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The Secret to Business Happiness
A recent study revealed that the key to human happiness is the ability to live in the moment and place less emphasis on both the future and the past. This unique tendency of the human animal and our obsessive preoccupation with the past and the future are significant burdens that limit our happiness during life.

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Surviving the Talent Eodus

Early 2011

The Learning Spotlight

Don't Be a Byron

By John Grubbs

Byron runs a very old and historically successful business.  His twenty-five hundred employees have seen good times as well as bad times.  Business has boomed and business has gloomed in his twenty-five years with the company.  Unfortunately, lately has been more gloom and doom than boom. 

Byron has made millions of dollars on stock options as the company has moved up and down with the energy sector.  The predictability of the stock is amazing when looked at historically.  He is very wealthy with all the promise and challenge fortune brings.  He feels very deserving of his spoils.

His company is struggling to keep pace with changing markets, global pressure and employee expectations.  A strong union has developed over the years and the huge abyss is ever present between the managers and the workers.   The wage scale for the employees as well as the pay for the managers is very good since the main production facility is in a very rural part of the country.  Unfortunately the ups and downs also created very painful and memorable layoffs and reductions in force for the company.

This cyclical nature of the business has acted like a talent sifter due to the tenure based agreement with the union.  When labor costs must be reduced to match the business climate, they are always based on the tenure with the company.  Every peak and valley creates survivors and victims both with scornful resentment of company and its representatives.  Talent and the management of ability has no place on the tenure curve that gives breath to survivors or the axe of the grim reaper that brings death to those without the seniority.

Morale is generally bad and Byron does not seem to make a mental note.  His tunnel vision only allows a view of profit margin and revenue.  His background in sales is focused on numbers and numbers only.  He is truly a trailing indicator manager.  When the numbers are poor he reacts negatively with threats of job losses.  When the numbers are positive he is apathetic about those that produced the result.  He blames the bad metrics on the performance of the people and the market gets credit for positive results.

His private plane flies him to the plant and he flies away having always left an indelible mark in his wake.  He certainly does not live in the community that provides the workforce.  His expensive home and cars are far from the reality faced by the local team.  The company survives by a few talented and battle scarred managers that have survived over the years.  These leaders, and a workforce with no other options, create an environment dominated by fear and mistrust.  Institutional knowledge is power and protected at almost all costs.  Employees have learned that the depth of the scalpel (when time to cut jobs) can be minimized by the hording of knowledge.

Byron is not an evil person and does not see the impact of his actions as negative to the organization.  He is merely replicating behavior he has learned from the past.  He cannot be sensitive to the things he does not know or chooses not to understand.  His greed for personal gain has developed slowly in the mindset that the sales team deserves the credit when times are good and the market gets the blame when times are bad.

There are no systems that measure proactively.  There are no leading indicators for success.  The company is very reactive and looks forward only as far as the next business cycle that everyone knows will certainly come.  This simple notion that things will always get better have blinded most of the executives.  The fear of change is so prevalent that leaders dare not express problems or challenges in Byron’s presence.  The very existence of a need to improve or develop is itself an admission of some form of organizational inadequacy.  And if the organization is inadequate, the person responsible must be at fault.  He has built such a fear in the subordinate leaders that most problems are hidden or workarounds have been created to mask any hint of challenge from the executive discussion.

The talk of leadership and accomplishment has also blinded the thinking of most managers.  The latest book or the newest thinking is not foreign to Byron’s company.  However, the application of anything that contradicts the reality of the present is cast aside quickly as not applicable to this unique business.  Those experts (though smart and credible) simply do not understand the complexity of this type of business or market.  After all, know other person can know how to run this organization better than Byron can.

Unfortunately, in an organization of this size, talent continues to rise to the top.  The few leaders and risk takers that do make it within voice range of the executive group are in an awful predicament.  They are earning a very good living in an environment that does not allow any challenge of the status quo.  In fact, the headstones of other great leaders that made the attempt before litter the hallways of the manager’s office complex.  Even the best leaders are either executed (figuratively of course) or beaten into silent submission by the threat of expressing a new or different viewpoint.  Byron has created an environment that abolishes creativity and learning and opts for silence and repetition.  He truly believes that doing more of the same (only better) is the answer to the challenge of the future. 

Operational excellence is operating excellent with the same methodology of the past.  The problem that Byron cannot see coming is the change in the American worker.  He cannot perceive a workforce that cannot be caught in the web of fear that has been spun so effectively with the baby boomers of the past.  He cannot see an employee that will not put up with the abuse and simply does not care how much you threaten their future.  He is simply clueless about the generation of workers that will not be threatened by his authority since they do not expect to be around for any significant length of time anyway.  For the first time in his career Byron is being used (by the younger worker to make the money and gain the experience) and he does not realize it is happening.


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