Archive for the ‘The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto’ Category

Beware of Those Corporate Patriots!

July 3, 2008

This is a July 4th rerun of a previous post dated February 19, 2008. You’ll find it catagorized under The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto. Hope you enjoy it!

Get ready! This post is sure to stir up a lot of fireworks.

Please refer back to my February 12, 2008 post (now categorized under The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto). One of its themes was the manipulation of employees’ personal values and motivations by corporations in order to garner some “outcome” that is good for the company but not necessarily good for the worker. I want to continue on that theme but also focus on the disingenuous practice of simultaneously attempting and claiming to have obtained employees’ “buy-in” to new programs or directives by simply sharing some information with them. “Buy in” is another hijacked and bastardized term used by corporations to rationalize the, “Now that you comprehend the ‘big picture’, you understand why we must eliminate your job” or “Don’t you agree with us that cutting your wages and benefits is the right thing to?” subtexts cleverly hidden in their communiqués. The really sinister side of this gimmickry is that the corporate propagandists actually believe that it works. Over the years, I’ve worked with some of these characters and have seen how their twisted minds rationalize these gimmicks. If not to somehow convince the workforce of the brilliance of executive decisions, it’s to assuage their own guilt (if they have any left) about destroying peoples’ lives and futures (except their own). I’ve covered this and other insidious “feel good” trickery used by corporate elites in a myriad of other posts and various chapters from “The Double Secret Handbook for bad Executives.” Please read them.

This brings me to a rant about one of the latest manipulations of those values that I’ve been gleaning from the “Idiot-cracy” in the executive suites as well as their business media marionettes for use in squeezing the life out of the American workforce – the patriotic angle.

What could I possibly mean by this? Over the last year or two, I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs in the business sections of newspapers and in the online headlines and banners in the business articles section of my Internet provider’s homepage about American workers. The themes of the headlines and stories go something like this:

Americans work fewer hours than their global counterparts,
American workers earn more than their global brethren,
Americans can’t compete in global manufacturing,
American workers fall behind in productivity.

These headlines are always followed by a short story and some statistics. My personal reaction to each of these banners is simply, “Americans have worked hard to raise our standard of living. We do our part. Where are all of the innovations from the corporate brain trusts to keep us competitive and ahead of the curve? Simply lowering wages and cutting costs is an easy, cowardly, lazy and intellectually dishonest cop out. Just what are these clowns being paid the big bucks and huge bonuses for?” I am not so sure that’s the reaction the writers’ of these articles intended. I believe that the subtle implication here is rather, “American workers have it too good and can do more for less. We should feel guilty about our good fortune and work harder. We the workers need to make sacrifices to keep jobs in America. We should understand why we must lower our standard of living. It’s our duty to give up more and more for the good of the country.”

This new call to patriotism also bellows from the executive suites. I’ve heard a recent speech or two and they sound similar to this:
“The Chinese can’t claim to be more productive! They can throw lots of people at task after task. Hell, people are one of their natural resources. But we’re Americans and we can do it with even less. We’ll just have fewer people work longer and harder. See how much more productive we Americans are! We’ll teach them all about productivity. It’s our duty. Makes you feel good to give it your all for Uncle Sam, doesn’t it? Won’t you help show them up?”

George M. Cohan would be proud! Who can argue with it? It’s like trying to argue about the benefits of working safely. I personally find it repugnant that anyone would try appealing to patriotism in this manner. When I see this call to patriotism juxtaposed against the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries, the importing of foreign technical workers who’ll accept lower wages, the cutbacks in salaries and benefits and the tales about jobs that Americans just don’t want to do, I become irate – particularly when it’s wrapped in the Stars and Stripes. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has plenty to do with some executives trying to line their own pockets with bonuses for cutting costs – and coercing American workers to play along.

Am I a flaming conspiracy theorist or just another Internet windbag? I‘ve been accused of both. Listen up! I am not going to debate geo-politics or global economics with anyone. I am not qualified and admit it. I just don’t like to be manipulated and I do not believe that others like it either. This has indeed been quite a rant.

God Bless America!

A Post Memorial Day Rerun of My Rant about “Volunteering” in the Workplace

May 28, 2008

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would reprint a post originally published on February 12, 2008. Hope you enjoy!

“Never Volunteer!” Words of Wisdom from a real Veteran

Eddie Thompson came to my office last Thursday about 5PM. Eddie’s a manager in charge of small accounting group that seems to be getting smaller and smaller. He was really frazzled and upset. I believe that Eddie was more upset with himself than anything else. You see Eddie had committed the latest blunder in modern corporate America. He had “volunteered” and would now pay the price. Eddie had allowed the “powers” to get their foot in the crack of the door. Before Eddie even realized what had happened, the door had blown wide open. Eddie’s heart was in the right place. He just wanted to help out a fellow manager whose staff was cut. Eddie got sucked in by the pleas of his boss and now he was stuck. Eddie and his team would have to take on a myriad of additional tasks. Additional resources? None except one – their time. Eddie had to explain to his department that they now had to start coming in on weekends to get everything done. Of course Eddie and his team are conveniently exempt from overtime pay.

