The Silent Workplace Insurrection

Do you work at a bad office?

I’m guessing your answer is yes. That is your default answer, however- you say that to anyone who asks you.

What I want to know is, do you work at a place where your suggestions are ignored, your initiatives are panned, and your dreams are dismissed?

That’s a bad office!

I worked once in an office with many wonderful, bright, energetic and decent people. They were experts at their art- they were friends and colleagues. We were a hearty bunch, we were; dreaming, scheming, plotting and planning, but almost all of the energy was sucked out of our collective works because in management’s view, it really didn’t matter what we thought- we were going to do it their way, utilizing only corporate best practices. The playbook was a series of Excel spreadsheets, handed down from one of the Vice Presidents; we were to fill ’em out, send ’em in, and not question anything. To question an initiative would have been akin to standing up in a crowded conference room and announcing, “Sir, I beg to differ.”

That wasn’t going to happen.

There were a couple of suck-ups who “bought in” and really embraced these spreadsheets, with their predictable mathematical outcomes and their copycat programs stolen from other markets. It’s not hard to spot two of these apples in every office bushel. I would hop off the webinar/conference call, gaze at the piles of spreadsheets and tell myself “They’re building a database to eliminate us all.”

True that.

Over the past few years I had a front row seat to one of the largest contractions of an industry in its history. When it’s exclusively about those “best practices” it means innovation has ceased. New paradigms were regarded as speed bumps on the superhighway of efficiency, even though many of the paradigms were actually beneficial to the operation. The one difference? They were customer-focused, not company focused.

The lead manager in a way had an adversarial relationship with his customers, a state of being I found to be incredible.

I made so many mistakes when I was one of those managers, so many wrong decisions. I failed innumerable times. What I did do right was…care. I cared. There was no reward for caring, no bonus for exuberance, no salutations for going the extra mile. My team of (save one) loyal employees did the best they could with the resources availed to them. They also cared, and I’ll always be proud of them for having the self-respect to do their best, under insane circumstances. We made a hell of a lot of mistakes, but if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying, right?

I will always remember this office for the sins against the customers, and how the employees were made to be participants in the war to drive as many customers away as possible, the counterintuitive actions promoted under the guise of “best practices”.

A good idea in Buffalo can certainly be a blockbuster in Chicago. Best practices is not a dirty word- eliminating innovation while simultaneously embracing successful programs however, is the kiss of death. It’s slow, painful death; a long-term hospice situation.

I have an opportunity before me to be a different kind of leader. I am going to remember the experience I had in the final years of my former life. I’m going to remember the ways I was dismissed and ignored. I’m going to remember The Traitor.  I’m going to remember it all, and I will try so very hard to not repeat the mistakes I witnessed.

Are you running a “bad” office? Stop it. Ask your people to take control. Listen to the dreams and schemes and plots and plans. Example- the party budget (birthdays, holidays, team building); open the books and show the team what’s available. Let them decide what’s best for the team; let them manage the money. Let them decide what makes them collectively happy. You don’t really know, so don’t try. Be secure and empower them to help.

The whole nature of work has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. It’s changing today, it’s changing this afternoon.  Loyalty is at an all-time low. The instant the economic situation improves measurably, watch the mass migration occur, as employees exercise the choice to seek greener pastures, better opportunities..and new frontiers.

Do them a favor- listen to them now, or you will be in their rear view mirror later.

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