Perhaps the better question is how did things go so wrong? Look at my last job, I was very loyal. I put in the effort applied myself, worked killer deadlines and over my pay grade, never asked anything but the respect that any person deserves and the resources to do my job well. Conservatively my efforts put 70 million dollars in the companies revenues in the period since I completed the main project I worked on, For that I was “restructured” because of a quota systems that just treated people like used Kleenex. Essentially I was the perfect sucker.
This problem is deeper than any one company. It seems that most companies expect more while delivering less in the way of support for their employees. Killer contracts that essentially turn employees into effective serfs. The elements of distrust. The feeling that you are locked in a box. The constant smell of fear as the layoffs go around. You get the feeling that you are just a unit rather somebody who’s making an important contribution.
That might work for some people, but in my case, I was working in what the company called a Center of Excellence. The way I look at it, our role was to be outside the box, to make the innovative calls that created new instruments that made the big bucks. But that didn’t mean the company culture couldn’t infect the place. Part of the problem was that my facility was a small company purchased by a big company. Small companies have different rules and different perspectives. Everybody know everybody else and There’s less pressure to play by the rules. Another issue was that the old company founder was kept on as a manager and suddenly thrust into a new role as mid manager rather than company owner. In any case the atmosphere became toxic and the manager the big company brought in did not help as he spent most of time out of the office playing politics for a promotion.
All this was bad enough but trips to the big facility nearby for all employee meetings sort of encouraged the air of dysfunction. Not only the layoffs, but the culture seemed to have something wrong with it. Nobody seemed to push themselves very hard. At the meeting there was back patting for the most trivial things. And then the CEO would come on the screen with his video of perfect business speak that didn’t really say anything. And this was supposed to be one of the better companies.
When I started with mass spectrometers at my job I knew nothing about them, by the time I was laid off, about 4 1/2 years later I could feel that I was just entering the ability to make real progress in being able to design and advance mass spectrometers. The proof is the Axion 2 mass spec, which was dumped more or less in my lap and then neglected by the product manager and seemingly upper management. Ok, by me, I got it done and without the product manager, the former owner of the little company, screaming at me continuously I had a free hand to do it right and I did. Then my company laid me off wasting both my time and their investment just before the payoff. The Axion 2 was a big success, after I was laid off, but I never saw any of that. The company risked that some other company would reap the investment of my time and their money. They also lost any new instruments that I may come up with, and I’ve got two or so rattling around in my head. To the bean counters, though all that mattered was that they made the objective of 18% margin in 2012.
From the first the 1812 idea , as a company objective had some real flaws. The idea was that everybody would come up with better ways to do their jobs and communicate them so that money would be saved. That part was actually a good idea and had it been implemented the right way, could have actually helped improve the company. The whole 1812 idea had an implicit threat in it. A threat that indeed happened. I think that everybody understood that there were going to be layoffs, large ones. Layoffs because the company is in trouble are one thing, layoffs to meet some criteria that can’t be controlled and is completely dependent on outside influences is just going to be demoralizing. No matter how many good ideas were presented, no matter how hard we worked, a government budget cut and fewer instrument being purchased, the loss of a big customer over some minor dispute or anything else and a bunch of us were going to be “restructured.”
The reality, though is that I probably wouldn’t have lasted very much longer. I have to wonder what the climate like was after the “restructuring” It was getting harder to put up with the place. Nothing seemed to be resolved and the toxicity just went on and on. And because of the limitations of my contract I couldn’t find release in my own ideas even for stuff that had nothing to do with the company business. And I was certainly not getting the rewards for my work. So there was no reason to stay.
This isn’t just a problem at my former employer. It seems like companies in a variety of fields are chasing dollars the same way. It’s become the norm to pursue perfection in acquisition, play patent troll and buy back stock rather than actually undertaking product development. I realize that product development is difficult, it the rot seems to have gotten worse lately. Of course all this is hard on the poor employees, who don’t understand that their role is to go through the motions for the stockholders and the customers who are getting the shaft. Some of us actually tried to do our jobs rather than volunteering for the latest feel good event and company push. In the end all that’s accomplished is lousy workplaces and employees pretending to work.
The problem seems be a big one. Here’s some links:
And my favorite:
The only one of these that my employer didn’t have was the ping pong table. That is not a good thing for the long term future of the company and if enough companies go this way, the economic health of the country.
The problems seem to be widespread and very real. the current economic climate has only made the problems more visible. This issue is a trend that’s been happening for a long time. Because of what happened to me and because I would prefer to not go through that again I’ve tried to figure out why. Having had some experience with how socialism works, I think I have some answers.
Why socialism? Because Socialism has been seemingly the way corporate cultures are put together
I collect those company history books they used to put out. I have histories of Stanley tools, Alcoa, Hooker chemical, Bell Labs, Intel and a bunch of others. This is the sort of history that companies can’t be bothered to produce anymore. One thing you can learn is how company culture evolves from startup through to maturity. Some companies, Baldwin Locomotives for instance fostered a strong corporate culture that lasted over 100 years. Others seemed to die with their founders. Most seemed to devolve into little Socialist states with a management nomenklatura and peasant workers. The difference seems to be that the board tries to get a “professional manager” to run the outfit. I guess learning from somebody else’s mistakes eludes those people. I can’t count the companies that have ridden “professional managers” down in flames. Does anybody remember John Sculley at Apple?