I’m seeing it more and more. Jonesy’s a sharp financial analyst. She volunteered to “help out” and just run some preliminary numbers for a new acquisition. The financial analyst who worked for the acquired company had just resigned. They told Jonesy that it was nothing special and just a broad-brush look at the bottom line, “It shouldn’t take that long and it’s just an overview. C’mon Jonesy! We know you’re busy but just this once.” So Jonesy put her other work on hold and ran some prelims. True to form, they didn’t like the results and demanded a “deep dive” into the details. A week later, Jonesy’s still plowing through the data. Of course she’s now being screamed at to deliver all of the other tasks she put on hold. So much for your scheduled week of vacation Jonesy. PS She bought the whole enchilada on this one. Since she’s now the “expert” with the data, all of the future reporting is hers as well. Just think of the savings here! There’s no longer a need to hire a replacement financial analyst for the acquired company.

Hey, I’ve caught myself doing it as well. You know “giving one for the team” and all that. I did it a lot more when I was younger and more idealistic. I still put in over 60 hours a week at the office. Old habits are hard to break. I’ll even help out when necessary but am very cautious now about getting the staff and myself in a jam (as well as keeping others’ feet out of the door jamb). We’re supposed to work to live and not live to work.

Volunteering and helping others in one’s private life is a great thing to do. There are too many altruistic values and motivations for such behavior to mention here. The rewards for such volunteering are personal and spiritual. When it comes to the workplace, however, those same altruistic values and motivations are oftentimes manipulated to prey on the goodness of people in order to obtain some other desired “outcome” for the corporation. I’ve written gobs about the psychological gimmicks, threats and guilt trips thrown at employees who come to work really wanting to do a good job. It’s always in that ever-changing definition of what constitutes a “good job” where the manipulation comes in to play. Aiding a fellow employee through a hard task or helping out a department in a pinch is also a great thing to do but it is NOT the same as adding hours to a workweek, foregoing vacation, or working on a holiday or weekend to meet some arbitrary deadline, please a superior or save on cost. There’s no personal or spiritual reward here.

When I was a young man, I remember my Dad giving me some good advice that I, of course, ignored at the time and for many years to come. His two-word admonition came when I had returned from my first ROTC field exercise and proudly began the tale of one my “exploits.” Dad’s words came out both sharp and stern. It was as if something I had said triggered an automatic response. I must have mentioned some magic word because he never even let me finish my story before snapping, “NEVER VOLUNTEER!” That was that. I never got to finish my story.

“Never volunteer!” How strange? Those words coming from a decorated WWII veteran. Dad was an Army platoon sergeant who had spent three years in combat overseas in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. It was not until many years later and after a lot of research that I realized how never volunteering was one of the main reasons he had survived the war at all. My Dad was very proud of his service. He also had the wisdom of harsh experience.

Now that I’m a lot older, I’ve gained that same type of wisdom myself. There are no medals awarded for valor in the lower levels of corporations and there is no glory. A “Make it Happen” certificate (suitable for framing) won’t compensate you for the loss of valuable time with your family or your health. There are only obscene bonuses and rewards for the corporate generals. Killing yourself for a company gets you only one reward – death.

I remember reading a survey a few years ago. The survey asked if people would be willing to “volunteer” to work an 80 hour workweek with no time off for three straight years if at the end of that period they would be guaranteed that the rest of their working lives would revert to a normal 40 hours per week schedule. If I recall the results of the survey, most respondants answered NO. I believe that these negative replies came from people like me. People who now know that there are no such guarantees and that once one commits to such a regimen, it never stops.

If this rant seems rather jaded, it’s meant to be. You’re visiting with The Corporate Cynic. I know that many young starry-eyed up-and-comers and corporate big shot wannabees will revile at this notion. So be it! You’ll learn.

At the end of my career, I want to be able to say the same thing that my Dad would say when asked about what he did during WWII, “I survived and served proudly.”

When the Shoe is Suddenly on the other Foot

May 15, 2008

Sometimes turnabout in organizational reporting relationships is fair play. Should the experience result in feelings of justice, vengeance, a combination of both or neither? In the corporate world, revenge is sweet but all too elusive. Everyone says “What goes around comes around”, “Every dog has his day”, “Be careful how you treat people on the way up…”, and “The bigger they are…” etc. You can hope and fantasize all you want but having your prayers come to fruition is rare. I don’t know about you but I sure enjoy watching an arrogant pompous ass get their comeuppance. Seeing some “Born Jerk” who has abused power, destroyed their subordinates or double crossed their peers get publicly humiliated is one of life’s small pleasures.

When I wrote the book 160 degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic, a reviewer quipped that although well-written, the book read like a revenge opera. While that wasn’t my original intent, perhaps there was a bit of that going on – at least subliminally. Having been on the receiving end of insults, brow beatings and unreasonable expectations at the hands of a variety of Bozo’s in “leadership” roles over the years, I admit to taking particular delight in watching their downfalls. I just don’t have much of an appetite for bad leaders and I don’t think that others do either. Is it so wrong to revel in the misery of those who have caused so much?

