Disclaimer: Some (over)sensitive readers may find this post offensive. Arrogant. Elitist.
Oh well.

Bozo effect (aka Bozo explosion) - gradual descent of (once unequivocally high) average employee's competence level (overall: skillwise, intellectual, attitude, etc.), usually due to lowered recruitment standards, departure of key people or general organisation culture degradation.

Bozo effect is usually accompanied by ignorance - subjects lack the awareness of the downfall. The past glory is still alive & vivid in bozos' life (even if they didn't contribute to it themselves) - in fact they completely miss their present mediocrity as they've made themselves believe they keep rockin' (even if superficial analysis of their results indicates otherwise ...).

"Nekkid! Emperor's nekkid!"

You may have read / heard about this phenomenon from Jobs or Kawasaki - it's not really new. But I can't help the impression that it gets more & more common these days: especially for some big names, who believe they will be grand forever.

In fact ... many bozo companies (in spite of their renowned brands & blatant taglines) are like empty shells - motley facade as a witness of the illustrious past, nothing more. I've seen with my very own eyes that small, well aligned team w/o a famed brand, but with proper skills, correct attitude & bonds of mutual trust can easily outperform (in terms of capability to deliver) multiple bozo squads.

Referring to H.C.Andersen, some former emperors are naked & just waiting for a well aimed kick, straight in their low hanging balls ...

Key rule to keep in mind:

Remember that in the end it's individuals that do the actual work, not brands!

Bozo alert

But I haven't written these words to beat a dead horse. Actually it amazes me how easy it is to slip straight into an eye of bozo storm. Sometimes it's just a matter of:

  • uncontrolled growth as a consequence of poorly managed success (yes, you've read it right)
  • irrational belief that modern recruiting is about spraying job ads & filtering CV stream using set of given keywords
  • incompetence in terms of proper assessment of individuals' non-technical qualities
  • lack of diversity, when leaders look for ones who are very much alike them (think like them, agree with them - in many cases also flatter them, etc.)

The problem with bozo effect is not only that it may be hard to spot (from within), but also that it's very hard to reverse: once you lower these standards, they tend to continue dropping dramatically, because:

  1. A players want to play with other A players, ...
  2. ... but B players tend to favor (consciously or not) C players (so they feel more secure, more in control, etc.)

Anti-bozo vaccine

I can't emphasize this enough - in case of bozo effect prevention is 100x better than cure. Actually it's also significantly easier.

  • never ever recruit just "to have a spot filled" or "because I have recruitment targets" - f@ck targets, it's better to go understaffed than to put some bad blood into circulation
  • when in doubt (whether a candidate is a good fit or not), don't hire - cost of having 1 wrong person on board can be much higher than not bringing aboard 5+ right people
  • have your candidate verification process as close to actual work as possible - involve potential peers, leaders, even subordinates - all that to increase the probability that the team will jell altogether
  • never let ones do the recruitment of people who will work with someone else - people have to realize that they will have to live with the choices & decisions they make