death by a thousand cuts

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

– Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chovee

I’ve started work at a new client and the contrast between this client and a ‘normal’ company is severe. This company is reeling from multiple frauds, bad investments in the subprime mess, poor leadership and (in a local sense) purely bad decision making. All of that could be forgiven back in the golden days when they were making money hand over fist, but now that times are tight, heads are rolling.

Recent restructurings have been fierce. They’ve seen fewer layoffs than some of my other clients (many of whom you’d recognize in the news – 15,000 laid off here, 8,000 there) but in an effort to show “change” they’ve been brutal with the org charts. Imagine this: you’re a long-term director, with 11 people reporting to you – and the next day you’ve been demoted to a manager, with NOBODY reporting to you. Compound the injury by making your new boss your former staff.

It’s an almost unbearable humiliation made intolerable by the fact that this guy is close enough to retirement that he has no financial incentive to quit in disgust; his pension is just around the corner.
Yet this is what it’s come to in Corporate America, Inc. Maybe he was an idiot. Maybe he was a jerk. I don’t think so, but maybe he was. Yet at the same time how can any organization continue to employ someone who has been treated like this? Even if he deserved it, surely his motivation is now going to drop to “hang on until I qualify for retirement by the skin of my teeth” level, isn’t it?

This is what it’s come to, of course. A company that gets so large can coast on momentum from time to time. The management can be horrendous but the sheer size of the company – the fact that it dominates its industry – can carry it a long way. But I notice more and more that the dehumanization of the management cripples the company’s chances for long-term improvement. It’s specifically management, too. Executives and staff are often rendered inert by a lack of motivation (in the former) and a lack of motivation (in the latter). I don’t think this is a bad thing, but many execs and staff are content to coast. Management is where the angst is. But management is where movement comes from. And management is where corporate America is dying, because execs won’t cut themselves and staff have such insignificant salaries to be irrelevant during layoffs.

I tried to be sympathetic with the director who lost his staff. He’s on the downhill slope, in any case. But here’s the kicker: don’t get into this position. I’m sorry, I’m sure this guy may have had a full life and wonderful experiences and a happy family but Heilige Nifleheim – to be slapped in the face at the end of a 30-year career with a corporation with a brutal demotion, warranted or not, is awful. Keep yourself from becoming that guy – because if you stick with your corporation long enough, you WILL be that guy.

Odds and Ends:

I’ve been watching Donny Deutsch’s The Big Idea at 10:00 PM eastern on CNBC for the last couple of weeks. If there is a single TV show that I’ve EVER watched that embodies – in my opinion – the wealthbuilding mindset, this is it. He’s not talking to people getting out debt, he’s talking to people who are doing OK who want to do something amazing. If you have the time, give it a watch. I have been amazed that something like this – so relentlessly positive and at the same time intelligent – stays on TV. Watch. Now.