Why do PHB’s seem so out of it?

I have noticed in the past that there seems to be a change in people when they get promoted to a certain level and I have puzzled over this for the last couple of years trying to figure out why the change occurs. For people at the lower levels, it looks like higher managers don’t care about the customers and are out of touch. I have hypothesized that part of this out of touch impression is due to the fact that managers in the middle are insulated from the customer and the interest turns toward fulfilling upper management’s needs and ideas that may or may not be based on real situations.

However, I think I have another thought on this theory after seeing someone I have known who has been promoted out of the technical area into a business area. When you get to a position like this, you are still concerned about keeping the customer happy, but it’s for a different reason, the reason for keeping the customer happy is to ensure that money keeps coming in to the projects for the manager. Now, for the manager, this may mean different things, I think some managers want the money so they can build up their group and power or other managers want the money to make sure they can keep the people under them employed, and or some combination of these reasons and have managers wanting to keep the money flowing in. So, if a customer says something and there is an implied threat that the money will not come through, for whatever reason, the manager gets worried and starts pushing to do whatever the manager thinks it might take to keep the customer happy, including making promises that the people under them may or may not be able to keep for them.

For the developers, they want to keep the customer happy so that they don’t have to hear complaints about what they’ve built. The more complaints, the more drudge work they feel they have to do, when they could be working on other cool new technology. So, developers tend to want to build code that they don’t have to deal with again, except in a way that they want to. Now, this can take affect in different ways as well, some developers like fiddling with their code exclusively, so they write it in ways that only they understand, others try to give their code to others to maintain after they’ve done the fun stuff and some write code and document it so others can maintain it or some combination thereof. But all developers think their code is the best there is and that other code they have to deal with is no good, unless they have worked with someone a while and have come to understand their code, in which case, they have added another coding model they can trust to their environment. This means that when the manager is coming down with promises they have made that may involve other people’s code being modified, developers think the manager is crazy and doesn’t have any understanding of the task. And all the manager thinks is “Code is Code, what’s the big deal?”, hence the disconnect between the two groups.

I’ve become more interested in the change that occurs as someone is promoted because I have become the technical lead for a group and I want to avoid the disconnect that can happen with promotions. My solution is to keep talking with both management and development and to keep both sides in view as I make decisions about how to do things. Sometimes those decisions will lean towards the money making side, other times towards the technical side, but I don’t want to lose sight of either, because both sides have value during development. I feel that when one side is weighted against the other that problems occur and I can understand how easy it can be to get out of balance. And a lot of times I have to remind myself to take another look at a decision in order to verify that I haven’t weighted things too much towards management or development.

Anyway, the issue of change occuring upon promotion is something I want to continue to look at, because I think the change is a key as to why companies lose their original focus of customer satisfaction along with employee satisfaction.