All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
Bobby Dylan sang, in "Talking World War Three Blues," that "we're all havin' that same dream." Dylan was talking about being the last person left on earth after the final war. Management's dream is that execs can screw off and their low paid employees will take up the slack for them. It's a dream because it doesn't make a lick of sense and, on the rare occasion that it appears to be working, it won't last. Like a good night's sleep, this pipedream comes to an end way too soon. The simple fact is that corporate motivation is directed top down and when the leadership's flow of activity, energy, and ideas stops flowing, the business is heading for bad times.
While it's possible to convince people to work harder than their bosses for a short time, it only makes sense that the people receiving the most benefit should do the most work. When that isn't true, there better be a clear, available, and direct chain of succession or the most productive people will look for other opportunities or put their energies into more interesting activities. In business, survival of the fittest often looks like rats leaving sinking ships. There is no low-level fix to inactive management, so anyone with the skills to be somewhere else is likely to start shipping resumes when it becomes obvious that management isn't on a temporary vacation.
For everyone else, the company becomes a place where the goals are incredibly simple. If the execs aren't working, they have no effective way to know that no one else is working. "Looking busy" isn't a difficult task in an organization that has minimal management. On the rare occasion that management is in the vicinity of activity, it only takes a little ass-kissing and random motion to convince inactive management that something is being done. It may not be work, but it looks like work to someone who isn't familiar with functional activity. If you've been employed, you've experienced this traditional American phenomenon. Most large companies generate much more random activity than directed, functional work. Unfortunately, way too many small and mid-sized companies sink themselves imitating dysfunctional Misfortune 500 disaster zones.
As consumers I think we've come to expect lethargy and incompetence from the management of companies with which we do business. My home town recently acquired a new grocery chain, ALDI, that specializes in low cost, no-name-brand, bulk stock groceries. The store doesn't accept credit cards or personal checks. ALDI stores don't even provide free grocery bags, plastic costs 10¢ and paper is 5¢. The result is that most items in the store cost a fraction of our local "bulk" grocery's prices. Even more dramatic, though, is the difference between the two store's management styles.
Recently, I was standing in a long line of ALDI shoppers waiting for my chance to pay money and escape the store. One of the folks in front of me "discovered" (regardless of dozens of signs all around the store) that his credit card and checkbook weren't going to be accepted at the checkout counter. The line came to a halt while he meandered toward the ATM. A light came on next to the register and I began to consider pushing my cart to the side and leaving. I'm not a great fan of standing in line. Apparently, the light was a request from the checker for backup. In a few seconds a manager appeared and opened a second checkout line. Big surprise, management doing work!
An even bigger surprise was yet to come. Not only did the manager know how to work the register, he was a lightening fast checker and the folks who'd moved to his line (including me) practically ran through the line with their groceries. Our local ALDI's checkers are famous for being efficient, but this guy was easily twice as fast as his employees.
At the other end of the management equation is the Cub Foods management; the other bulk grocery in our neighborhood. I have never seen Cub's managers run checkout and I'd be amazed if they are capable of doing anything that technical. I have seen Cub's managers watch, disapprovingly, as their employees struggle with moronic customers and malfunctioning equipment. They didn't lift a finger to improve the situation, but they do take every opportunity to work on their Scrooge facial expressions. As a result, the Cub store is consistently filthy, disorganized, and the general attitude of its employees could be summed up with the word "disinterested."
To take the inactive manager motif to the extreme, you could look to our current Commander in Thief. G.W. Bush is the laziest, most uninvolved President the nation has seen since Reagan or Eisenhower. In his first year of office, one of the most catastrophic in the nation's history, GeeWiz was on vacation more often than he was "working." However, when he's working he's mostly on vacation. The status of the current executive summaries is something slightly less sophisticated than a series of "where's Waldo" illustrations. Whether Bush is intellectually incapacitated is unknown, because he's so lazy that his capabilities are completely untested. Bush has tossed his responsibilities off on a variety of subordinates, none of whom are equipped (technically, ethically, intellectually, or psychologically) to handle the job. As a result, the nation's national security experienced it's worst failure since WWII and the worst ever failure to protect civilians. The economy has stumbled from a booming, energetic, and creative high to a malaise nearly equal to the mess that Reagan's corrupt mishandling created for the early Clinton years. And, maybe worst of all, the nation is practically perfectly polarized; unequalled since the years leading to the Civil War. We have two, nearly equally populated sides that absolutely, totally hate each other. Bush and the Neocons have turned the country so completely against itself that we ought to rename ourselves the Disconnected States.
Typical of what happens when a corporation is experiencing this kind of failure of leadership, many of the nation's best and brightest are contemplating jumping ship. Fortunately for the world, this happened when Hitler's Germany was misled by a similarly lazy, incompetent, and uninvolved "leader." Without an intelligent, moral, and aware top executive, the marching morons took charge and drove Germany in so many foolish directions that the nation's energy was misspent far more quickly than it would have been if there had been executive planning and guidance behind the mischief. Lucky for us. If Germany had retained its best and brightest, they would have had the atomic bomb years before us and their missile program would have been capable of delivering that bomb to our continent.
Bush's amoral 30% majority is a similar crowd. They are mostly out for themselves, taking on an occasional distraction like school vouchers, abortion, and pointless wars against third world nations. They're uneducated, unscientific, uncreative, and selfish. In the end, the Bushies will dissipate our national resources, international respect and power, and convince many of the most intelligent and talented citizens that America's time has come and that it's time to move to a more hospitable and dynamic country.
Uninvolved leadership always self-destructs. You'd think the free market advocates would be a little concerned about this fact.