Imagine a staff meeting at the top of a big company in which the CEO is looking around the table thinking the folks working for him don’t have what it takes to do his job, and the folks reporting to him are quietly thinking to themselves that they wouldn’t want to run the place if it were offered to them. It gets even worse when those direct reports go back to their silos and have an even dimmer view of the people reporting to them. Nobody is interested in investing in training to correct the situation, and the potential targets of any such training don’t have the ambition to do anything with the training even if it were offered.
According to a survey by the folks at Deloitte, that pretty well describes corporate America. I can’t remember which of the stable of smart folks over at LEI recently said it, but I have often heard it before-that the fundamental job of leadership is to develop leaders. If that’s true (and it obviously is) then the typical CEO in the big time corporate world is failing miserably at his or her fundamental responsibility.
This grim picture of work life in the big companies in such stark contrast with the environment and culture of successful companies that it is truly amazing that much of anyone puts up with it. But put up with it they do, all in pursuit of a bonus check I imagine.
Some of it is due to the ‘every man for himself’ culture that is so common in big companies. People don’t spend much time thinking about business competitors or customers. Rather, they spend most of their time figuring out how to cut the throats of their peers who they perceive as obstacles to their rise to the next rung on the corporate ladder – the real competition in most folks minds. The company itself is seen as some lifeless monolith over which they have next to no influence and all that matters is getting a bigger share of the cash the monolith somehow manages to generate.
It is the toxic culture of the top down organization. In the servant leadership model of the lean companies the folks at the top are looking at their direct reports and asking, ‘how can I help?’ In the big time corporate world the folks at the top look at their direct reports and ask ‘what have you done for me lately?’
It is just as much the product of management by the numbers as it is anything else. The business can’t be a collection of numbers and people can’t be ‘headcount’, and at the same time be appreciated as human members of a living, breathing organization. In short, the big corporations see management as the art and science of dehumanization. It is the polar opposite of the sort of people-centric leadership epitomized by guys like Bob Chapman at Barry-Wehmiller or Greg Wahl at Wahl Clipper; and no big surprise to me that the big companies don’t come close to the kind of results Barry-Wehmiller and Wahl routinely post.
I would like to believe the cascading lack of interest in getting the top job is driven by a basic human resistance to buying into the de-human culture. The closer one is to the front lines the more repulsive managing by the numbers is. At least that was my experience and the reason I failed to generate much respect for the people at the top of the two mega corporations I worked for, and ultimately bailed out of.
I would get directives from some nameless, faceless financially driven corporate staffer telling me to reduce the headcount in my plant by 25 people with no logic, no reason and certainly no appreciation for the fact that these were 25 whole human beings with wives and children and hopes and aspirations. They were simply numbers and they had to go not because it made any particular business sense in either the short term or the long term, but because that was the number that made all the other numbers work out to the bottom line number the guy at the top wanted to see. And I got out because I realized that the only way to succeed in the multi-billion dollar corporation was to ultimately be that guy – to care as little for people as he did; and to sequester myself in corporate headquarters as far from the real folks doing the work as possible so I wouldn’t have to know them as faces and names. I was way too young and full of belief in the future to sign up for that sort of career.
And so Deloitte polls them and publishes the facts proving that they don’t see much value in each other in the C-Suite, but of course they don’t. They have so dehumanized the business and themselves that they see each other as little more than headcount too.