The problem with a “professional manager” is that he doesn’t know the business. The graduate from one of the Ivy Covered Snob factories spends most his or her prepping for the Ivy Covered Snob Factories. They spend their time “reading” the teachers and working to get the best grades, which are the only thing that matters. They spend much time on the debating team, the drama club and all the “right” extracurricular activities. They take classes on how to take the SAT and work very hard on the application to whatever schools they are trying to get into. The parents work very hard to instill the right social skills and make sure that they are prepared. They are told constantly how smart they are. I grew up in Greenwich CT and Oh, boy did I see this in action. It’s all so competitive.
The problem is that while the kids develop social skills and solving for social things, they don’t get much experience in working and problem solving for doing stuff. They plan a party or gathering, but putting together a complicated assembly of parts, not so much. And they don’t learn how to work cooperatively. they don’t to trust and be trusted. They also tend to not have much freedom. The time I spent roaming around and taking the train to NYC, they spend on extracurricular activities. They also don’t have time for things like odd jobs. They go on vacations to exotic locations with prepackaged safety. They never have to worry about money, unlike me, how had to depend on odd jobs. But I learned things they didn’t. I learned how work can be rewarding and the value of money. I learned independence and making my own choices. I learned how to build stuff. I learned that failure isn’t the end of the world and the value of experience. I learned how to interact with a diversity of people with the trust that goes with it. The Preppies never had to develop the problem solving and warning signs that I needed in NYC in the 1970’s. They never had to worry how the next dollar was going to be spent. I used to envy them. Now, maybe not so much.
Once one of these people actually makes it into the school of their first, second or third choice, things don’t change. The challenges they face are the old familiar ones, dealing with the professors and the TAs, finding out the right tack to take to get the grades. The professors who constantly tell them how much better they are than the howling masses. How little they can trust the masses. The emphasis on the social rather than the practical. learning the proper way to manage things. The rules of how things are supposed to work. The competition goes on. And everybody there is just like them.
What they don’t seem to learn is the analysis and problem solving skills that enable them to go outside the box. There’s also the responsibility factor, or the lack thereof. And the ability to trust others, to know what you can expect and what they should expect of you. If you have been insulated from the consequences of what you do for your entire life, does anybody think that’s going to change once you exit the Ivy covered bubble?
That’s great if all you want are clones that all think alike. The problem is that in business, groupthink doesn’t lead to the kind of thinking that can gauge opportunities and risk. You only learn that from experience. And these people have never done anything. There’s also that responsibility thing. And engagement. But most especially you need to learn to trust outside your circle.
In the 1960’s there was a fad involving new ways to manage a company. Peter Drucker was leader of a movement that said that no longer would management come from promotion from within. Instead professional mangers would run people. They wouldn’t need to know the businesses because they would be following the scientific management created by the experts in the universities based on the latest social science. At least that was the way it was supposed to work.
These are the people Peter Drucker supposed would be the people managers. But the problem is that people mangers don’t know the product or the company. It used to be that prospective managers spent apprentice period of about one ot five years learning the business. The went the rounds of the different divisions and departments learning the business. The new way of management changed all that. The new managers are separate class who’s one skill is managing people. They barely know the company or the product at all. And they hold no loyalty to either.
Corporate monoculture has become a problem. We’ve entered that period of Helvetica, period. Everything in the same font, exactly alike. The signage for the typical store is the same as any other store, in plastic with energy saving lights behind it. Like any other monoculture, everything works until the disruption hits. Then it’s a disaster because the lack of diversity means that everything falls rather than just a small part of the system. There’s a reason for diversity in nature and an economy needs to be diverse as well.
Companies should remember that people are NOT property, owned by the company. Which company has the motto, “Don’t be evil.”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_be_evil
I guess that “evil” is what google thinks it is rather than how it treats it’s employees and customers. Was telling Jobs to go fly a kite that hard? Seriously I have to think that somebody who was just trying to her job was more important than the relationship with the biggest jerk in Silicon Valley. Were his parties that great? How do they think that affected company morale? Didn’t they understand that they just demonstrated that the employees can’t trust them? Did they not understand the consequences of that? Probably not.
the problem isn’t the Bolsheviks on the shop floor, it’s the Bolsheviks in the C suites. The problem is the Nomenklatura and the Ivy Ceiling. How many top managers in the Fortune 500, the VPs and whatnot did NOT come from an Ivy Covered Snob Factory? How many describe themselves a “people persons” who don’t have to know how the businesses actually work. That’s how things were done in the old Soviet Union and it did not work out well.
What happened to employee loyalty? Simple, the way things are now the typical employee had no skin in your game. He has to know by now that there is no real growth coming his way. There’s no way that he’s going to pierce the Ivy Ceiling, that there’s always going to be a new wunderkind slotted in front of him. He knows that there won’t be any big bonuses for his successes and that he’s going to pay the price for the C suite’s failures. If corporate managements want employee loyalty they are going to have to change. They are gong to have demonstrate to us, the employees that we are valued. That may mean that the C suite is going to have take a pay cut when things go down. It may mean that the management is going to have promote for within instead hiring new wunderkins. It may mean that all new employees, regardless of their degree and university start at the bottom. The thing is that employee loyalty has to be earned. If your company doesn’t learn that I suspect that it won’t last very long.