Registered: Sep, 2008
Re: Collective Stupidity
Posted: Sep 5, 2008 1:19 PM
I've been a consultant for approx. 12 yrs of the 18 I have been in the technology industry. I've worked in or with a little over a dozen companies in that time span, many of them Fortune 100 companies, many of them well known. I can safely say that 80% if not 90% of the companies in America function this way. They do dumb, stupid things, esp. with their people. There are very, very few innovative companies out there who know how to lead, manage, motivate, mentor, inspire and properly reward their people at work.
(Those few innovative companies are extremely competitive when it comes to becoming employed by them and with good reason; they can afford to be discriminating. So in a sense, you have a chicken and egg problem in these cases, it seems. Are these few companies innovative and fun to work for because they are discriminating in who they hire, or do they draw innovative employees because they have demonstrated the ability to lead, manage, motivate, mentor, inspire and properly reward their people? I believe they both feed on one another and draw their energies and beliefs -- and therefore practices -- from the same source.)
Anyway, as I've considered this over the years (it's something I've spent a lot of time considering because it does bother me and leave me in wonderment that most companies just don't "get it" -- I work for one now, a Fortune 100 company that unfortunately falls into the 80% category...), here are some of the things I've seen that I believe lead to this phenomena of "dumb things." Much of this doesn't disagree with comments left previously (which I only skimmed through). A lot of companies are guilty of one or more of these:
* Arrogance, pride and ego: This in my opinion is the #1 culprit for why companies do dumb things. Because a lot of men and women quite frankly are arrogant, prideful and full of ego. We recently had an "edict" given at my present company which, to a man, everyone thought was the dumbest idea ever, but it didn't matter. The VP who decided it was a "good idea" held firm to his/her opinion in spite of the fact everyone hates it and was told so. (I mean, how could she back down and say it was a "dumb idea" when she thought it through herself and thought it initially to be a GOOD idea? How could she "renege" on herself"? It was and still is pure pride.) It would take too long to go into detail about it here, but it's definitely an inconsequential decision that irritates a lot of people. But this is very, VERY common at many companies. (And the TIME this decision burned in the company as employees, frustrated at their inability to change the decision, began spending time trying to find ways to circumvent the decision, myself included.)
* Something I call "spreadsheet management": The two dimensional spreadsheet says to do "X". So they do it. Without thinking at all about the impact and consequence of those decisions, taking into account the 3rd dimension of people, culture, customers, employees, work dynamics, etc. I've seen it a million times.
* Giving only lip service to "our people make our business." There's nothing people and especially American people despise more than a "communism." The Communists, as you recall, said one thing in their Constitution but in reality, ran things in their country entirely differently. They paid lip service to "human rights" while treating their people devilishly or at the very least with very little regard for what they thought, felt or even needed. There's nothing that alienates and demotivates your workforce quicker than being out of touch with their daily realities while paying lip service to it. My present workplace has a clear line (chasm?) between "management" and the common worker/drone. Decisions are made at the top and "handed down from on high." Nothing disgusts and alienates people faster than feeling they have little or no say or voice in the outcomes of decisions which affect them daily or that you even care to ask. There's no asking and there's no true "open door" without feeling there would be consequence in bringing to attention issues and concerns.
I can't IMAGINE being so out of touch with the people who answer to me directly. I consider it 80% of my job responsibilities to be in touch with what is going on below me. Not "micromanaging" but definitely plugging in at the micro-level while managing at the macro level, which leads me to...
* Trust and mistrust: In our country, as it relates to legal things, we have an axiom where you are presumed to be innocent until PROVEN guilty. (I won't go into discrepancies here on that, but use it simply analogously for a moment. :-)) There is something similar in work situations which people appreciate which we as a people appreciate legally, and that is: we want to be trusted until proven untrustworthy. Many companies operate from an opposite position of "we don't trust you until you prove -- usually over 10-20 years -- that we CAN trust you." If you aren't planted in a seat where I can see you, then I assume you are NOT doing any work. "Because I know if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't either!" This is called "projection"...
* Projection: Related to all of the above, but I think worth mentioning. In many companies, upper management "project down" THEIR ideas and preferences on everyone else, usually to the detriment of all. Just because YOU work 60 hours a week as an exec doesn't mean everyone else wants to or should. Just because YOU feel you should be in the office from 8-5 every day, 5 days a week, doesn't mean everyone else should.
