Friday, March 2, 2012

Are some corporations a form of religion?

I’ve worked with several different types of companies over the years. Some were small, some were huge. There are advantages to both.

I enjoyed working for a small company in Idaho. It had a family feel to it and I honestly felt like the management knew me and cared about what I did. The down side was that the pay was pretty low and the benefits weren’t all that great.

I went to work for bigger companies after that, mainly for the benefits. My wife and I were in that stage where we were having kids and wanted to have better benefits.

A common trait of all these larger businesses was something called “orientation”. The new hires sat in a room and learned about the history of the company, its leaders and the company goals. Over time, these also included the company’s “core values” or sometimes called “vision and values”.

While working for one company a few years back, it was taken over by even a larger company. I was a manager at the time and had to attend a two day course to learn about our new “masters”.

I remember a video being shown at the start of the first day. It was a “day in the life” of a typical manager. It started out with, “This is Bob. He’s a manager. He loves fishing, hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family.” We were shown scenes of Bob doing these activities. “Here is what Bob does in a typical day.” From there, it outlined a day that started around 7:00 am and ended after 8:00 pm. In addition, “Bob” works half days on Saturdays.

Right away, I thought, “How does Bob do any of the activities he likes when he is working so much?”

Another video showed testimonials of various employees gushing about how much they love working for the company and why. Over the next two days, we learned how the new company did business. In the end, our vacation time was reduced dramatically, we lost two paid holidays, our bonus opportunities were cut in half and so on. Yet, the whole time this information was told to us, we were instructed that as managers we needed to believe in these changes so that our employees would as well.

Over the next few weeks, our regional managers were replaced with people from the new company. When these new people spoke of the company, they did so almost reverently. It was clear that this new company culture was based on doing what you were told and not to question things.

We were given a list of the company’s “vision, mission and values” that were supposed to memorize and put into practice with our employees. However, I found these vision, mission and values were wonderful in concept, but in practical everyday application, the company would often bend, twist and even break them. For example, one of the values was based on integrity. However, our leaders decided to have a blitz to see how many sales we could get in one day. Their plan? For two weeks we were supposed to sell all we could, but only on paper. We wouldn’t enter the sales into the computer until that one day. There was even a memo stating we needed to come in really early and stay late that day to enter in all the sales.

This caused me great concern. I went to my immediate supervisor to express my concern. Their answer? “This is the way things are done. Do as you’re told.” I felt badly enough about this that I reported it to the ethics line set up by the company.

In the end, the leaders got in trouble—but not nearly as much as I did. Because I’d gone to my supervisor first, as I should have, it was made known that I was probably the one that called the ethics line—even though it was supposed to be anonymous.

Here is what I learned: I applaud that large companies have defined visions and values, but not if they don’t practice what they preach. For me, religion is a very personal thing that helps guide my actions and the decisions I make. It gives me hope. It gives me a feeling of peace. It gives me a desire to be a better person. Sure, there are “rules” to follow, but I’ve found that they are designed to build me up.

As devoted as I am to my faith, I’ve met people with that same amount of devotion to the company they work for. I could write pages and pages of the differences, but there is one perfect example that sums it up.

I knew a lady who had worked for the company her whole adult life. She had worked her way up the ladder. She came to work early. She stayed late. She ate lunches at her desk. On the weekends, she would volunteer to do company sponsored events. However, when times got tough, her position was eliminated. In the end, all her hard work and devotion didn’t matter to the company. I spoke to her a few weeks after that. She had a lost look in her eyes. She said to me, “That job was everything to me. I don’t know what to believe in now.”

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting post. Observing companies from the advantage of age has offered great insights. For most firms, the bottom line is $$$ and integrity is tucked into the corners when bumped up against $$$. Of course integrity is 'preached' but there seems to be 2 standards, one for the guys on the top, another for the 'rest' of the employes that believe good, hard work provides security.