I recently had the opportunity of speaking with a colleague who had been suffering under the boot of such a tyrant for the last three years. My amigo is a good solid individual who tried time and again to escape from the clutches of this blackguard. It would take several posts to fully relate the horror stories told to me. There was nothing illegal or even immoral going on but the boss’s arrogant, abusive and maniacal behaviors were so bad that my friend’s and his co-workers’ family lives began to suffer due to the torture. These are highly educated and experienced professionals. They work for a very large corporation and transfers are quite common provided that the appropriate approval comes from one’s superior. In this case, my friend had been blacklisted by this thug for not helping him gain favor with his superiors.

Then a strange thing happened. Through some stroke of luck or the overwhelming evidence of the insidious behaviors of the executive in question, the corporation decided to quietly and graciously, but nonetheless forcefully, demote the transgressor. There was a huge administrative reorganization and my friend suddenly found himself in a peer position with his abuser. The new leadership role had not yet been announced. My colleague called me to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate the release from the clutches of this maniac.

I asked my friend how he felt about the new relationship with his former boss. I also asked about the odds that he might get the nod and become his nemesis’ superior. Surprisingly, my chum responding that it was a real possibility. Exploring the opportunity even further, I asked about his plans for dealing with the malefactor should that occur. Being a stand up individual, my chum confided that he would be torn between exacting revenge and being magnanimous toward his former torturer. He had fantasized for years about what he’d do if he found himself in that position but now it seemed mean spirited and vengeful. His better side was taking control. He didn’t want to be like his old boss. “Do you think he ever cared about you, your feelings, health or family?” I asked as we ended the conversation. He did not answer. “Just think about it,” I said, “If the shoe finds its way to the other foot, go kick some ass!”

“Outing” some of the Downsides of Outsourcing

April 3, 2008

In a previous post, I promised to give an update on the outsourcing (sorry “co-sourcing”) project that’s been going on at the corporation where I used to work. Who could have guessed that it’s not going as smoothly as anticipated? Here’s just one anecdote from a single division of the company on the effects of the latest fad gone bad.

Ann was an AP clerk whose position was eliminated last month due to co-sourcing. Prior to making the decision to let her go, no one bothered to ask Ann what she actually did or how she did it. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the new brainiacs at corporate HQ mandated that her position be eliminated on a date certain. Ann is gone.

Poor Marie! Her misfortune was geography. She just happened to occupy the cubicle that was next to Ann’s. Marie is a staff accountant who has been with company for two years. Her only interface with Ann was the fact that they sometimes ate lunch together. Now Marie is being inundated with piles of mail, requests for emergency checks and investigations into why suppliers are not being paid. The operating and purchasing folks could care less about the co-sourcing project. They need things done. But why are they all now coming to Marie? According to these folks, the answers are simple but equally ridiculous:
1. Ann was their “go to” person and Ann took care of them,
2. Ann was in the Accounting Dept. and Marie is in the Accounting Dept.,
3. Ann is gone and Marie sat next to her and
4. Ann and Marie were seen together.
Although Marie protests and tells them that she has nothing to do with accounts payable, they pester her incessantly anyway. Some will even wait for her to vacate her cubicle and then secretly swoop in to drop requests on her desk or chair. Marie’s voicemail and E-mail inbox are now full to overflowing. Marie is overwhelmed.

Marie’s boss, Jim, is in the same boat. He’s only been with company for six months. Jim was initially told about the co-sourcing project and the fact that Ann would be leaving. Coming to work for a large corporation, Jim assumed that that the project had been well thought out. Get real Jim! Jim is now being attacked by even higher level operating and purchasing folks over the same issues. In Jim’s case, however, the frenzy goes beyond simply dealing with the needs of that constituency. It seems that Ann performed a lot of other accounting related tasks that were not exactly of an accounts payable nature. Ann had been with the company for over ten years and had survived a variety of previous reorganizations and downsizings (sorry “rightsizings”). Over the years and through necessity, Ann had taken on a variety of different tasks, all of which were mundane but no less essential. No disrespect to Ann, but in a lot of cases, she was really unaware of how important some of these duties were. She just performed them with aplomb. Now Jim is finding out exactly how deep in the hole he is.

Jim has complained to the co-sourcing project leader at corporate HQ. He was informed that only certain accounts payable functions were being co-sourced and that many related duties were still his responsibility. But never fear, the bulk of the tasks had been transferred and he was only being left with a few. Uh Huh! He was also reminded of the cost savings associated with the project. In other words, “Too Bad.” Jim has also gone to his superiors to make them aware of the other problems. Tough luck, Jim! YOU should have thought of that earlier! Now Jim and Marie are stuck “holding the bag”. They are frantic, frazzled, and overwhelmed. Marie is actively seeking employment elsewhere.

If my hunch is correct, you can multiply this story a hundred fold throughout the many divisions of the corporation.

As I’ve written before in the post Ed’s “No Excuses” Program: Had it really worked for thirty years or thirty years ago? dated 3/16/2007 and filed under Never Fail to Amaze, it doesn’t seem to matter whether outsourcing, co-sourcing, cost reduction programs, etc make any sense or are apprporpriate in the context of an organization. What matters only is that it’s the latest fad. If GE, Toyota, and Microsoft are doing it, it must be good. They know what they’re doing and we must do the same. The whizz-bangs at corporate HQ are brilliant. We must trust them to know what’s best. Of course none of this will ever affect them, so it’s always OK.

