Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Corporate Cockroaches

One should never underestimate the lowly cockroach. If any creature could survive a nuclear holocaust, it would likely be cockroaches. They have a capacity for survival that surely puts them in the Darwinian All-Stars. A few days ago a friend of mine (who works for a very large company) and I were talking about the people that somehow survive layoff after layoff inside his company. "They are cockroaches!" he exclaimed. A kind of corporate cockroach. Through a combination of hoarding information, avoiding accountability and spending their work time on building a network of relationships these individuals find cozy cracks and crevices to survive the reduction in force bombs that explode on a regular basis.

One can't entirely blame the cockroach, however. If corporations made their employees feel a little more secure in their positions, perhaps they wouldn't feel the need to spend their intellectual energy on how to protect themselves instead of on how to get their jobs done. Or is society to blame because we learn to attach our own sense of self-worth to the work we do, so losing a job can be a more terrible blow to self-confidence than virtually anything else?

Whoever is to blame, a manager's task is clear -- take out the RAID can and exterminate the beasts. Watch for those three signal events -- hoarding information, avoiding accountability, and inordinate amounts of time "networking." Businesses have to be able to have "roles" and not "faces" as another of my friends recently stated. We each play a role within or organization. Part of our job should be making sure that someone else can play that role if we move on. And we should look to our teams as people playing roles as well. The moment you believe that a particular person is essential, rather than a role being essential, you should recognize that you have a problem.

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