Friday 8 October 2021

American Corporate Culture

The energy crisis is so shocking, let's try to raise a smile instead for the weekend.  As always, I turned this morning to Dilbert  - Scott Adams' worldview is refreshingly unusual, and it frequently turns into excellent humour - to find in the opening frame, the Boss asking:  If anyone has an objection to my plan, this is the time to voice it.

Well, you can find out how it ends here.

My own personal encounter with this cheery manifestation of American business culture was as follows.  Our London office, staffed mostly by Brits, was in receipt of a dynamic new American CEO, who immediately instituted some far-reaching changes.  He duly held a 'Town Hall Meeting', at the end of which he asked for questions: "- any questions at all".  

Accustomed to the British style in which this invitation was to be taken literally, up spoke Bob, a middle-ranking manager, with a courteous but penetrating question that was absolutely on point in the circumstances.  He got an answer.

When the executive team next assembled, the CEO said to us:  Now obviously everyone assumes Bob is going to get fired now, but you can tell your troops, I'm going to overlook it this time: he's OK.

The Brits amongst us glanced around at each other, somewhat stunned.  None of us had assumed anything of the sort ...    Yep, in the Land of the Free, some elements of the freedom package are selectively applied.

I'm sure there are several other unnerving stories out there, so go for it.  Did I say "smile for the weekend"?



L fairfax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L fairfax said...

My UK company was doing a reorg and I went for an interview for my own job.
I said that getting rid of a colleague would be a disaster so bad that I would like to go as well.
(It would have been).
I hope that I would persuade them to keep us both on. I failed but I now have a better paid job somewhere else and have a lot more money in my bank account.
So I did benefit from it.

E-K said...

Well... when in the police I was put in charge of a mock rail disaster in the McMorran Hall at Wood Street, carriages spilled all over the model tracks and a miniature town nearby...

I set out my plan and said "Any questions ?"

To which "Why did you tell us to put all the bodies in the school hall and not the freezers at the supermarket ?"

Rather than admit I'd got it wrong I replied "Because they were full of frozen chickens !"

Epictetus tells us that a man who is good at finding excuses is seldom good for anything else so I have striven to be different.

E-K said...

Not American but funny... I hope.

Anonymous said...

My IT company in the late 90s, in lieu of more salary decided to hire us a motivational speaker type, public school lady, who inter alia said "work smarter, not harder", and looked a bit miffed at the huge laugh this got.

This is why, Dilbert calendars used to be on half the desks.

Anonymous said...

All of these, on the same theme, are pretty good.

dearieme said...

There's an fascinating book written by the chap who had been the American military attache in London early in the Second German War.

He recounts his surprise and pleasure in the British habit of senior officers genuinely engaging with the comments and questions of their juniors. This was unknown in the US Army, saith he.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I was once told by the senior director in my department that he had an open door policy, any issue just come to him and have a chat.

At the time I (and others) felt there was a cultural/motivation problems within them team, but no one was do anything about it.

Well I used this as an opportunity to tell the director my thoughts - I started the meeting saying "Hi I think you have a problem with your team..."

I received the usual management response, then a few days later my very irate department head took me aside and explained that when someone senior says they have an open door policy, they don't mean it and and they don't want to hear about problems within the team.

Anonymous said...

ND - any chance of a big fat post (or a pointer to the relevant info) giving an overview of continental (remember that phrase) energy markets and UK ones - just listening to a guy on R4 bemoaning the fact that German steel producers pay 40% less for their energy than UK producers, and wondering why. Just how much are "green levies" inflating prices here?

Related, from today's guardian live business

"Chinese officials have ordered more than 70 mines in Inner Mongolia to ramp up coal production by nearly 100m tonnes, as the country battles its worst power crunch and coal shortages in years, Reuters reports. The authorities face record-high prices and shortages of electricity that have prompted power rationing across the country, crippling industrial output. The proposed increase would make up nearly 3% of China’s total thermal coal consumption."

A quick calc and a search tells be China is burning 4bn tons of domestic coal a year, and importing more than half a billion more.

"India and China’s reliance on imported thermal coal is expected to drive continued growing demand in the long term."

While we are having conniptions over ONE coking coal mine in the "former Red Wall".

Matt said...

Management rises to their level of incompetence - Peter Principle.

They are also there to manage bad news upwards to make themselves look good.

No part of what makes them tick includes the proles telling them problems or their latest plan is crap for very good reasons.

Don Cox said...

I doubt if as many as one person in a hundred has what it takes to be a competent manager. The rest are struggling, and many are desperate. They already have more problems than they can cope with, and naturally they don't want to hear about any more.

Don Cox

andrew said...

I have gained a rep for being honest and correct and a degree of foresight.
My disdain for the crap manager 2 levels up is not hidden.
It is a uk company so i have s job but the price of honesty is i will bever be promoted and the crap manager waits for me to cock up, not understanding that when i do, his problem is gone but so is a good % of his business.

andrew said...

Perhaps trump/US type approaches to management have better outcomes.
Uk management is notoriously poor.

E-K said...

Benjamin Franklin.

Damn auto correct !!!


(A high quality joke, that.)

Sebastian Weetabix said...

My favourite was when I worked for a German HQ’d global company & the boss decided to commission an anonymous survey for open feedback. Upon receipt of the survey he was outraged to discover that the idiots in IT had managed to make the survey genuinely anonymous, so it wasn’t possible to identify the miscreants who had given feedback which, I quote verbatim, “is outside acceptable limits!”

visc said...

Nothing so concise, however I am working in a US company with an obsession to wokeness that has the de facto requirement for senior management put their preferred pronouns in their email signatures.

Not so surprising then our division now prefers to manage the narrative rather than fix the serious underlying problems of failing org structures and related software associated with it. (Note repeat "Cloud" and "AI" often enough and that is apparently a strategy.)

Nick Drew said...

Blockchain! You forgot blockchain!

(which reminds me ...)

Anonymous said...

I live in the US (I'm English). The libertarian, Patrick Henry-esque strand of the culture is very real, but so is the authoritarian, rule-loving, Japanese citizen-interning strand. Both of these strands unite in Americans' love affair with courts and lawyers.

Before I moved to the US, a chap who had lived there for a while told me that to understand the Americans, you have to realise that an enormous number of them are descended from Germans, and share the same mentality: the same literalism, the same inability to perceive absurdity, the same love of the strong-man, and so on. Grasp this, and many things make sense.

-- EC

dearieme said...

They are, however, a bit unGerman in their ignorance.

Germans are often know-it-alls.

Anomalous Cowshed said...

Manager here. My team are fully aware that I consider all of them to be my peers, and I just get paid a bit more because I'm the one who has to deal with all of HR's nonsense, sign documents that could get me locked up, and get a bollocking when one of them f*cks up, for which I'm responsible. This works very well with my British colleagues, who like having a bit of freedom to get on with the job. My French colleagues just do not understand it. They think management is something to aspire to for its own sake, and most of them actually can't handle being given a bit of autonomy - they have to be operated like puppets.

I think there are two types of manager - those who genuinely want to be a manager, because they like the status, and those who reluctantly manage a team, because they want the cash. The first ones are the arseholes. IMHO of course.