Are Your Managers Being Fragged?


From films like Apocalypse NowPlatoonFull Metal Jacket, and Hamburger Hill I learned  about “fragging,” a phenomenon of American enlisted men in the Vietnam War deliberately killing their superior officers—usually because their inexperience in leadership was a threat to the soldier’s life.

Recently the phenomenon of fragging came to mind, and I immediately thought of our fast-growth tech clients. Why?

What happens with fast-growth companies is that they hire a lot of people. Guess who become manager in those companies? Whoever existed before, more or less.

So those inexperienced and cheap people that your underfunded startup hired, are suddenly managers of your growing staff.

The Wikipedia article on fragging reports that “The rapid rotation of personnel, especially of officers who served on the average less than 6 months in command roles, decreased the stability and cohesion of military units.”

Sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, and you’re leading a growth company, my money is on you being out of touch. (It’s a pervasive issue, based on our experience. Don’t be hard on yourself.)

How much management experience does your first-level management layer have? How much leadership training have you given them? Have you surveyed your company to see how it’s going? Do you have a culture of trust? Do you really know? Seriously, I doubt you do.

The problem is that the C-level views culture based on the interaction with the next level down (think McNamara and generals in the Pentagon). But culture really is made at the interaction of the “infantrymen” and the “platoon leaders” (i.e., individual contributors and first-level management).

If you’re deploying inexperienced managers, expect them to be fragged. They are  not jeopardizing your employee’s lives, of course. But they are jeopardizing their career progression. And that’s worthy of figurative fragging.

And if you are deploying inexperienced managers, expect your company to be a replay of the USA’s experience in the Vietnam War: despite all the talent, strengths, and hard work—it was a failure.

How you prevent a “Vietnam War” for your company is to measure trust and provide the most-neglected first-line managers (and, really, all managers) the skills to develop high-trust relationships with their teams, so they are assets and not liabilities to career progression among the ranks.

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