Instead of analyzing the workload first to eliminate the arbitrary, superfluous and redundant tasks and requirements, the focus is always on cutting the resources. What a back-asswards approach to problem solving! Even after reducing staff, they will continuously come up with new requirements and even more compressed timetables – turning the arbitrary, the goofy, and superfluous into the essential.

When will they learn?

Some Notions on Promotions

March 16, 2008

One of the things I really enjoy about blogging is when a reader’s comment provides the inspiration for a new post. This week’s rant was inspired by Androcass. Here’s a snippet of Androcass’ observations of the leadership in the world of IT:

IT is especially rife with much of what you’re saying, in that nobody who is promoted to manager understands a fraction of what is going on even a month after the promotion. That doesn’t stop them from acting as if they know, of course, so a strange kind of disconnect is created: their management thinks them wise and deep because they retain some buzz words, the people reporting to them recognize their essential buffoonery.

I’ve written a lot about how people find themselves in positions as managers of others without any talent for leadership whatsoever. Besides the ones who get there through “connections”, political maneuvering (aka sucking up) or pure luck, many get hired or promoted into management because of their technical skills that have nothing to do with leadership whatsoever. IT is one of those highly technical areas where this probably occurs more often than not. One of the motivations of the decision maker might be the need to pay a valuable technician more in order to keep them on board. Since the higher paying positions in companies often include the management of others, great technicians often find themselves in positions of management that they have no business holding. Another motivation might be mistaken belief that somehow those that are promoted can impart their great technical strengths to other members of the team because they are now “in charge”. This is very shortsighted thinking on the part of hiring authority or the executive making the decision to promote.

I say all of this because oftentimes those making the decisions create more problems than they solve. These problems are not necessarily for themselves but for the poor souls who will find themselves under the thumb of a bad leader.

Good managers are as equally important as good technicians and require as much talent! This is even truer in large organizations. It has always been my opinion that leaders are born and not made and that there are innate leadership characteristics and qualities that cannot be taught in business schools or management seminars. Some people have them and some just don’t. It is also my belief that management is an art and not a science. Leadership requires a certain temperament and personality that doesn’t always blend well with the personality type of a good technician. You may disagree with my premise here but I’ve seen the results of bad promotions many times over my career. Oftentimes companies end up actually losing their best technical people by promoting them and receive poor or bad managers in return. Refer to my post Why Companies Love Micro-managers dated August 10, 2007 and categorized under The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto for more on this.

My advice to the decision makers here is simple: Pay your technical people what they’re worth to you! Do not use promotions into management as a pay raise!

If you’ve read 160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic, you know that the worst outcomes of all occur when the personality type that I refer to as a ”Born Jerk” (use your own imaginations here) gets promoted into management. Something strange, sinister and (to some observers) “inevitable” seems to happen when these people get raised into positions of authority. It’s as though their anointing triggers a metamorphosis. They begin to truly believe that their promotions and new titles give them the ability to instantly speak with wisdom, intelligence and authority. They no longer need any training or experience. They have “arrived”. The most dangerous part of this thinking is that any and all of their bad traits and behaviors have been sanctioned, validated and even rewarded by their promotions. A real monster has been created.

Their egocentric thought process goes something like this:

Since a company would only promote a brilliant and wise individual, I must be one. Because I received the promotion over the others on the team who now report to me, I must be more brilliant and wise than they are. My brilliance and wisdom should now be self-evident to all. I am innately better than they are.

Believe me folks, I’ve seen this delusional kind of thinking and the damage that it can do.

I place much of the blame for these phenomena on the executive levels of organizations as it is they who make and/or sanction these choices and are remiss on following up on hiring and promotional decisions. Besides, they never have to deal with behaviors of their own creations. It’s the subordinates who fall prey to the self-indulgent idiosyncrasies, unreasonable expectations and arrogant posturing of these characters.

My advice to the decision makers here is equally simple: When promoting employees into management keep in mind that it is important that the subordinates respect their new manager. Management is not a popularity contest, be wary of promoting people whose only claim to fame is being well liked. Never promote those who are distrusted or despised. There are ways to determine these characteristics in your candidates. Here’s where the cynics and skeptics in your organization can prove to be invaluable. Don’t be lazy and take the easy way out. These decisions are critical to the health of your organization.

Back in the day, management used to be defined as “getting things done through people”. I still believe that but I want to draw a real distinction between management and manipulation. In my view management requires true leadership. Manipulation is the forte of a “Born Jerk”. There are a lot of good employees being manipulated today!

I will end this rant with some advice to both the decision makers as well as those who get promoted into management. It sums up my beliefs about leadership as it relates management. I know this sounds corny but:

Being given the opportunity to be responsible for the activities of others should be a humbling experience. Managers who expert their subordinates to humbly prostrate themselves before their superior’s feet should be “humbled” right out the door.

Does Being a Leader Mean Never Having to Say You’re Sorry?

