The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, May 08, 2023

9s and 2s, 10s and 1s

Over the 17 years that the OnCenter blog has been in existence, I've frequently quoted an old management maxim that brings smiles to those who work in the private sector and even a few nods from those who work for government. The maxim addresses the hiring practices of good and bad managers and goes like this:

9s hire 10s, and 2s hire 1s

The implication is that good managers (9s) can recognize competence and merit in all whom they hire and act accordingly. Bad managers (2s) often can't recognize either competence or merit. Some are so insecure in their own incompetence that they look for employees who are even worse.

But what if we encounter a generation of managers who no longer care about competence or merit. Rather, they're driven by another set of organizational criteria derived from government decrees. Those criteria focus on hiring people with specific physical characteristics or other personal traits (e.g., religion, gender, sexuality, heritage) that have little, if anything, to do with competence and merit. This approach is called "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) and has become a dominant approach in hiring, pay, and promotion practices in many large organizations.Even Hollywood has decided that DEI criteria will be used in the judging the "Best Picture" for the Oscars beginning in 2024.

Although there are certainly exceptions and plenty of unfairness, the United States was once a meritocracy in which the best, the brightest, and the most talented rose within an organization. If merit and competence can be combined with some of the better elements of DEI, all will be fine. But today, there are increasingly visible instances of merit being replaced by people who meet specific DEI criteria and nothing more. 

No instance is more painfully obvious than the case of the Biden administration press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre (KJP). During her tenure in the position, KJP has demonstrated her incompetence repeatedly. Worse, I think she recognizes she is in over her head. As a consequence,  she often responds with stumbling arrogance when (in rare instances) she is asked probing questions by the generally (Democrat) friendly White House "reporters.". 

Like her boss, KJP seems unable to speak extemporaneously, reading from prepared notes that often don't address the substance of a question.  She misstates obvious facts and seems to think that name-calling is a substitute for informing the public. She is a member of the 1s by any definition of the term.

Over the years one thing has become increasingly clear. Even when 9s and 10s have populated positions in the federal government, most governmental programs are executed incompetently and are largely wasteful. One can only imagine what will happen as 1s and 2s begin to take on positions of leadership and responsibility. Maybe we should ask KJP.


Issues and Insights reports that polling indicates Americans favor merit-based decisions on hiring, pay increases, and promotion by a margin of 3 to 1. 

Yet, arguing the counterpoint, we see opinion pieces entitled, "Yes, a meritocracy can lead to, and perpetuate, racial inequality." Arguments like this one amount to the soft racism/classism/or gender bias of low expectations. They characterize all groups that fall under the DEI umbrella as victims who cannot be expected to be measured by the same standards applied to others. 

Although the authors of pieces like this think they're being virtuous, their position is actually despicable. They suggest that past discrimination can be remedied by eliminating competence and merit as primary criteria for selection and advancement. Not only is that position intellectually absurd, it also taints the laudable achievements of those in DEI classifications who do merit hiring, pay increases and promotions. DEI, when applied with only a side glance at merit, is dangerous and wrong.