Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 55 - Henchmen

          I guess I gave satisfactory answers to the recruiters yesterday about my experience. One of them is going to submit my résumé to a client, and the other wants me to come to their office for a face-to-face interview. I’m glad I’ve got the new suit, but now I’m wishing that I had gone with the blue rather than the brown. I’m every bit as adept at calling my own opinions and decisions into question as Ivan was. I just use less profanity when I’m doing it.
          Ivan wasn’t alone in his predilection for strong language. He had a sort of travelling second in command. His real second in command was his son, but his son stayed close to home. In addition to his duties at work the son had a farm. When I met him the whole crew of them had flown down from their headquarters in the Midwest in their corporate jet to start their negotiations with us. Everyone had taken some pains to dress for the occasion except for the son. He wore jeans and a pair of scuffed cowboy boots that were caked with manure. Fortunately for the rest of us he raised cows rather than pigs.
          The travelling second in command, let’s call him Fische, was more urbane in his dress but no less earthy in his demeanor. One of the first things our new management did after they had taken over was to look for assets that they could sell off. We had a little Kubota tractor with a mower deck that we used to cut the grass in front of the plant. Fische came one day to me to ask where it was. I told him I thought it was in the back of the upholstery shop where there was a rollup door to the parking lot. He said he’d looked there and not found it. I told him I’d look into it. I asked around and found out that it was at Henry’s son-in-law’s house. The son-in-law usually cut the grass so this was not unusual or even alarming to me.
          I found Fische on the plant floor and told him where the tractor was. He launched on me in much the same fashion that Ivan had—streams of profanity obfuscating any sense he might have otherwise made. It was an awesome display of invective aimed principally at me that left me literally shaking when he finally ran out of breath. The gist of it seemed to be that we, the old management from Henry's company, were an incredibly ignorant bunch of thieves who were engaged in an ongoing conspiracy to steal the assets that Ivan's company had bought and had a legitimate right to use as they saw fit. It didn’t matter to him that I had come to him to tell him where the tractor was, and had even made arrangements to get it delivered back to the plant. I had no idea what to say in reply, so I just walked away.
          The final irony to this little exchange was that Fische had the tractor loaded onto a flatbed trailer and delivered 600 miles to Ivan’s son’s farm. We were credited for half it’s appraised value—the value on our books after the merger—and so had to take the first of many losses orchestrated by them and charged against our earn-out. It seems they were going to make it as difficult as possible for us to ‘earn’ any of the shares that had been escrowed for us.
          I witnessed a lot of profanity-laced yelling in the ensuing weeks and months of my association with Ivan’s company. It seemed to be one of the hallmarks of their management philosophy. I’ve seen similar management styles employed since, all with the same ultimately disastrous result. While the people engaged in the yelling and invective think they are instilling an appropriate level of urgency in the people they are yelling at, what they really do is ensure that the people they are yelling at will forever after go to great lengths to avoid being yelled at again. This does not translate into a workplace where everyone is efficiently engaged in moving the company toward its goals. It rather translates into a workplace where otherwise talented and creative employees stop taking any kind of risk in order to avoid censure. In other words they stop using their talent in creative ways, and focus instead on the immediate security offered by not drawing any attention to themselves. This becomes a kind of vicious circle in which management begins to believe that only they have good ideas, and that everyone who works for them is a slug requiring constant motivation by way of verbal lashings to accomplish anything at all. Eventually the company is crushed under the enormous weight of management’s artificially inflated opinion of its own worth.

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