March 4, 2008

It’s time to come clean with the readers. I admit that I totally lost it at work two weeks ago. I succumbed to the pressure of being part of the team charged with the integration of my recently sold division into the structure of its new owners, the prospect of being unemployed after the integration is complete and the unreasonable demands of my new “interim” superiors to speed up the process. Yes, I lost it. Late on a Friday afternoon, I unleashed my own frustrations on the staff accountant who reports to me. I was tired and drained. When the accountant approached me to review a project he was working on and asked about taking some time off the following week, I fired off a fusillade of the same phrases and comments that I’d been inundated with over the previous few days: “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” “What you’re saying makes no sense.” “You’re not helping me here.” “I need this NOW not tomorrow.” “Don’t leave work until you have the answers.” The accountant’s eyes widened in shock and then turned down at the floor as he artfully backed out of my office. I thought that it would make me feel better to “share the wealth” of the hammerings I’d taken. The opposite occurred. I knew what I had done. I felt bad about the incident all weekend and the first thing Monday morning, I apologized for my tirade. The accountant thanked me but told me that it was no big deal. He understood what was going on. I felt much better after that and resumed my tasks. Our relationship had been repaired.

Having been on the receiving end of tirades, lies, insults, unfair dress downs, smartass comments, unreasonable demands and the like both personally and as a member of various groups over the years (and right now for that matter), I have always vowed to never act in such a manner toward my direct reports. Some would call it unprofessional behavior. I agree. But the theme of this post goes beyond just what constitutes unprofessional behavior. It goes to the core values of personal responsibility, contrition and leadership. You see in over thirty-five years of working in business and reporting to countless managers and executives, I can only remember two who have ever apologized for any of the above. Hats off to them. They were widely respected individuals. Hey, I’m no psychologist or philosopher. I’m just trying to get into the heads of these other characters to see what makes them tick and why they act the way they do.

Is it a cultural thing? From the time that I was a small boy, I remember hearing that admitting you were wrong or apologizing was a sign of weakness. Leaders didn’t do that because it made them look weak and they needed to look strong. Where did that come from? I’ve always rejected that theory. Maybe it was a result my religious and family upbringing.

Sometimes I think that these characters actually believe that their cause is so important that they feel vindicated by their acts and therefore need no contrition for them at all. Hmmm! Making some clerk feel like an idiot because they forgot to include someone on a distribution list is no way to gain any respect.

I also think that others actually believe that the things they say under pressure or on the spur of the moment should be forgiven out of hand by the recipient of the remarks. It’s as though their rank and status automatically insulates them from the need to make amends. Their thought process works something like this, “THEY should know that I didn’t really mean to say that.” Sorry Charlie, if you really didn’t mean it, say so! That rationalization only reinforces your image as a complete ass.

Others yet could never admit they made a mistake if the facts hit them in the head like a sledgehammer. Are they really too big and important to make such an admission? Would that be such a blow to their pumped up egos? I dread to think about the way they conduct their personal lives.

I’ve seen many examples of this behavior over the years and am still perplexed about how to explain it. Is this something taught at the “Double Secret Society of bad Executives”? Take George Miller for example. George was the Vice President of Operations at a company that I worked for a few years ago. George had real penchant for getting his facts wrong about our plant’s productivity and the intelligence and capabilities of several of our employees. He seemed to take particular delight in spouting off misinformation during meetings with the CEO of the company. His comments would always make us look like fools in the eyes of the top dog. We had no idea how or from where he was obtaining this bad information. If anyone tried to correct him during these meetings, he’d simply change the subject without any amendment of his commentary. Even after the meetings, he would continue to spout his erroneous data and ignore the corrections. This was really chilling to those about whom he had made disparaging comments without any basis in fact. His antics nearly destroyed the reputation and career of one of our managers.

Gene Jones was another one of these types who used a slightly different tactic when caught in a lie or confronted with contradictory information. Whenever backed into a corner, Gene would immediately respond with the words, ”You’re right!” – even though we all knew that he didn’t mean it. One could just tell from his flippant tone and body language that he was already plotting his revenge for getting busted. I saw many good employees suffer due to his vindictiveness.

Then there’s Carl, the executive from our new parent company who’s in charge of the integration of our division. I was actually warned about Carl by another manager from that firm. “Carl is never wrong. Even if he is, he’ll never admit it. He’ll tell you one thing one day and another thing the next. Don’t even try to argue with him. He’s always right even though he’ll change his mind a hundred times. Carl’s not always truthful, so take everything he says with a grain of salt. He could care less about anyone. It’s all about him” “How can they let him get away with that?” I asked in reply. “They’re all like that at his level,” came the response. Boy, am I glad that I won’t be working for that company after the integration.

About the closest thing to an apology or act of contrition on the part of one of these characters that I’ve experienced came from a former division president to whom I directly reported some years ago. I had approached this gentleman and voiced my frustrations about being ignored with regard to some serious issues confronting the business. My motivation was to voice my concern about being cut out of the process and to offer my assistance. His response to my frustration was simply; “I apologize but don’t apologize for keeping you out of the loop and ignoring you. I have a company to run and I’m extremely busy.” I apologize but don’t apologize. Just what in the hell does that mean?

Interestingly enough, some defenders of these behaviors would counter my rant with “It’s lonely at the top” or “You just don’t understand the pressure that these leaders are under.” What lame excuses! I always thought that a leader’s role was to be responsible. If they take no responsibility for their own actions, how they can hold others responsible?

Others would say, “That’s the price you pay for being a leader.” Huh? I thought that we were supposed to respect and admire these people.

