Peanuts & Monkeys…

i r thinkr
Image by BEN+_+ via Flickr

How often have you heard the adage, “you pay peanuts and you get monkeys”?

In this post I want to challenge some of the common beliefs around pay, academic achievement and experience when used as measures of suitability for management (with particular emphasis on the police service)…

For some time now, the above proverb or analogy has been used as a reference to the high salaries often demanded by people in supposedly high-ranking jobs however, it appears that all that is due to change. It would seem that not before time, the adage is finally becoming valueless, like some of the managers and their disgustingly high salaries…

Giles Edwards, a Producer of the BBC Radio 4 – ‘Can Pay, Will Pay’ program has asked; “Are executives worth their huge pay packets?” Apparently it would appear they are not (well there’s a surprise) and it’s all down to something ‘experts’ call the ‘Talent Myth’ (read full story).

“The ‘talent myth’ states that there are a small proportion of high-flying employees who make a huge impact on their company’s success and that those employees are extremely difficult to replace” – David Bolchover

Also according to the ‘experts’; the ‘talent myth’ was sown in the city, those seeds were successfully propagated in the grotesque glasshouses of the square mile, by some already grossly over salaried and affluent banking gardeners. The resulting prolific growth rate was in many ways, due to the green fingered skills of the gardener’s. Endeavours based mainly upon self promotional skills, as opposed to any physical endeavour. Yea LMAO! Yet another example of talking the talk without (necessarily) physically walking the walk.

The resulting blooms spread like pond weed out of the financial quarter, through the private sector and eventually into the public sector (and the police service). Many would say from acorns grow big oak trees which may be so however; where is the physical evidence of high achievement and, what do we actually mean by the term? In addition, if we accept high achievers are absolutely crucial to business success, why do we have such an apparent shortage? And, when there appears to be so many people professing the required skills, why do we have such difficulty replacing them if/when they move on?

Bolchover also argues that: “there is a whole industry consisting of other high-paid people, institutional shareholders, pay consultants, even journalists and academics who have a vested interest in sustaining high pay” (read full story).

Some may well disagree with Mr Bolchover’s analysis however; people who specialise in recruitment of ‘top people’ for executive posts agree the ethos is failing. Despite any perceived belief that recruiting top people on top salaries is the way forward, often the reality of the situation is the person is not actually a top person after all. At present this ethos is still being applied however the process is problematical.

So a high pay structure (as a basis for performance) is actually a fallacy, but what of the achievement or personal accomplishment aspects of the individual high-flyer?

Noun: Achievement (plural achievements) – the act of achieving or performing; an obtaining by exertion; successful performance; accomplishment; as, the achievement of his/her object. (Wiktionary)

Noun: high-flyer – a person of great ability and ambition, a person with a record of successes (Free Dictionary)

It is interesting to see from the definition of the word achievement we actually see, attainment should usually be gained by some form of ‘exertion’ and, attainment is simply another aspect of personal objectives, not necessarily organizational ones… Add to this the fact that, anyone defined as a high-flyer should actually possess ability and have some record of success but all this is based upon ambition. Isn’t there a pattern or connection emerging here?

The connection is the word ‘self’ which in itself, is a prominent driver within today’s management recruitment circles. Many selection processes currently employed for manager appointment actually revolve around the ‘self’ word… (a) “Tell me how you would do this…” – an example of self-promotion, (b) “Explain what you think about…” – an example of Self-expression and (c) “If you get the job, where do you see yourself in…” – evidence of self-importance and ambition. Is the promotion of ‘self’ and the associated value placed upon ‘self’ actually a good thing within a service based organisation like the police?

Not with standing any personal academic achievement presented to a selection process, (previously discussed – see here), where does the ‘experience’ factor fit into the management selection equation? It should however be remembered that, the ability to present evidence of experience often has a direct correlation with an individual’s age and/or time since completion of full-time education. Assuming the management candidate has age (and time) on their side in the work environment, how is the evidence of experience usually accrued and presented?

Commensurate with the very nature of the beast, a high-flyer generally builds their masses of so-called experience in a very short period of time. They flit from one post to another, between differing departments and roles, participate in short-term initiatives and projects and all simply with a personal aim, to collect as many gold stars as possible for their CV tick sheet. To multiply the value of this evidence of high-flying achievement, there is also a need to run through this necessary evil as expediently as possible. Does this really evidence experience and if so, does this equate to an effective manager or indeed, one that is of use to the police service or actually requires?

There are those who would say; “masses of experience aren’t actually a necessity, if you have a basic understanding of the process, and you have the required management skills, you can actually manage anything”. This is only partly correct but probably even less so in those organisations without any physical output. Another analogy pops up here; “you pay peanuts and you get monkeys” but don’t get confused, I’m not changing the direction of my argument. This analogy is another one of those which is generally enthused as a reason for paying workers a higher salary. In the context of this post I want to look at it in a different way.

Irrespective of the amount you actually pay the monkey, or indeed the training it receives to carry out the task, at the end of the day he/she will only start the job with very basic ability. They may however get better at the task over time; simply because of repetition i.e. they will have gained experience. Obviously the more ‘time served’ that our monkey can accrue, the greater overall benefit to the organisation, simply due to the monkey’s increased level of ability. Another element of the monkey analogies is; “an educated monkey can be trained to do this task” the implication being, only limited intelligence is actually required to perform the role. Following this thought process and, given the basics of the role is easily understandable, is there actually an academic or scholarly achievement requirement to perform the task and if so, is that requirement actually suitable as a measure of ability?

In summary: how many of the high-flying, highly paid police executives are actually suitable or (more importantly) competent, to effectively carry out the role of management in the police service? Perhaps the time is right to actually start listening to the monkeys on the production line; surely their experience must count for something? Maybe they could even be given a chance at actually managing the service?

They couldn’t possibly do any worse than those certificated monkeys and their hastily developed and invented experience at the top, could they?

Just a thought! 😉

Update 20-09-2010: (BBC News) More than 9,000 public sector employees are earning a higher wage than the prime minister, who has previously questioned pay levels in top jobs.