people are engaged. There are always a certain number of people who are looking for ‘air time’, and tend to make comments, ask questions, etc, for the primary purpose of getting attention. I don’t want ‘engaged’ people unless their engagement has something to contribute.

      More difficult, of course, to get real-time feedback from one’s audience when giving a presentation to a large meeting with hundreds of people in the audience.

    3. Anonymous Says:

      Monitoring such tells conditions only the behavior that can actually be measured. People are pretty good at figuring what keeps the heat off of them and what gets a pat. These biometrics may correlate with engagement, but they soon would lose their predictive value. Think about the ambitious who fake taking notes combined with head nods and slight smiles to exhibit engagement. If their actual work fails to measure up, these conditioned responses seldom improve their chances. If people can learn to deceive a lie detector, they can be conditioned to avoid the tells that get punished and exhibit the ones that get rewarded- all without actually performing the real engagement and the desired performance.

      There is a great difference between inducing interest and willing participation by leadership and compelling monitored behavior. In the later, don’t expect good results when your back is turned. Such a culture rewards clever but not good followers. For many with power and authority, they have little ability to elicit willing following and can only try to increase their subordinates’ observed performance by compelling more comprehensively. This technology would appeal to them.

      Death6

    4. MCS Says:

      Why not simply hook everyone up to a polygraph when they sit down, maybe combined with a cattle prod to correct lagging attention.

      The premise that productivity is a possible let alone likely outcome of a meeting of more than two people is the problem. The sole purpose of formal meetings is to reconfirm the pecking order with whoever called the meeting placed at the apex.

      Anything actually accomplished will be from one-on-one interchanges during the milling around that precedes and follows where the people that need to know something can get answers from the people that do without having to sit through endless posturing by the ignorant “stake holders” that feel compelled to show their engagement.

      Oddly, I don’t seem to go to many meetings.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Remembering a meeting many years ago….a guy, who I’ll call ‘Fred’ and who was not normally part of the group, came in to give us a presentation. The ratio of words and slides to content was pretty high, and none of us were sure what point he was really trying to make. Finally, the guy running the meeting said;

      “Fred, you don’t have to convince us you’re smart. We already *know* you’re smart. ***Just tell us what you want to do.***”

    6. BobD Says:

      Wonder what Jeffrey Toobin’s biometrics would have looked like?

    7. Mike K Says:

      I finally had a Zoom meeting yesterday. It was an interview with a lady for a golden retriever rescue outfit in Phoenix. The interview was to decide if we were good candidates to adopt a golden. I had a golden in the late 90s and she was a wonderful dog. I have had five basset hounds since but our last basset died of Valley Fever last December. I think she got it digging a hole in the back yard. Ironically, I got it about the same time and wound up having lung surgery in July. I was filling her holes and probably got a spore then.

      Anyway, I noticed our dog coughing and an xray showed valley fever pneumonia. We had her on the right drug, fluconazole, but she got worse. The lady who was interviewing me said her dog has valley fever, too. I tried not not to be too negative with her.

    8. Jay Guevara Says:

      Forced into biannual meetings, I fell asleep or went off on diversions.

      In boring and pointless meetings, where I couldn’t be seen to be obviously doing something else, I used to mentally use the binomial theorem successively to calculate the square root of 1000.*

      My record (one time when no interrupted me) was six decimal places to the right of the decimal point. By the time of the next such meeting, I’d have forgotten the answer, and so could start over.

      *(30 + 1)^2 = 961.
      (31 + 0.5)^2 = 961 + 31 + 0.25 = 992.25.
      (31.5 + 0.2)^2 = 992.25 + 2(0.2)*31.5 –> too big.
      (31.5 + 0.1)^2 = 992.25 + 2(0.1)(31.5) + 0.1^2 = 992.25 + 6.3 + 0.01 = 998.56 (getting close!) Etc.

