Constant corporate Kool-Aid

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I could never bear to drink so never lived (or died) by the cult of corporate life. But it is certainly a journey, often surreal, when you’re in it. It seems mostly the same everywhere with certain exceptions and differences across cultures. It is a softer place, the Swedish corporate world, than say, America, but it’s no less filled with bureaucracy, blame shifting and euphemism. And much more filled with Swenglish.

The constant back slaps and pats on the head for stuff that people supposedly did or achieved that never actually happened or came to fruition. Yes, hiding behind and getting credit (and subsequent promotions and accolades) for never-implemented ideas that lingered on people’s lips and in countless PowerPoint presentations and Excel-bound plans but never lived a day outside the planning phases. It’s never the results – it’s the planning process that is rewarded.

The constant outflow of talent when actual talent realized they were being indoctrinated into a cult rather than going to a job – and needed to escape. At the big goodbye-speech event (of which there were many), filled with cake and other local pastries, the “lifers” standing around the kitchen making hollow speeches about having had “the really good pleasure of working with” so-and-so, who could always “walk the talk”?!

The constant admonishment from middle management to “prioritize right”, “using our strategy as a filter”. What does that even mean? If they understood the strategy or how strategy works, they would not use it this way, as a fluff-filler to leave their employees to their own devices in figuring out, “What the hell am I meant to prioritize?”

The constant self-praise of the middle manager, proud about the growing size of her team, as if “size is everything” and a vote of confidence in her (non-existent) leadership abilities. No, in fact, if enough competent people leave, and you are one of these lifers, floating along and not making waves, eventually you will secure yourself a relatively senior position based only on seniority. “We have to put her someplace”: A senior position (on paper) that has no teeth, of course, and about which no one actually cares. But a comfortable senior position in a creaking and decrepit old-way-of-doing-business organization, so there are still some perks.

The constant need of every person in every meeting, every department, to chime in with their “reflections”. I don’t know where they got the word “reflect” and its variations, but they have taken it too far. “Reflection” is constant, when what they really ought to say is “thought”, “observation”, “criticism” or even “mental fart”. But no, it’s always, “I reflected and…”, “my reflection is…”, or better yet, to Swedify, “One reflection we all did was…”. No, you don’t DO a reflection.

The constant and classic, in keeping with the self-important need to voice every “reflection”, interrupter. The middle management “leader” who constantly interrupts her “underlings”, because what she has to say is most important (never mind that it’s babble), often to repeat herself, and even well after she seemed to be finished and someone wants to make a point and starts talking, and she interrupts to snap, “Let me finish!”

In finishing, she delivers a speech on how everyone now needs to get to know each other on a personal level in order to process all the organizational changes. Because we don’t know what is going on in another person’s life away from work, or how they handle change or anxiety, we should become friends to ease this process. Poured liberally throughout this touchy-feely talk – references to glasses of wine. “This activity will be fun, especially with a glass of wine.” This of course must be her not-so-hidden “thing”. Drinking. If not wine, the Kool-Aid. Or, in corporate life, perhaps they are one and the same.

Photo (c) 2009 Greg Pye

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