Sink or Swim Business

Last Updated Apr 22, 2008 11:08 PM EDT

To boost your organization, fire all the managers.

That's one aspect of Ralph Sink's views on management. He's interviewed by strategy+business titled Business Success from the Bottom Up (registration required). Sink is a proponent of high-performance systems, which the magazine describes thusly:

High-performance systems, also known as self-organizing teams and participative management, require employees to take ownership of their jobs, to collaborate with one another to establish control over their work, to be innovative, and to deliver results -- to maintain accountability for the business and be treated with corresponding respect, regardless of their level within the organizational hierarchy.

In short, sink or swim. Perhaps because of this, Sink is rather dour about modern management. Some sample comments:

"People in organizations no longer think for themselves. They're in survival mode...Everybody is pushing to get short-term financial results."

"There's no loyalty in business today, on either side."

"Managers who operate by metrics, paperwork, and numbers say, "OK, we've analyzed wine. It has sugar in it. It has pulp. It has yeast. It has grapes." So, they dump those ingredients in a pot, stir it, drink it, and say, "but this doesn't taste like wine," and wonder why."

"When the CEO of Merrill Lynch loses billions of dollars and then leaves the company with a $161 million severance payout, it's fairly sad. He should have been fired for his incompetence and not given a dime. People at all levels, including those at the very top, should be paid based on performance and held accountable, and they should be fired for underperformance."


It's safe to say he won't be doing any compensation work for firms any time soon. But does he have it right? Should organizations only reward performers? It sounds good, but very easy to slip from rewarding performance to being right back into that short-term mentality Sink professes to loathe.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.