Last Tuesday, during the final assembly of the year at my daughter’s school, pupils said goodbye to a teacher who was being elbowed out. Miss T was famous for her feebleness at imparting knowledge; the new broom of a head had decided it would make more sense to give the job to someone who could teach instead.
Yet last Tuesday morning, as the goodbyes were being made, the girls climbed up on to their chairs and clapped and whooped. They loved Miss T. She was a dear, kind woman who had been at the school long before they were even born. Of all the many things that they held against their reforming head teacher, the sacking of Miss T was the most unforgivable.
The previous weekend, the head of the schools watchdog, Ofsted, was quoted in the papers arguing that a bad teacher was needed in every primary school. Predictably, all hell broke loose. But Zenna Atkins was quite right. We do need the odd bad teacher. More than that: we need the odd bad manager and bad worker too. Her point was that a dud teacher teaches children to respect the authority of the office, even when the incumbent doesn’t merit any. This lesson, she rightly pointed out, comes in handy later in life. Dealing with idiots in authority is a skill needed in every workplace and is well learnt early.
She could have deployed other arguments, too. Bad teaching makes us respect good teaching more as, without bad, good doesn’t really mean anything. Even more important, dud teachers encourage students to be resourceful. It was lucky that I had some bad teaching at primary school, as it prepared me for Oxford where bad teaching was taken to a whole new level. Indeed, many of the dons who “taught” me didn’t even pretend to go through the motions, so I had no choice but to teach myself instead.
In offices, the arguments for the token dud are even stronger. To work somewhere where everyone was excellent would be sheer hell. Dangerous, too: look at what happened in the investment banks. All those clever, competitive people in a hothouse together without a few duds to discourage them from inventing derivatives so complicated that no one could understand them.
We also need bad workers as a measuring stick. Management wisdom dictates that everyone needs to benchmark themselves against best practice. In reality, benchmarking yourself against worst practice is a much better idea: it gets you to the same place in the end, but lifts morale in the process. Indeed, nothing cheers me up more on a day when I am having difficulty writing than reading the raw copy of a truly hopeless journalist. Then I feel as if I’m Marcel Proust by comparison, and the words flow.
The more pressing argument, though, is not whether organisations need a few bad managers or schools need a few bad teachers. There is a massive oversupply of duds in all walks of life; the problem is what to do about it.
There are various options. The first is to try, through training and a mixture of stick and carrot, to convert duds into non-duds. This is admirable, but hard work and the chances of success are slim. The defining characteristic of a true dud is that he or she resists improvement staunchly.
The second option is to engage in ethnic cleansing of “C” players and fire the bottom 10 per cent every year. This system was made famous by Jack Welch but is so distasteful that even GE does not adhere to it as religiously as it used to.
第二个选择是对“三流”队员进行“种族清洗”，每年将排名后10%的员工淘汰。杰克•韦尔奇(Jack Welch)让这种做法尽人皆知，但人们现在对此十分厌恶，就连通用电气(General Electric)也不像过去那么虔诚地坚守这种做法了。
The third option is to muddle through, shedding a few duds and tolerating the rest. This is what most companies end up doing, but the trouble is that they don’t do it terribly well. They haven’t discovered the principle that my daughter and her friends learnt last week: get rid of the horrid duds if you must, but keep the nice ones.
A couple of years ago there was an article in Harvard Business Review showing that loveable people are valuable as they glue teams together. It found that, overwhelmingly, we all prefer the loveable fool over the incompetent jerk.
几年前，《哈佛商业评论》(Harvard Business Review)上的一篇文章指出，可爱的人颇有价值，因为他们可以把团队凝聚起来。文章发现，绝大多数人都喜欢可爱的傻瓜，而不是无能的怪人。
But there is another reason for being kind to the loveable fool. It makes everyone else feel better. When I see someone who is both incompetent and beastly holding on to a good job it makes me cross with my employer for bad management. But when I see someone who is hopeless but sweet being put into a job where they do little harm, it makes me conclude that my employer is benign, and that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.