    9. Anonymous Says:

      Jay, we already knew you were smart, just tell us the answer.

      I once worked for a three star, He had productive briefings. Only specifically directed by him for his and appropriate senior staff information or decision. Power Point, limit five bullets per slide, don’t read the slides to him. First slide was the specific objective of the briefing. He reserved the right for himself or this invited senior staff to interrupt with a question or pointed info or guidance. Not to be abused. If the briefing was BS, he’d stop it abruptly with a couple of pointed remarks and instructions for what needed to be done to fix it. Briefings were reserved primarily for getting important decisions from him. No routine or general info or repeditively scheduled meetings except for force readiness status. This guy got more done in a day than any two gifted people I have ever known. These things were high speed and if you didn’t keep up you were putting yourself in danger of being left in the dust. No need to monitor folk’s attention or engagement. It was said of him that he would never get ulcers, but he was a carrier.

      Death6

    10. David Foster Says:

      I understand that at Amazon, Bezos requires people to **write documents** explaining the case for doing something, rather than giving presentations for that purpose.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      death6, was that guy you called He -like a deity – was he on xtasy? he and his senior staff with their briefings on “high speed” sound exhausting

    12. Bob Hodges Says:

      One of my relatives had a practice as an executive to take all of the chairs out of the conference room. No getting comfortable with a cup of coffee and letting the meeting run on. Come in, get to the point and leave.

      OTOH I had a boss in the federal government who told this for the truth. He was in meeting with his boss and boss’s assistant, having been out engaged in various recreational pursuits until somewhat earlier that same morning. After a while, he suddenly snapped awake, with no idea how long he had been out. He looked across the table, and the other two participants were asleep, too.

    13. Anonymous Says:

      Desantis (FL), Abbot (TX), and the governors of Montana and New Hampshire have ordered their troops home.

      I dunno what the others said, but Desantis was pretty outspoken:
      “This is a half-cocked mission and they are not Nancy Pelosi’s servants.”

    14. Jay Guevara Says:

      Jay, we already knew you were smart, just tell us the answer.

      It wasn’t that. It was just mental chewing gum that could last as long as necessary. Nothing more. And as indicated, I always forgot my previous answer, so it was something of an evergreen.

    15. Jay Guevara Says:

      I once worked for a three star, He had productive briefings. Only specifically directed by him for his and appropriate senior staff information or decision. Power Point, limit five bullets per slide, don’t read the slides to him. First slide was the specific objective of the briefing. He reserved the right for himself or this invited senior staff to interrupt with a question or pointed info or guidance. Not to be abused. If the briefing was BS, he’d stop it abruptly with a couple of pointed remarks and instructions for what needed to be done to fix it. Briefings were reserved primarily for getting important decisions from him. No routine or general info or repetitively scheduled meetings except for force readiness status.

      This guy sounds great!

    16. Jay Guevara Says:

      Oops, sorry, hit return prematurely.

      I liked a detailed agenda: what exactly is the situation, what are the options, what are the pros and cons as recognized by whoever is calling the meeting. In principle, it should be possible most of the time for someone to exercise a proxy, if the issues and options have been teed up.

      The worst meetings without exception were when people showed up, looked at each other, and then asked, “Whose meeting is this, anyway?” Those were the really bad ones.

    17. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Someone, back in the mists of time for me in my military career had us watch John Cleese’s “Meetings, Bloody Meetings” short. I took it to heart when I was given to be the planning NCO for a fairly big unit event.

      Have an agenda for the meeting, posted beforehand, stick to it like a dictator. Cut off anyone seeming to be wandering. Big problem or an unresolved issue in the offing? Stick the two most concerned about it do do something to resolve, task to report back the next meeting. Keep minutes for the meeting, of important tasks, and call up those responsible to resolve them at the next meeting. Assign goals, make note, and demand reports on progress as part of the next meeting. Keep it short, brisk, don’t permit wandering off task.