At this point in the rant, I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear: Leaders oftentimes have to make unpopular and tough decisions. I fully recognize and respect that. But let’s draw a distinction between DECISIONS and BEHAVIORS. If the definition of a strong leader includes losing the respect of your subordinates because of your behaviors, call me “weak”.

I do not want to sound political here, but with government leaders offering apologizes on behalf of their nations for past events that their current citizenry took no part in at all, what’s wrong with business leaders offering apologies for things that they’ve done in the here and now?

Beware of Those Corporate Patriots!

February 19, 2008

Get ready! This post is sure to stir up a lot of controversy!

Please refer back to last week’s post (now categorized under The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto). One of its themes was the manipulation of employees’ personal values and motivations by corporations in order to garner some “outcome” that is good for the company but not necessarily good for the worker. I want to continue on that theme but also focus on the disingenuous practice of simultaneously attempting and claiming to have obtained employees’ “buy-in” to new programs or directives by simply sharing some information with them. “Buy in” is another hijacked and bastardized term used by corporations to rationalize the, “Now that you comprehend the ‘big picture’, you understand why we must eliminate your job” or “Don’t you agree with us that cutting your wages and benefits is the right thing to?” subtexts cleverly hidden in their communiqués. The really sinister side of this gimmickry is that the corporate propagandists actually believe that it works. Over the years, I’ve worked with some of these characters and have seen how their twisted minds rationalize these gimmicks. If not to somehow convince the workforce of the brilliance of executive decisions, it’s to assuage their own guilt (if they have any left) about destroying peoples’ lives and futures (except their own). I’ve covered this and other insidious “feel good” trickery used by corporate elites in a myriad of other posts and various chapters from “The Double Secret Handbook for bad Executives.” Please read them.

This brings me to a rant about one of the latest manipulations of those values that I’ve been gleaning from the “Idiot-cracy” in the executive suites as well as their business media marionettes for use in squeezing the life out of the American workforce – the patriotic angle.

What could I possibly mean by this? Over the last year or two, I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs in the business sections of newspapers and in the online headlines and banners in the business articles section of my Internet provider’s homepage about American workers. The themes of the headlines and stories go something like this:

Americans work fewer hours than their global counterparts,
American workers earn more than their global brethren,
Americans can’t compete in global manufacturing,
American workers fall behind in productivity.

These headlines are always followed by a short story and some statistics. My personal reaction to each of these banners is simply, “Americans have worked hard to raise our standard of living. We do our part. Where are all of the innovations from the corporate brain trusts to keep us competitive and ahead of the curve? Simply lowering wages and cutting costs is an easy, cowardly, lazy and intellectually dishonest cop out. Just what are these clowns being paid the big bucks and huge bonuses for?” I am not so sure that’s the reaction the writers’ of these articles intended. I believe that the subtle implication here is rather, “American workers have it too good and can do more for less. We should feel guilty about our good fortune and work harder. We the workers need to make sacrifices to keep jobs in America. We should understand why we must lower our standard of living. It’s our duty to give up more and more for the good of the country.”

This new call to patriotism also bellows from the executive suites. I’ve heard a recent speech or two and they sound similar to this:
“The Chinese can’t claim to be more productive! They can throw lots of people at task after task. Hell, people are one of their natural resources. But we’re Americans and we can do it with even less. We’ll just have fewer people work longer and harder. See how much more productive we Americans are! We’ll teach them all about productivity. It’s our duty. Makes you feel good to give it your all for Uncle Sam, doesn’t it? Won’t you help show them up?”

George M. Cohan would be proud! Who can argue with it? It’s like trying to argue about the benefits of working safely. I personally find it repugnant that anyone would try appealing to patriotism in this manner. When I see this call to patriotism juxtaposed against the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries, the importing of foreign technical workers who’ll accept lower wages, the cutbacks in salaries and benefits and the tales about jobs that Americans just don’t want to do, I become irate – particularly when it’s wrapped in the Stars and Stripes. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has plenty to do with some executives trying to line their own pockets with bonuses for cutting costs – and coercing American workers to play along.

Am I a flaming conspiracy theorist or just another Internet windbag? I‘ve been accused of both. Listen up! I am not going to debate geo-politics or global economics with anyone. I am not qualified and admit it. I just don’t like to be manipulated and I do not believe that others like it either. This has indeed been quite a rant.

God Bless America!

“Never Volunteer!” Words of Wisdom from a real Veteran

February 12, 2008

Eddie Thompson came to my office last Thursday about 5PM. Eddie’s a manager in charge of small accounting group that seems to be getting smaller and smaller. He was really frazzled and upset. I believe that Eddie was more upset with himself than anything else. You see Eddie had committed the latest blunder in modern corporate America. He had “volunteered” and would now pay the price. Eddie had allowed the “powers” to get their foot in the crack of the door. Before Eddie even realized what had happened, the door had blown wide open. Eddie’s heart was in the right place. He just wanted to help out a fellow manager whose staff was cut. Eddie got sucked in by the pleas of his boss and now he was stuck. Eddie and his team would have to take on a myriad of additional tasks. Additional resources? None except one – their time. Eddie had to explain to his department that they now had to start coming in on weekends to get everything done. Of course Eddie and his team are conveniently exempt from overtime pay.

