Thursday, September 23, 2004

Firing the Boss

This is an entry that has been gestating for a while, but this is as good a time as any. Frabjous Dave is the reason for it appearing right here and right now, mainly because he has put up a link to Juan Cole's most excellent journal. Cole, a professor of History at the University of Michigan has been keeping a close eye on what has been happening in our various wars, and has provided some very cogent analysis of the situation in terms most of us can understand. In the entry that Dave hooks up with, Cole calls the current Administration on its claim of the "President as the CEO of America" and looks at how well it has done as a business.

And he does a good job showing that the current CEO/President has been driving the entire operation into the ground, spending money it doesn't have on risky ventures and not giving the slightest indication that it has any clue that it might be hurting the business or its employees. Cole makes his points well, but then stumbles, saying something I cannot abide: "No corporation would keep on a CEO that took risks the way Bush has, if the gambles so often resulted in huge losses."

I must disagree. Not only would a corporation keep on such a reckless CEO, it would most likely reward him. In fact, that's part of the problem with the current Administration - it IS being run like a modern corporation.

See if this sounds familiar. A bad idea that is favored by the boss is played up. Evidence that it may be bad idea is discarded out of hand. Most of the upper levels agree with the boss. Dissent is ignored, or if too persistent, shouted down. The ground-level workers who are going to have to do the job brace themselves for the inevitable fallout. PR spins mightily to make reality match the projections. When reality fails to abide, scapegoats for the failure are found, often among the original naysayers and lower levels, and the upper management goes on to its next great disaster without learning a single thing. No one at the executive level takes the fall. If cuts are called for, the rank-and-file catches it in the teeth, not the decision-makers.

Now tell me, did I just describe Iraq or the last round of bureaucratic follies at YOUR place of business?

Its taken as a general rule that your boss is insane. And if he's not insane (and I have had a LOT of good bosses who are Not Insane - you probably have too), then HIS boss is insane. If not that, then HER boss. And after you work through five or so levels of management, you're in such a rarified atmosphere that you don't know WHAT they're thinking while they're making decisions. For those of you working in large corporations (and I would define that as anything over two levels of management between the bottom and top), here's the question - would you trust your CEO/CFO/President to plan a dinner party, much less a major invasion? Didn't think so.

And yet, we make claims that no company would tolerate this behavior from its CEO. Of course it would. Corporate behavior is tied only to its responsibility to its owners. Ownership of some companies is held its upper management. Other operations have huge blocks of stock owned by other faceless bureaucracies that operate under the same laws (with the same sort of insane people making the decisions). Still others count on the fact that the stakeholders are too disorganized to really get in the way of how the company is being run.

Here's an recent example of corporate insanity - the company that make Twinkies is going into bankruptcy. Twinkies. That's almost as good as printing money. You have to work at it to drive the company that makes TWINKIES into bankruptcy. But in the reports I have seen to date, even though they are talking reorganization, no one at the executive level has been dismissed.

And its not just this particular Political Administration that gets this wierd statement about Corporate Intolerance for foolishness. The previous Administration was raked over the coals for the personal behavior of its Chief Executive, again with the oddball mantra that no company would abide such behavior. I'm afraid I have a lot of personal stories to the contrary, available to those who wish to buy me several beers (OK, here's one from a few decades back - this Vice President and his secretary consumated their illicit relationship late one evening on her desk, then got into a heated argument over who was going to clean things up. The other employees arrived the next morning to find the office in erotic disarray. Nothing happened to either executive or secretary).

The good news is that our government system has a big advantage over a corporation. You're already vested. You're a stakeholder. You got a piece of the action, and more importantly, you are called upon every so often to give the OK to the guys in charge. Yes, for their term of office they may seem to be running without adult supervision, but you can hold them down and hold them accountable. Yes, they will try to avoid it. Yes, they will argue mightily. They will threaten, wheedle, plead, sugar-coat, and even lie to keep their phony-baloney jobs. But in the end you have the power to determine if you endorse what's going on. Its not a corporation that determines if their actions are tolerable. It's you.

Go ahead, fire the boss.