A tale of frustration, disappointment and loss
This is the first in a trilogy of articles. What comes next is called “The way things could get done around here – a tale of possibility, progress and the promise of winning”. I am hopeful that in the not too distant future the last article in the Trilogy will appear titled “The way things are done around here – a tale of fulfilment, realization and triumph”.
But for now let’s start at the beginning:
The global economic tsunami that broke in 2008 was a long time in the making. Over many previous years the global workforce had become characterized by a growing gap between the people who dreamed up enterprise strategy and the people who implemented it. The dreamers lived remotely in what were known as ivory towers, the workers populated what were known as the salt mines. The primary motivator of the dreamers was to deliver an ever growing return on shareholder funds. In simple terms they were on a treadmill to prosperity.
The inspiration of the workers was to provide an ever- improving lifestyle for themselves and their families – some aspired to become dreamers. In simple terms they were on a treadmill to prosperity.
So where was the gap? It was in the location of the treadmills.
The dreamers were in a space called POWER, the workers were in a space called POWERLESS.
After the tsunami had passed, the surviving dreamers discovered that they had become severely disadvantaged. The dreams of unending growth had been replaced by the requirement to survive. The workers had now transformed from being the instruments of growth into the elements threatening survival. So many of them had to go, like sailors being thrown overboard to lighten a sinking ship. Those who remained had to row harder.
The pollsters arrived quickly to assess the impact of the disaster.
The results of their research revealed that in 2009 more than 70% of the global workforce was disengaged, meaning doing as little as possible consistent with picking up a monthly pay check, and of these 20% were actively disengaged, meaning anything from publishing CVs to committing acts of sabotage.
These results have not varied by more than a couple of percentage points year on year to the present time.
In a decade that has seen vast improvements in the human condition delivered by the rapid devolution of technology, it is remarkable that the disengagement malaise continues with unabated severity and with no remedy in sight. The reasons for this phenomenon are truly amazing but not hard to discover.
In conversation with an independent management consultant who works closely with the top 200 corporations in the country where I live, I was told: “Almost all the CEOs I know really care about the future prosperity of the enterprises that they lead. Most CFOs are similarly committed. The rest just don’t give a damn.”
Breakdown of culture
The pre-tsunami culture was to delegate workforce relationship issues to the HR department. Post 2008 these poor souls bore the brunt of the throwing overboard exercise and cast around in panic searching for supplements to make the rowers row harder. The most popular tin of vitamins and nutrients was labelled performance management that caused little more than severe bouts of sea-sickness.
Traditional management principles obsoleted
As in the military, where after two world wars and numerous regional conflicts, systems based on the principle of command and control became unpopular, so in the world of business.
Disillusioned older people and well informed younger people are wanting to experiment with more inclusive, broad based design and implementation models of strategy. Some younger industries, like software development, are responding positively with systems such as agile and holacracy. The majority of businesses are still led by status conscious and power hungry individuals with no appetite to let go of what they know so well and become novices in a new world where there is an absence of hierarchy.
The frog in tepid water over a gradual heat syndrome
The scenario depicted in this story has been around for seven years and more in many cases. By now the situation should have become so painful that many remedies would have been tried and some would have been proven to be effective.
The fact that the polls reflect “no change” is a strong indicator that dreamer-survivors and worker-survivors have come to accept what is going on. The dreamer-survivors have factored the lower productivity norms into their financial projections, whilst the worker-survivors have become accustomed to dreary, unfulfilling working lives, or are on a job hopping adventure, searching for an elusive corporate Shangri-La.
It is no wonder that with this business environment we are experiencing economic stagnation in the major Western economies.
So, what is the way that things are not done around here?
Not with trust – that fell out with the jettisoned sailors
Not with commitment to universally agreed objectives
Not with the expectation of long term relationships leading to shared beneficial outcomes, such as a partially funded company pension to sustain life after work
Not with alignment of personal purpose to the purpose of the enterprise
Not with an intelligent and energised implementation of strategy
Where is the light at the end of this dark tunnel? (Hopefully not on a speeding train coming towards us.)
Watch this space for some answers – or maybe you already have some answers that you will share now as comments on this article?