Thursday, June 8, 2006

The Great Epithany

Open The Flood Gates

There are some things that you can't learn from books. You have to live through them and then look back with a critical eye. There are truths about the human experience, that no one ever talks about because we don't want to admit to them, but they are unspoken truths non-the-less.

I still remember the big truth that came to me as a young man. After years of being taught right and wrong by my parents and 5 years of college I still hadn't been taught this truth, because I had to live it first. Otherwise, I couldn't have really appreciated it.

When I graduated from college in 1982, it was in the middle of the 'Carter Malaise'. A period of economic downturn in the country when McDonald’s French fry cook was a hard job to get. The only job I could find that would pay the rent was as a janitor in a large manufacturing plant. So there I was, a BS in Management with a mop in my hand.

The company that I was working for had just taken over the contract for the cleaning of the manufacturing plant from an in house unit, in order to save the manufacturer some money. They had to retain all the old employees that worked for the manufacturer as part of the deal. I was hired after the change over.

After about 6 months, things started going screwy. Management started riding employees for the slightest infraction, and putting experienced people in no-brainer jobs and new people in the technical ones, which meant that nothing got done in any kind of efficient manner. There was chaos on the cleaning crew.

People got so fed up with the apparent lack of respect and management ineptitude that they just started walking off the job. The folks that they replaced them with weren’t any improvement and the spiraling turnover ratio only made cleaning the plant more laborious and tedious.

Having just gotten my sheep skin, I was perplexed that this company was breaking every rule in the book and appeared to be striving to fail. It was driving me nuts. After about 8 months of this chaos, I had had enough and walked out the door. This was nuts. But weeks later the problems with the job still perplexed me because there had to be a reason for all of this.

I lived in an old rented house with a leaning foundation and an old claw foot tub in the bathroom. My favorite pastime during those cold winter months was taking a long hot bath while reading War & Peace as Tchaikovsky played on the stereo. It was a heavenly escape. Three weeks after I quit the job, I was taking one of these prolonged literary baths when it hit me. It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, it all made sense.

I had been looking at it from the wrong angle. I had made the assumption that the goal of the organization was to clean the factory. Boy was I wrong.

I got out of the tub. I was dripping wet with steam rising off my skin as I went to the dining room table, picked up a pencil and started to do the math.

The goal wasn't to clean the factory. The goal was not to be efficient and do a good job. The goal was to MAKE MONEY. The company WANTED to turn over the staff. By doing so, they could lose the $5 an hour staff and replace them with staff that made minimum wage ($3.25/hr). A quick calculation showed that by turning over all the inherited staff, they could pocket an extra $22,000 a year, not to mention the reduction in benefits.

Suddenly the clouds parted and a beam of light illuminated me from the heavens (figuratively). Doing a good job wasn't in the equation. Being efficient and having a good attitude wasn't in the equation. The bottom line was the money, and the corners you could cut to get more of it.

It dawned on me that there is profit in chaos and low moral. They told us the truth was hard work, honesty and commitment. They lied. The truth is, someone has a kid in college and they could pay off the tuition faster without you.

My parents had never taught me this. Five years of advanced business school had never taught me this. Life taught me this. Humans can lie to your face. If the truth is “we are out to screw you”; they won't tell you the truth. If you work for someone else, you are only office furniture. You are no different than a pencil, or a chair, or a desk lamp.

Ever since then, whenever an employer has used the word "Team Player", or "Office Morale", I have cringed. Because I know they are lying to me. I am either a profit maker or a loss center. But if they told me that, it would be the truth. They won't tell you the truth.

For those of you that have not been to business school, I just saved you $450,000 in tuition. No need to thank me.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for saving me the money. Wait, i never wanted to go to business school.

    well, thanks anyway.