More and more I’m coming to believe there are essentially two tracks in people strategy that will simply never converge, albeit both appear with lots of variations. We’ll have to stamp one out if we want to be rid of it. That one can be characterized as old-fashioned fiefdom-style rule by the top boss versus the newer, positive model of working on problems in more or less cooperative teams. Teamwork and decency not new you say? They might as well be for some Boards and owners. The era of the imperial marauding corporate barons is far from over as story after story attests. Will it end? That may be up to us.
|There are still large companies, strange as it seems, that empower an owner or CEO to virtually go it alone with ideas that suit them regardless of the impact on staff or results, surrounded by a line up of toadies who are apparently willing to carry out the most outlandish plans no matter how many of them are hurt or unhappy. The sad fact is that organizations can be wrenched away from the team type by a single idiotic owner in a matter of a couple of years, but switching them back seems less easy.||Photo by klynslis|
One such story unraveled in the last week or so with the firing of the CEO of the Tribune Company, a media conglomerate including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs. Although one could be pleased that the unbelievably outrageous behavior of the owner and his CEO have ended in a sad and, hopefully, predictable crack up, the ultimate reason for the failure is almost certainly more due to dropping ad revenues resulting most visibly from the recession, not the bad behavior per se. Even with this on-going disaster unfolding it doesn’t appear that the root causes were being addressed the way we might hope.
North America passes ever stronger legislation against stress-inducing work environments as reported in Canadian HR Reporter. Yet we can read how they are nonetheless perpetuated in some organizations. In the case of the Tribune Company, the CEO actually instigated a rewrite of the employee handbook to say, “Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process. This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment [emphasis mine].”
This provided thin cover for top executives publicly discussing the “sexual suitability” of various female employees and announcement of the promotion of a female sales VP thusly: “.a former waitress at Knockers – the Place for Hot Racks and Cold Brews,” as The New York Times describes it – “a jocular reference to a fictitious restaurant chain.” Needless to say, henchmen actually produced these documents, not the CEO himself.
This isn’t some penny ante fly-by-night, but a huge organization worth billions. Yet top notch executives were afraid that filing complaints would tarnish their reputations in their industry. And the Board of Directors did nothing. Legislation or no, we still suspect those who stand up to bullies almost more than the bullies themselves. Almost no one wants to be the whistle-blower no matter how much they want the whistle blown.
Thankfully this CEO has been fired just days after job postings for news reporters declared: “Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass.” His new model employee it seems would have to be an “anti-establishment revolutionary” [translation: inexperienced and inexpensive – a new winning strategy to beat bankruptcy?]. Apparently the revolution finally caught up with him, though exactly why we will likely never know. Will the new operators rethink? We can only hope. because it appears the model of dictatorship, good or bad, is still very much alive even in major organizations. We may have new laws, but not enough new courage to fight nor common sense on the part of owners and Boards of Directors to stifle such behavior.