Somewhere along the line, in the history of ‘business’, something went wrong and people took the wrong turn at the bifurcation on the road. The world of ‘business’ started to speak a funny language and the 9 to 5 man (and at that time it was still 9 to 5 as opposed to today’s 24/7) became a species in its own right, eager to show that it was different from the ‘the rest of the day men’. Perfectly reasonable people at home, in church, at the kids football match and in the bars with friends, became ‘managers’ at 9:00 am, and not only did they speak a different language, but also behaved differently.
Something must have been in the ‘management’ clothes put on at 09:00 am that allowed people to speak and behave on behalf of somebody else: the bosses, the Board, the shareholders, or something quite esoteric and never seen, as invisible as a neutrino, called ‘the market’.
On behalf of ‘business’, managers started to exercise power over others and seek more and more control over life. When pain was inflicted, the word ‘they’ had to be invented: ‘they want us to do this’, ‘they will not like that’. This magical ‘they’ could justify almost anything. Then, Darwinian forces took over, and power, status and ability to dictate percolated ‘business life’. In this business life, things that were not acceptable outside ‘business life’ became very legitimate here. It became possible, for example, to fire people on Twitter.
Modern Darwinian Alpha managers could be rude, ruthless, take no prisoners and do that on behalf of ‘it is business, isn’t it; we are here to make money’. Also, a convenient, transitory schizophrenia became epidemic: ‘it’s not me, it’s the system, if it were me, I would not do this, but I have to, it’s business, it’s not personal’. Which is in itself the most personal statement a manager can make.
The power dynamics become a force of its own. I will always remember one of these schizophrenic corporate moments that I experienced a few years ago with a client, when the head of the division, my client, was told by her bosses that she was doing the most fantastic job, had created the best alignment of people, funded the most innovative leadership development for the top managers, and, she was a model of the modern way of doing things in the company, a benchmark for all. Now, unfortunately, the division was to be disbanded the following month and amalgamated with a bigger one (who had been playing Barbarians at the Gate for a year), everybody either absorbed into a different (usually lower ranking) job or asked to leave. Needless to say, our Leadership Development plan, benchmark of the universe, sadly, had to be stopped, now. Hey, but how are the kids?
There was no logic, no sense, no reason, certainly no business or organizational reason. This was magical schizophrenic thinking. The only reason why this happened was because of a capricious request from the Bigger Power Holder to ‘reorganize’ and give extra troops to somebody else. Pure currency, bazaar transaction, absolutely nothing that ‘the business’ could gain from.
These kind of situations are not unusual. The music in the background is the same: ‘it’s business, not me’. But the situation above had nothing to do with business. It was simply the same as street, neighbourhood, territorial distribution between gangs in downtown Powerville. Whoever thinks that things in organization, particularly reorganizations, happen because of the business, the markets, the customers or the environment, has perhaps not worked in a major corporation. Stuff happens because of power dynamics. Some organizations are successful despite this.
If every time that something absurd, let alone, unethical, rude, disrespectful, or inhumane, is done on behalf of ‘business’, Mr Business could come out of the closet and shout ‘Not in my name’, we would have a different society.
I have deliberately painted a black and negative scenario. I am conscious of that. If your business is not like this, congratulations. You belong to Planet Sanity. Hold on to it. So if you see some of this somewhere else under the ‘it’s business, isn’t’ it’, as coterminous for inhuman, please join me and shout, not in my name!
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Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project, an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project.
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