Excerpt from Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia,
Micromanaging Into The Ground, page 42.
|© Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
I worked for many years in various areas of the design business, from advertising to branding, from corporate events to slide production.
It is labor intensive, and to accomplish anything requires designers and creative types with a commando style of getting the work done on each project.
the years I noticed that the styles of management that worked best
seemed to respect the culture, their workforce, the talent, and the
Those that did not went out of business.
No one needs to be pushed or prodded to get their work done; college educated self-starters work just fine without someone standing over their shoulder. Yet I noticed something interesting: When the distance between upper management and the rest of the company was greatest, management took longer to discover internal and external problems. This gap has to shrink for leadership to be successful in the twenty-first century. How can you see the internal workings of your company if you don’t get closer?
Here’s a case in point: One of the first jobs I had in New York City was at a slide production house. The main product was slides for small corporate presentations (this was way before PowerPoint). The new owner, Mr. G (not his real name), had bought the business lock, stock, and barrel. As a former executive with Otis Elevator, he felt it was high time some corporate structure was brought to the design field.
Somehow he assumed that the world of production artists and designers was not as structured as the corporate world he came from. (Perhaps the plastic Mr. Potato Head on the twenty-inch monitor convinced him of this.)
Mr. G would walk around the office twice a day like the commander of a ship, wearing his Otis Elevator tie clip to remind us all where he came from and how powerful he used to be. Nevertheless, his twice-daily jaunts were always at the slowest times of production but at the peak time for sales calls. Work would slow down as his Australian accent pierced the office and he forced everyone to listen to his tales from the “real” corporate world. His opinion was forged by what he saw from us when on these walks. To him, we weren’t working very hard. And we weren’t; we were forced to stop what we were doing and listen to him!
Since he never integrated himself into the company culture, he never found out that every 8:00 am shift change was filled with mounds of paper work, double tracking, and a check list that only the CIA could have invented, all for the sole purpose of keeping track of billings. Between 8:00 am and 9:00 am chaos reigned as messengers arrived to whisk the slides to their destinations. This was before the Macintosh become a household name and desktop publishing became the hot buzzword of the eighties. Back then slides were produced on a Genigraphics computer; run through a programmed slide camera; and processed through an E6 slideprocessing machine, a twenty-five-foot-long roller transport automated developing machine, filled and maintained with vat after vat of chemicals.
Exposed film was fed manually to a feeder in a separate, attached darkroom. Once processing was finished, the film was cut and mounted into glass and plastic Wess Mounts during the night shift, then rushed to most clients’ desks by 9:30 am.
Where was Mr. G during all this chaos? In his office with the door closed, only fifty feet away from the production station. I guess he was strategizing his big walk. His reality was out of touch with what was really going on. We were busy—busy making corporate America look good. The second time everything heated up was at around 4:00 pm, when production prepared to pass the day-shift work to the night-shift personnel.
Paperwork was meticulously checked and discussed with each designer. Each color had a number that was checked, each typeface was checked, and, of course, we all pored over a set of full-color comps. It was all designed, programmed, photographed, and processed for the following day. Detail was what made this chaos run as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. Nothing could be left to chance. It was intense, high-pressure, deadline-driven work. How someone could see this as playing around is beyond me.
As the year went on, Mr. G added a policy requiring many, many daily memos. But with twelve day-shift employees in a 3,000-square-foot loft space, it was really not necessary to pass a memo to the person sitting next to you. It was like having to pass a note from the commander of a submarine to his navigator before he could actually say the words—a complete waste of time. But that’s what Mr. G wanted, and to keep our jobs, we complied.
What Mr. G never understood was that we were making slides for one small meeting after another, when the business of meetings was in fact a multibillion-dollar industry. Companies like Caribiner, MJM, and Weiss Watson were building full-scale meetings, with staging and lighting and giant sets as well as training, breakout rooms, and keynote speakers. The average cost for one of these large-scale annual meetings was around $2 million. In comparison, slide production, the physical designing and production of slide film, was a tiny component of the industry.
Mr. G began to wonder why his company was not profitable, and how it was that all these other companies were making so much money. But because he did not respect his staff, no one was willing to help him make the leap from single-slide production to full-scale meetings. And people did try to help him for a time . . . but he was always treating his staff like peons—exercising his passive-aggressive behavior whenever the mood struck him. There were plenty on staff who had worked for the big production companies and knew how to handle large-scale meetings. His top salespeople and producers attempted to bring bigger clients through the door, but even when these bigger opportunities came Mr. G’s way, he would lose them. Unable to trust his key people and incapable of knowing how to talk with potential clients about a larger engagement, he drove his company into the ground.
People began to show signs of insubordination, simply out of frustration. Many decided to moonlight at bigger production houses.
Why bother working with someone when you know they don’t appreciate your contribution?
In response, Mr. G began to micromanage his company into the ground even more. In a last-ditch effort to shake things up, he fired his top salespeople. Instead of paying for innovation, he became obsessed with cutting costs and instituting more bureaucracy and fear. To him, the design field was exactly like the elevator business—black and white, up and down, obey my commands or else. He treated creative production like a factory. Tightening costs seemed logical. But in an industry where the best creative people can command higher fees, cutting your most talented designers becomes a formula for disaster. Furthermore, by demanding memo after memo, Mr. G was actually putting up walls between departments that needed their communication to flow.
Imagine that: He was enforcing bottlenecks.
The company went under less than a year after I left. The employees were happy about it. If only Mr. G had integrated his management style into the organization instead of dictating it! He could have easily let his key people take the lead and win the larger pieces of business, but he couldn’t see the forest for the trees. He just couldn’t let go enough or trust anyone. Everything in his world required that all eyes, accolades, and rewards go to Mr. G.
I moved on and started working for some of the biggest companies in the world, producing their multimillion-dollar meetings while Mr. G couldn’t figure out how to get his clients to order more than fifty slides at a time. It didn’t take people very long to figure out that Mr. G was not an effective leader, and for leadership to work in any organization, it has to be admired. Since Mr. G was not listening to the marketplace or his key people, he sabotaged himself.
People don’t leave bad companies;
they leave bad management."
We could have helped him, but hubris makes one blind.
Thank you for reading,
Global Business Adviser and Consultant
on 21st Century Workforce Culture Intelligence
Brad Szollose is a global business adviser and the foremost authority on Generational Issues and Workforce Culture Strategies.
Author of the award-winning, bestseller Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia, Brad is a former C-level executive of a publicly traded company that he cofounded that went from entrepreneurial start-up to IPO in three years; the first Dot Com Agency to go public on NASDAQ. His company K2 Design, experienced 425% hyper-growth, due in part to a unique management style that won his company the Arthur Andersen NY Enterprise Award for Best Practices in Fostering Innovation.
Known for his humorous and thought-provoking presentations, Brad’s keynotes and workshops are highly interactive, heart-warming, and filled with high-content information that challenge assumptions and help leaders and managers create a better work environment for innovation to thrive.
Today, Brad helps smart companies like Dell and MasterCard, understand just how much technology has transformed a new generation, and how that impacts corporate culture, management interaction, expectations, productivity and sales in The Information Age.
* 2011 Axiom Business Book silver medal winner in the leadership
* #1 Amazon Best-Selling Author
"I just had my mind blown..." - A.S., Vistage, New York
Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose is available at all major bookstores and for Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony ereaders. Internationally published in India and S. Korea.