I’m seeing it more and more. Jonesy’s a sharp financial analyst. She volunteered to “help out” and just run some preliminary numbers for a new acquisition. The financial analyst who worked for the acquired company had just resigned. They told Jonesy that it was nothing special and just a broad-brush look at the bottom line, “It shouldn’t take that long and it’s just an overview. C’mon Jonesy! We know you’re busy but just this once.” So Jonesy put her other work on hold and ran some prelims. True to form, they didn’t like the results and demanded a “deep dive” into the details. A week later, Jonesy’s still plowing through the data. Of course she’s now being screamed at to deliver all of the other tasks she put on hold. So much for your scheduled week of vacation Jonesy. PS She bought the whole enchilada on this one. Since she’s now the “expert” with the data, all of the future reporting is hers as well. Just think of the savings here! There’s no longer a need to hire a replacement financial analyst for the acquired company.

Hey, I’ve caught myself doing it as well. You know “giving one for the team” and all that. I did it a lot more when I was younger and more idealistic. I still put in over 60 hours a week at the office. Old habits are hard to break. I’ll even help out when necessary but am very cautious now about getting the staff and myself in a jam (as well as keeping others’ feet out of the door jamb). We’re supposed to work to live and not live to work.

Volunteering and helping others in one’s private life is a great thing to do. There are too many altruistic values and motivations for such behavior to mention here. The rewards for such volunteering are personal and spirtual. When it comes to the workplace, however, those same altruistic values and motivations are oftentimes manipulated to prey on the goodness of people in order to obtain some other desired “outcome” for the corporation. I’ve written gobs about the psychological gimmicks, threats and guilt trips thrown at employees who come to work really wanting to do a good job. It’s always in that ever-changing definition of what constitutes a “good job” where the manipulation comes in to play. Aiding a fellow employee through a hard task or helping out a department in a pinch is also a great thing to do but it is NOT the same as adding hours to a workweek, foregoing vacation, or working on a holiday or weekend to meet some arbitrary deadline, please a superior or save on cost. There’s no personal or spiritual reward here.

When I was a young man, I remember my Dad giving me some good advice that I, of course, ignored at the time and for many years to come. His two-word admonition came when I had returned from my first ROTC field exercise and proudly began the tale of one my “exploits.” Dad’s words came out both sharp and stern. It was as if something I had said triggered an automatic response. I must have mentioned some magic word because he never even let me finish my story before snapping, “NEVER VOLUNTEER!” That was that. I never got to finish my story.

“Never volunteer!” How strange? Those words coming from a decorated WWII veteran. Dad was an Army platoon sergeant who had spent three years in combat overseas in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. It was not until many years later and after a lot of research that I realized how never volunteering was one of the main reasons he had survived the war at all. My Dad was very proud of his service. He also had the wisdom of harsh experience.

Now that I’m a lot older, I’ve gained that same type of wisdom myself. There are no medals awarded for valor in the lower levels of corporations and there is no glory. A “Make it Happen” certificate (suitable for framing) won’t compensate you for the loss of valuable time with your family or your health. There are only obscene bonuses and rewards for the corporate generals. Killing yourself for a company gets you only one reward – death.

I remember reading a survey a few years ago. The survey asked if people would be willing to “volunteer” to work an 80 hour workweek with no time off for three straight years if at the end of that period they would be guaranteed that the rest of their working lives would revert to a normal 40 hours per week schedule. If I recall the results of the survey, most respondants answered NO. I believe that these negative replies came from people like me. People who now know that there are no such guarantees and that once one commits to such a regimen, it never stops.

If this rant seems rather jaded, it’s meant to be. You’re visiting with The Corporate Cynic. I know that many young starry-eyed up-and-comers and corporate big shot wannabees will revile at this notion. So be it! You’ll learn.

At the end of my career, I want to be able to say the same thing that my Dad would say when asked about what he did during WWII, “I survived and served proudly.”

Coping with One’s Own Cynicism in the Workplace

October 6, 2007

I was recently asked about how one copes with being the consummate corporate cynic while functioning as a manager in a large corporation. How one keeps their personal sanity and avoids the professional pitfall of infecting one’s direct reports with “attitude”. I answered with one simple word – humor.

Although I am personally pretty adept at compartmentalizing my rage, disbelief and disgust with the things I see happening on a daily basis, it’s tough sometimes not to go off on a real tirade around coworkers and peers. Humor is definitely a great safety valve and there is far too little of it in today’s workplace. I have never seen such humorless lifeless zombies, ramrod stiff automatons, frenetic micromanagers and sanctimonious pompous asses in my life. Take your job seriously – not yourself!

Perhaps you see glimmers of humor (albeit slightly sarcastic and satirical) in my weekly posts. Writing is a great outlet for me. I’m even better in person. The staff and my peers can attest to that. I’ve had them rolling in the aisles during some really tough times. I believe that the laughter I can invoke really helps cut through the drudgery, tension and anxiety. At one point it was even suggested that I become a standup corporate comedian or talk show satirist. That’s enough of that!