We recently had, through a company merger, the elimination of what used to be casual days on Friday and voluntary flex work weeks where you could, if you wanted to, work nine 9 hour days and get a Friday off every 2 weeks. But because the new CEO and CIO both said they believe in having everyone in the office every day 8-5 Monday through Friday, no exceptions (even in cases where there was no direct interface to the customer) then everyone else had to do it too. DUMB. It hurt, angered and alienated people and radically changed what was one a relaxed, motivational culture (between that and other decisions much like it.) No one ever stopped to consider (it doesn't seem) what the impact of a few decisions like this would be on the workforce.
It was great to have a Friday off without taking PTO where you could take care of some business outside of work that only could be done on a weekday, or having a 3-day weekend every once in a while. Many employers never think about the impact to the workplace something simple like that can have, allowing people the ability to take care of business at home as they need to do. Problems at home are taken to work because people are people. But a lot of companies, again, just don't "get it." The dynamics of people are foreign to them, especially top level managers who make millions and can just have personal assistants take care of that kind of stuff. So it never dawns on them, the plight of the common worker who ironically provides them their millions...)
* Stockholders and Company Worth: Related to "spreadsheet management" above, but I totally agree with another comment here. Focusing on growth and financial worth dissolves focus on the very things that perhaps got you there. Growth is a universal axiom both biologically and in the work world (where biological creatures create the abstracts of "company", "work", "products", "services", "customers", etc.) GROWTH TAKES CARE ITSELF IF YOU TAKE CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT, FOOD, PROPER SHELTER, BASIC HEALTH NEEDS, etc. Groth is always a by-product of other things! WHY managers/companies don't "get" that is beyond me.
In the biological world, when people focus on their "growth" in and of itself as an "end" rather than a byproduct of healthy living and proper care and nurturing, abnormalities occur (eg. anorexia, taking of steriods, pill-popping and drug risks and addictions, risky surgical procedures and enhancements, etc.) Companies which focus on the bottom line often do so to the detriment of people: customers, suppliers, employees, etc.
* "The company is a turnip" syndrome: I work for a company that makes literally hundreds of millions of dollars in profit EVERY QUARTER and yet they run the company as if we are living in the Great Depression. I believe in this day and age, it pays to be conservative, and I believe that is the motivation behind a lot of their decisions (and truth be told, our top management has avoided a lot of pitfalls at a higher level through conservatism.) But the sense given in which it feels almost like we are on the brink of bankruptcy is far enough out of congruency that many people have lost respect for management and feel the company is run by greed. It's hard not to think so. We have many core services in the technology arena which are starving for more human resources to support other areas of the company which are growing, and those areas have a "no hire" policy right now and have for a long time. People don't respect that kind of thing in the face of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits EVERY QUARTER.
This is the "unhealthy" approach mentioned above. Nurture the environment and you WILL grow. Grab and try and "hold on to" and artificially create "growth" (by refusing to spend, reinvest and nurture) and you will eventually die. Like Microsoft, if you are a large company, it takes time for that kind of "gangrene" to spread through an entire behemoth, but I'm convinced, eventually it will. People are hanging on to what they have now, but if the economy were to "loosen up" a bit and people had more choices, I'm convinced people would leave my present company (and many other companies) in droves. (Only to find unfortunately, that 80% of American companies, if not more, are run the same way, which I've had the good fortune to witness through lots of consulting.)
* "Playing not to loose rather than playing to WIN." Successful companies play to WIN. Mediocre companies play "not to loose." There is a HUGE difference here. This is somewhat mentioned by others here, manifested in the "lowest common denominator" category as well as others. So many companies will "play it safe" when it comes to employees, policies, etc. "If we let so and so do this, then we have to let EVERYBODY do it..." Says who? It's your company? Why do companies feel they have to play to the LCD? If you try to do the very best thing in each and every circumstance, top to bottom, things will take care of themselves. You don't have to answer to "everybody." Which leads to the last thing I'll mention...
* Laziness. Most men and women are lazy. (Related to "projection" and other things I've mentioned such as the "playing not to loose" and "spreadsheet management" mentalities above.) It's just easier, as someone else mentioned, to do the LCD thing. It takes too long to "analyze" every situation and do the very best thing in every circumstance. I don't want to have to answer to everyone else for decisions I make and deal with the fall out. I'm scared of lawsuits, etc.
In the end, it's not ironic (or maybe incredibly ironic, I can't decide), it's people who create people problems and do dumb things.
There are more things I could add, but I don't want to "rant." But I could literally write a book on some of the things I've seen over and over and over again. A lot of this can be summed up in the first point: pride, ego and arrogance. It's a fallen world and fallen men and women run it. It's a rare thing to find management and companies striving for ways to live above the norm.