BRYCE ON SOCIETY
– Making the work environment unbearable.
One of the reasons Scott Adams’ cartoon, “Dilbert,” is so successful is because it hits close to home in depicting office life. Corporate management is one of Adams’ favorite targets in which they are shown as bumbling idiots. They are very determined in controlling all activities of the business. Their approach is predictably wrong, and they embrace every management fad that comes along. Because of their strong sense of authority and control, perhaps “goons” is a more appropriate label. This is essentially no different than Hitler’s goon squads during World War II where they harassed people, and practiced thuggery to implement the Führer’s policies. Under this approach, management’s policies are implemented top-down with no bottom-up input being tolerated.
Earlier this year, I wrote a column entitled, “Beware of the MBA’s,” whereby I made the observation today’s management tends to manage people more from a numbers point of view as opposed to a results perspective and their ability to work with others. I recently saw this first hand in a company with a national chain of outlets for manufacturing products. After several years at the helm, the founder and president stepped aside and retired. Shortly thereafter, the board of directors appointed a new CEO, someone with experience in the company but who was much younger and ambitious. The first thing he did was replace all of the regional sales managers with younger people (late twenties), and office managers in their early twenties. The more experienced sales and office managers were demoted and pushed aside. Instead of sales volume, the sales force was managed by a series of spreadsheets which considered the number of sales calls made, both in person and on the telephone. Instead of worrying about customer care and satisfaction, the numbers were of paramount importance. To make matters worse, whereas salesmen had previously been managed by the local sales manager, who was there to review their progress and solve their problems, the sales force now reported to a goon squad of regional sales managers, who were located out of state, and local office managers who acted as the eyes and ears of the regional managers.
This resulted in a serious morale problem. Since people were managed primarily by numbers, they became apathetic in the company’s business. They quickly realized concepts such as customer service and quality assurance were considered passé. They also knew they could easily outfox the young office managers who lacked experience. Over time, the office units started to experience delays in shipments to customers, lost revenue, sloppy inventory, and a general disregard for the company overall. Since they realized fighting the goon squad was futile, they undermined the company instead. Conditions became so bad, the employees began to resign, the key ones first (sales and customer service), then the clerical workers. Today, approximately 40% of the people in the local office have resigned and moved on. At first, the goon squad believed it would be easy to find replacements, but after realizing what the corporate culture entailed, the company can only afford mediocre workers. Maybe that is how management wants it.
Businesses certainly do not have a monopoly on goon squads. Nonprofit organizations typically have more than commercial enterprises. When the goons have captured the leadership of such groups, they recruit assistants and deputies not because they are intelligent or hard workers, but because they know how to follow orders with gusto, regardless if they know them to be harmful.
To the goons, it is not about offering inspired leadership, it is all about maintaining control over the organization and stifling resistance. It is no small wonder we live in an age of autocratic rule (Theory X). Goon squads are not interested in listening to the input of the workers. You either play ball or be prepared to be turned out. Such a management philosophy is dangerous in my opinion. It means spreadsheets take precedence over customer service, sales calls over sales volume, and in the case of nonprofits, suffocating rules over flourishing membership.
I am certainly not suggesting all companies operate in this fashion, but the reality is Scott Adams has a lot of material to work with for a long time. If we cannot relate to it, it wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, goon squads are very much alive and well in this country.
Keep the Faith!
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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.