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.

11 Replies to “death by a thousand cuts”

  1. I love Donny Deutsch’s show. If you ever get a chance to watch him interview Ann Coulter, you gotta see it. Such a nice guy interviewing a such a not so-nice woman; he really does the best job out of anyone on that tricky interview. I can’t not watch it no matter how much I dislike her.

  2. My last job was in corporate America, at a start-up that got too big for itself. So they underwent some restructuring that pretty much sucked (very similar to above). I left for non-profit. I’m at a big enough place now that we could see some restructuring, but everyone is so well-connected that nothing like this would happen.

  3. I can’t agree with you more about Donny Deutsch’s show. Most of what runs on television is dull and uninspiring. This is the kind of television I want to see more of.

  4. I can’t speak to the show, but on the 1000 cuts, I think that one of the best ideas is never to become your job. And since that guy isn’t going to leave, and isn’t going to do much for the company either, they’re just shooting themselves in the foot. Markets aren’t always efficient when the companies are so big.

  5. I’ve always been willing to leave a job situation that is untenable; too willing, according to some of the pundits who advise waiting out a bad situation. Yet events (downsizings, office closings) have borne out most of those decisions.

    I’m sorry, if you let the time to a pension dictate how you respond to an organizational defenestration, then you have truly sold your soul to The Man. Your temporary colleague doesn’t deserve sympathy, Steve. He deserves pity.

  6. Curmudgeon,

    Sometimes it is tough to be bold and leave when there are not too many choices in front of you. If that guy has to pay a mortgage and college tuition for 1-2 kids, I bet he’d do anything just to keep working some job and make some decent salary. Otherwise he might not have a lot of options..

  7. @Dividend GI, well, that’s why I’m called Curmudgeon. But people put themselves into that position, by placing excessive trust in their employer. I have had similar expenses, yet I have never let myself be dependent upon that next paycheck to make it happen. You don’t have options because you’ve let those options slide through your fingers over the years. You keep up your education, maintain your network, and look beyond your own small world, and you will always have options.

  8. I’ll chime in here and say nobody HAS to pay college tuition for their kids. It’s nice if they can, but if they can’t, the kids will have to attend a cheaper school, work their way through college, etc. You can always sell your house and rent to avoid paying a huge mortgage. Etc. You can go out of this life having lived on your knees or standing up. Me, personally, I couldn’t take getting dumped on like that. There are almost always options, as long as you have your health.

  9. Thank you! You put into words what I’ve always felt about Donny Deutsch’s program. I actually don’t particularly enjoy it that much (too much non-substantive talking), but I think the concept is a good one, and you articulated why. Good point about wondering how it stays on the air, too.

  10. well, one day we’ll maybe be that that guy close to retirement, going thru the motions to get the pension: if we’re lucky. try to put your self in his shoes.

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