How Did You Lose Your Innocence?
post # 211 — October 10, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations, Managing, Strategy post
I have been doing a lot of client work in the last few weeks in many countries, meeting people young and old in professional businesses.
My message is one of the economic benefits of optimism, professionalism and high standards, but it is met most often with a dejected, beaten-down cynicism.
Many times during my latest trip I was told things like: â€œDavid. It would be very nice to have your ideals: to believe that the managers with the highest integrity get the best work and the highest profits out of the group they manage. But donâ€™t task-masters and slave-drivers also get results?â€
â€œIt would be nice to believe that the way you get the best out of employees and clients is to try – at least try — and understand them as human beings, and get better, if necessary at meeting their human needs. But donâ€™t such idealistic people get rejected in companies — can you really get promoted as a manager if you care about your people — or your customers — too much?”
I keep meeting people who have given up their ability to believe in the power of standards and ideals (or to believe that anyone else in business has them).
A consultant (age 50 or so), who worked for one of the most famous â€˜brand namesâ€™ in consulting:
â€œI was as simple boy who grew up in the country. When I came to the city, they taught me that to get on in business you have to lie. You exaggerate and misrepresent in proposals in order to win the work, you claim to have done things you have not done. Thatâ€™s the way the game is played, you are taught.â€
A 30-year-old middle-level supervisor at a European-wide training program:
â€œThe firm pretends that it wants to inspire us, but the truth is that we do boring work, and so do those more senior than us. We cannot imagine that there are people who do work they are still excited about. Thatâ€™s a luxury we cannot dream about. They just want us to work harder and get the people who report to us to work harder.â€
A partner in a tax firm:
â€œWe know many ways to save our clients money, but that just would mean we would bill them less and take home less pay, so we donâ€™t work at getting efficient. That would be the ‘right’ thing to do, and may even get us a good repuation in the long run, but no-one would seriously suggest changing to that way.”
A senior national-level director of a professional business, in charge of 6,000 people:
â€œItâ€™s OK talking about all this quality and employee motivation stuff, David, but we just want to make money — lotâ€™s of it. Whatâ€™s wrong with that?â€
So hereâ€™s my question to you: How did we / you end up here? Clearly, something was missing from my education and upbringing – the world forgot to “beat out of me” my ideals, but seems to have done a good job of beating them out of most other people.
I’m really interested: What (specifically) happened to you that made you lose your innocence about how business (or academia) was run? (Stories please.)