      I don’t think that I had a planning meeting last for longer than 45 minutes. And the whole event came off like clockwork. I was so proud…

    18. PenGun Says:

      I was almost fired, when I was quite young, for nearly eliminating my job. I was sent to a ‘piston blank punch’ operation that had low productivity. It was punishment for something, maybe setting the extrusion press table on fire, I don’t remember. ;) Anyhoo I had a place to myself, two small conveyor belt setups, the punch machine and a method that was braindead. I used the conveyor belts to both feed and take away product from the puncher. After some fooling around, I doubled production and nearly eliminated my job. They were most offended I had made it so I did very little, and not at all impressed with the extra blanks.

      Ah, summer jobs.

    19. Gringo Says:

      Sgt. Mom
      Have an agenda for the meeting, posted beforehand, stick to it like a dictator. Cut off anyone seeming to be wandering….I don’t think that I had a planning meeting last for longer than 45 minutes. And the whole event came off like clockwork. I was so proud…

      During my 12 years on the Board of my HOA, I often intervened during meetings to get us back on task. Unfortunately, our President had a tendency to wander, though she didn’t react badly to being reminded to keep on task.

      Stick to the agenda, and meetings are short. If you don’t, meetings can drag on and on. We found that out early on after taking over from a horrible Board.(The big owner responsible for most of the damage had sold his units.) Don’t let someone hijack the meeting! Then things drag on and on. I found out there is a reason for college classes being limited to 75-90 minutes. (Those that are not, usually have a break). After 90 minutes in a Board meeting, my mind wandered. You can keep them to 45 minutes if organized.

      PenGun, good story.

    20. Anonymous Says:

      Death6
      I once worked for a three star, He had productive briefings…. If the briefing was BS, he’d stop it abruptly with a couple of pointed remarks and instructions for what needed to be done to fix it. Briefings were reserved primarily for getting important decisions from him. … This guy got more done in a day than any two gifted people I have ever known. These things were high speed and if you didn’t keep up you were putting yourself in danger of being left in the dust.

      I worked 3 years for a guy who ran an investment firm. Some of his partners had very recognizable names. Early on I reported to him on a project, which turned into a profitable investment for him. After being hired, I never had formal meetings with him at his desk or at a table- just quick conversations on the fly, standing up. One thing you quickly learned in discussing things with him was, “Don’t waste his time.” You learned to prepare your points and state them concisely. As I was investigating the project, I knew more about it than he did. That being said, I have never encountered someone who could direct questions at the heart of a matter better than he did. Very sharp guy.

    21. Gringo Says:

      The previous comment was mine.

    22. Jay Guevara Says:

      Have an agenda for the meeting, posted beforehand, stick to it like a dictator. Cut off anyone seeming to be wandering….I don’t think that I had a planning meeting last for longer than 45 minutes. And the whole event came off like clockwork. I was so proud.

      Well done. One other thing: the meeting starts ON TIME, and ends on or before the scheduled time. It used to drive me crazy when meetings started 10 minutes late, and then dragged on to the scheduled ending time even after any business had been concluded.

      Having told my story above, I’ll tell one on myself. I was once in a faculty meeting that historically took an entire afternoon, as arts dons had no sense of urgency, and would ramble for hours. Another scientist and I – always pushed for time – had to attend, but took a table at the back and worked on reviewing papers and proposals throughout the meeting.

      At one juncture they passed out slips of paper for a vote. I hissed sotto voce to my colleague, “What are we voting on?”

      He replied, “Just vote ‘yes.'”

      “Are you sure? I don’t think it’s a yes or no vote.”

      “Yeah, it is.”

      He seemed utterly certain, so I voted “yes.”

      The secretary of the meeting then gravely intoned, “The vote is 17 for Smith, 15 for Jones, and two for “yes.”

      We were mortified. It was obvious that that had been our handicraft, and everyone present turned and laughed heartily.