Forget about those goofy books like Fish. Come on, that’s grammar school schmaltz. What an insult to intelligent people. We’re all adults. We’re all in this together and we all share a common environment. Believe me, there’s plenty of great material to poke fun at in the workplace. Everything and everyone is fair game – including oneself. Although some managers approach their functions and the company with near religious zealotry, there’s nothing THAT sacred in the workplace. It isn’t a place of worship. Skewering the foibles of the leadership and satirizing company polices is definitely not sacrilegious. Considering the hours that many of us put in, it’s our home away from home. Can’t we be as comfortable at work as we are there?

Groups of like minded managers can really elicit some fun and good laughs when they get together. When I think of some of the nicknames we’ve come up over the years for members of the top brass based upon their quirks and idiosyncrasies, it’s astounding. Some of the stories we’ve traded about the upper echelon are absolutely hilarious and the spoofs on goofy company programs and polices have been priceless. It’s never meant at all to be mean or even vindictive. It’s a real sharing of feelings and genuine camaraderie. I liken it to being on a battlefield or fighting a long drawn out war. Something other a few “metrics” and a “vision statement” is needed to bind us together. Am I saying that the corporate leadership is the common enemy that binds? Absolutely not! Soldiers fight the real enemy with zeal and STILL have fun at the expense of their superiors and the “system”. If you think that this does not go on within all levels of an organization (except the executive, of course), I think you’re sadly mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong here. As managers, we all have responsibilities and should never shirk them or attempt to foment mutiny. I dislike whiners and gripers as much as the next manager. I have little patience with complainers who have been given the tools and training to get a job done as well. As a manager, I’ll listen to a bitch session from time to time. People have different tolerance levels for stress and that needs to be recognized and respected. Experienced managers know when not to cross the line. But when it’s all said and done, I always try to end with a good laugh, even if the jokes on me. I believe that it’s all part of coaching, reducing tension and treating people like human beings instead of machines.

We live in a stressful world and the workplace certainly mirrors if not exacerbates the anxiety. If more managers and executives could take themselves a little less seriously and show some humanity through a little more humor, I think we’d all feel better. Maybe the Corporate Cynic would no longer have anything to write about. I doubt it.

In the meantime, as my old friend Joe P. would say many many times while we worked together at one crazy company, “You’d better laugh, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

When Stories about CEO’s “Chucking it All” Become Cause for Upchucking

September 21, 2007

Hold on to your hats! This is going to be another corker!

If I read one more article about a CEO or some other high-powered executive “chucking it all” and devoting the rest of his/her life to their families or some altruistic pursuit, I think I’m going to vomit. I just finished reading one of these tearjerkers that was linked to, of all things, a website where workers can vent about their jobs and bosses. Can you believe that? According to the author, we should all have pity and admiration for this young dynamo. He neglected his wife and children for seven years while slaving away in the high six figure corporate ether. He now wants to make it up to them by buying a ranch or a farm or an island or something and live the simple life. Uh huh. The moral of the story is that we should all be considering how hard we all work and what we’re missing out on in life. Is our paycheck really worth our soul? Can’t we emulate this fine individual? How inspiring! What hogwash!

Doesn’t everyone have the financial wherewithal to say goodbye to the workaday world and devote their time to family and/or the arts? Can’t we all sell one of our homes (perhaps just the summer cottage on Cape Cod) to purchase the ranch or island and then pay our living expenses from the dividends and interest earned on our portfolios? Maybe trade in the Bugati and the Bentley to purchase a luxury motor home and tour the country for a year or two with the Memsaab and the kiddies? And if, God forbid, we should run low on funds – why we can just give old Biff a call over at XYZ Corp. He’s an old frat chum. Surely he has a vice presidency or consulting gig just waiting for us.

No! We have mortgages and bills to pay. We need to put food on the table; get our kids’ teeth straightened and hope to God that we can save enough money to retire on without having to eat dog food. We have to live in the fear of our jobs being outsourced, co-sourced, right sized, downsized, etc. When was the last time you read about “executive” positions being off-shored? Even when it is reported that some high powered corporate types get canned, the terms of their golden parachutes are always conveniently “undisclosed.” Our severance packages are always disclosed – two weeks pay and accrued vacation. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to cancel that trip to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji.

Where do these writers come up with these stories? Why do they insist on nominating these characters for sainthood? What is the fascination when the wealthy and powerful seem to do something “ordinary”? (As if buying a ranch or an island and not working for the rest of one’s life is ordinary.) I’m sure not inspired – or even impressed. Listen, I do not begrudge anyone having the wealth to unshackle themselves from the gristmill and pursue happiness. God bless them. But don’t throw these characters up to me as role models. In the words of Hyman Roth, a character in the film Godfather II, who was lecturing Michael Corleone on the perils of being a mobster, “This is the life we chose.” It’s the life that THEY chose (or lucked or connected into). It just so happens that THEY have a lot more options for survival than WE do. And don’t try to sell me some apologetic pablum that lifestyles and needs are all relative. A 3,000-acre working ranch in Wyoming is NOT equivalent to my 300 square foot back yard. The ability to spend endless carefree time with one’s family is not equivalent to my having to beg for a few hours off to attend a parent teacher conference and then be made to feel guilty about it. The loss of “face” experienced by a fired but well-heeled executive is not equivalent to losing my house or health care benefits if I get the axe.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Most of us commoners fall in the Safety and Security category. We can’t afford Self-actualization yet – let alone an island.