How to Live Forever: Speaking of Leadership, Management and Corporate BS
By Barry Maher
Hank Engholm was an “experienced, level-headed veteran,” according to his boss, and a first-rate accountant. He was respected and trusted by his peers. Then he was promoted. It was immediately made clear to him that as a manager his duty was to toe the “Let’s all think happy thoughts and everything will be wonderful” company line. Within weeks, he’d lost all credibility with those he was supposed to lead. He felt two-faced, he felt dissonance, and he felt stress.
“What’s more,” Hank adds, “by trying to be perpetually upbeat and positive I was denying the company part of what I was supposedly being paid for, which was my honest assessment of the situation. The reality, of course, was that nobody wanted hear it.”
In other words, the company was denying itself the benefits of the very experience that got Hank promoted in the first place.
In Unconventional Wisdom, organizational development expert Thomas L. Quick tells of being asked to sit in on what was supposed to be a discussion of a proposed new project. After listening for a while, he thought he detected a few flaws in the proposal so he suggested a couple of changes.
“There was an embarrassed silence; then one of the plan’s proponents angrily declared that he thought it was quite acceptable and would we please vote on it. I was a pariah—I had introduced uncertainty. There were further discussions . . . but I was conspicuously excluded from them. Implementation of the plan, as I recall, was an expensive failure.”
Too many of us who have been in management have had similar experiences.
Those who practice such Pollyanna positive thinking usually call it “diplomacy” or “office politics“ or “going along to get along.” Whatever you call it, if I could collect for myself all the time the average corporation spends lying to itself—trying to avoid one potential negative or another—I’d be immortal.
How to Live Forever
Think about the company you work for. How often are things said in meetings or official pronouncements that everyone knows are not true but no one is allowed to challenge?
How much time do you spend listening to platitudes and corporate lip service that not only have no relation to the reality but that actually attempt to cover up the reality? Often these come in the cloak of the latest buzzwords, key phrases from the latest management fads: fads that were frequently excellent ideas to begin with—sometimes revolutionary ideas—until they were misused, misunderstood or just plain co-opted in the service of something very different from what the experts who developed them intended.
If I were collecting minutes to add to my life from any particular company, I’d probably start looking wherever people were talking about customer service. I called one business the other day that had just been involved in a massive merger. They’d recently changed their corporate motto from “100 percent customer satisfaction” to “The easiest company to do business with.”
“Our number one core competency is customer service,” their management bragged. “That’s the prime reason we were so attractive as a merger partner.”
Having worked with this particular company and having dealt with any number of its customers—as well as having been a customer myself—I knew that its “number one core competency” was talking about customer service. No one inside the company seemed to realize that there was a distinction between talking about it and actually providing it.
When I called that day, I was of course thrown into phone-tree Hell, where for the next 28 minutes—on the clock—I was repeatedly played the following mind-boggling, yet all too prevalent, message:
“Because we value your business, please continue to hold.”
Because we value your business, please continue to hold. In other words, “Your business is so important to us that we are perfectly willing to increase our productivity by decreasing yours—to cut our costs by spending your time.” If they didn’t value my business, I guess they would have just hung up on me.
After the 28 minutes, I hung up on them. If I’m going to be robbed I prefer to have it done without the hypocrisy. I’d almost rather have the thief just stick a gun in my belly and say, “Because I value your money, please give me your wallet.”
I know of one company where I could probably live forever just by gathering the time wasted on the single empty phrase, “customer driven.” And if I could collect all the time they squandered on empty blathering about “employees being our most valuable assets” and how they’ve got to treat them as such, I could keep several friends alive for companionship.
-San Diego, California, January, 2013.