A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
October 27th, 2012 by William

The Monty Hall Dilemma

In my last post I talked about organizations that practice witch hunting, and if you find yourself in one, my advice was to find another job, hopefully in an organization that doesn’t need to sacrifice individuals to stay in business. Living in an organization such as this can be stressful but finding another (good) job can be a stressful process in, and of, itself. Changing jobs can be a case of jumping from the frying-pan into the fire. Despite that, let’s see why you might want to just make that jump.

Remember the old TV game show Let‘s Make a Deal, with host Monty Hall? Suppose you’re on the show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a new car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to switch your choice and pick door No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

This then is what’s called the “The Monty Hall Dilemma.” The question: should the contestant switch doors is much like job searching?

Suppose you have a job in a dysfunctional organization where your future is questionable, i.e., you’re looking at door #1. You want to change jobs but you know there are many jobs out there that are the equivalent to the goat behind the door. What to do?

Since 1986 Marilyn Vos Savant, an American magazine columnist, author, lecturer, and playwright has written “Ask Marilyn”, a Sunday column in Parade magazine in which she solves puzzles and answers questions from readers on a variety of subjects. She addressed the Monty Hall Dilemma in one of her columns.

Vos Savant’s response to the question: “should the contestant switch to door #2?” was that the contestant should always switch to the other door. If the car is initially equally likely to be behind each door, a player who picks door #1 and doesn’t switch has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the car while a player who picks door #1 and does switch has a 2 in 3 chance. The host has removed an incorrect option from the un-chosen doors, so contestants who switch double their chances of winning the car. In this example, just substitute “good job” for car.

But the Monty Hall Dilemma as it applies to our job search scenario is a bit different than the contestant looking for the new car. The show contestant doesn’t know what’s behind door #1, but in our game you do know what’s behind the door: your current lousy job. Vos Savant’s recommendation still stands−you should pick another door, take the new job, and move on. I believe that to be sound advice (unless the offer from the new company sucks). If you find yourself caught in a bad work environment, or feel you have no future, change is necessary if you want to survive and better your career, i.e., you can’t find the “good” job unless you leave the “bad” one. Plus, if you don’t take the other door you’ll be kicking yourself forever regretting what “could have been.” From my own experience, the only way I discovered a good job was by leaving a bad one.

That said, we are all familiar with the expression―buyer beware. Sometimes our need to leave an evil job gets railroaded by this feeling. We talk ourselves into sticking it out at the old company because we have good workmates, stock options, etc. and add to that we have little quantifiable information about the new organization, i.e., we’re afraid it may be just as dysfunctional as the one we’re in.

We all have been duped by the “buyer beware syndrome” at some time. While at some level it can’t be ignored, but staying in a bad job just because you know all jobs are essentially the same is not a good career strategy. The first thing you must understand is that all organizations have their own level of dysfunctionality. So don’t let buyer beware make your career decisions for you. To survive in the modern workplace the last thing you should do is succumb to fear.

The key to changing jobs successfully is having a deep knowledge of the “workings of work,” i.e., how the workplace really works. That way you can ask the right questions when being interviewed. To gain that perspective I recommend that you read my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw, for it will provide you the necessary insight into how the typical workplace really works. Remember, the challenge in job searching is finding one in which you can cope with whatever idiocy you’ll undoubtedly find and my book can help with that.

Don’t feel alone as companies are also faced with the Monty Hall Dilemma when hiring new employees. The worshipped best-of-the-best prospective employee is behind one of the doors in the game. Never satisfied with their first pick (door #1) they keep searching (picking what’s behind another door) thinking that’s where the best-of-the-best prize employee lies.

The difference is they just may well be hiring the best of the best but seldom really recognize it. The fact is when an organization hires an employee they never really look behind the door, i.e., understand the employees’ skills and unleash the employee’s potential. They hire him, or her, and then cast them out into the organization’s dysfunctional culture, and when the employee doesn’t measure up to the artificial standards they have envisioned, they fault the employee as a bad hire. They write him up with a bad performance review, lay him off and then start the search for the best-of-the-best all over again, i.e. they just pick another door.

Ironically, that’s probably the exact scenario in which you found yourself that made you want to look for a new job in the first place?


4 Responses to “The Monty Hall Dilemma”
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