(please do not read if you suffer from anxiety in relation with Covid-19 and its possible socioeconomic after effects)
I do not know how old I was but I was a child when I watched Logan’s Run. It is an underrated movie about a dystopia in which people are put to death when they reach the age of 30 because of the scarcity of resources. It was one of those rarest movies that affected me deeply and became a building block in my character. Back then, my concern wasn’t about me; it was about my parents and my fear about them passing away too early. But in time that fear grew in me and gave me an uncomfortable awareness.
Nowadays, I often feel the urge to watch it again while witnessing the terrible decisions made around Covid-19: “Who are we going to leave behind?…” This question is leading to a systematic crime in some countries. Some choose to leave the elderly behind, some choose refugees, some choose minorities, some choose poor, some choose unemployed…
Who are the people making those decisions?
It is easy to blame the states, politicians and corporations in such difficult times. Because they are the only ones around creating noise in times when we need to hear credible and helpful information more… But what is our role in all that? Some of us just vent and get angrier, some ignore the noise and the crappines, some try to spread some optimism via sharing stories of good people helping others…
Both ignorance and optimism is a part of self-care: We have to put an oxygen mask on ourselves first. Yet we can change the future only if we take some actions today. I do not mean a rebellion but we have to take control of our power back from those people who do not use it responsibly.
Because if we do not act on it we’ll be the ones who are normalising these behaviours. How come it is so easy for our senators to bail out big industries and corporations before securing their own people’s health and safety needs. Their decisions are driven more from economic than humanitarian necessities. Knowing that they are not the people who are putting their lives at stake, they are OK with some sacrifice. They lie to keep up appearances, pretend to be in control and powerful…
Since the economic wellbeing is more valued, corporations prioritise profit in spite of their employee’s job security and society’s well being. That is what they always did and what they know. Many of those corporations abuse their own people who have no other options but work daily. Some are more publicly acknowledged doing so, some are not. For-profit entities are not emotional beings apparently, no matter how hard they try to show some compassion, this is the most authentic they can get:
That compassion also manifests itself poorly when it comes to their own employees, their people: They have excuses, policies, hard decisions, unpaid sick days, priorities to ask more from you, more than what they pay for in these unprecedented days….
Look around and try to observe the professional people whom you’re in touch with in your personal and professional circles… Who do you think would thrive in this new brave world and who miraculously will not be hurt financially? What are their qualities that make them so resilient? Are they the goodies, lazies, smarties, nasties, bossies, lovelies, or…? No clear commonality patterns there?… How about demographics: Are they young? Do they work for a SME or a corporation? Are they well off? Are they white? Are they predominantly male?
Let me ask a more simple question: are they the best fit to do the work? Ask yourself whether you trust them at all.
Hello White Male World!
No matter if you’re the best at what you’re doing -and especially if you’re not a white dude– you’re vulnerable during these days. I will bluntly oversimplify the reasons why the “Survival of the Fittest” rule cannot be implemented in the professional world nowadays… There will be some detours, just bare with me…. Here is the first one:
Ishtar, Danu, Hera, Nana Buluku, Durga…. What happened to all those goddesses with different racial qualities? Monothiestic religions and their prophets replaced them with little room for diversity: Moses, Jesus, Mohammed… All middle-eastern men unconventionally portrayed with a fair skin. That happened.
Independent from diversity issues in representation, the religious idea of having ‘one superior existence who created it all’ eventually led to a concept of an ultimate power: Omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Such a strong definition was beyond human imagination which made us feel more fear than awe in relation to God’s existence. We felt the need to obey this existence and live up to its expectations to be an acceptable fit for life and even for an afterlife with no questioning. While us, the insignificant common people learned to obey, the existing power bearers like kings, sultans and other reigns found a way to be associated with that power and they claimed to be the messengers of God & protectors of religions.
Since we have lived with the same conditioning for ages, none the revolutions nor the democratic fights could’t change this formula yet. It still exists in many countries, cultures and companies: If you want to be powerful, you should make people scared of something/someone so badly that they’d need you and your power to keep their nightmares away. It can be anything: famine, hell, a virus, a crime, expensive prices, stains on your shirt, communism, Hillary Clinton… then you build a structure to enhance and feed that fear as your sustainable source of power. This structure can only be successful if you have obedient and selfish people around you who would do anything to please you -in life and in afterlife with their local/domain power.
In the professional world, these suckers’ jobs are easy: they use their power position to suck the life out of us and keep us busy with bullshit so that we cannot come together and tear the walls of fear apart. They usually do it by making us feel insignificant in a workplace setup in which we keep spinning like a hamster on a wheel but have no significant contribution to anything meaningful. Yet we cannot just leave the building, since we need that pay-check and all buildings are full of suckers.
“Specifically, their game plans involved manipulating communication networks to enhance their own reputation, to disparage others, and to create conflicts and rivalries among organisation members, thereby keeping them from sharing information that might uncover the deceit.”Snakes in Suits
The Suckers Club is pretty crowded
Once the rules and structure are in place, it is easier to maintain the status quo. As long as the power bearers (and their successors) are like-minded (and even family or lookalike) they can support and enjoy each other’s company. The rest are stuck in between their fears to be left behind and their aspiration to have more power and affinity towards power bearers.
In times when we have to convince ourselves that we have to obey what a Sucker says -because that is the only way to provide a better life for us and our families- the definition of that ‘better life’ is towards the means of Power, which ironically makes us wanna be a sucker ourselves. We never think about how being purposeful, healthy and happy can make our and our family’s life better than money can. Maybe because there is no Forbes cover with a yogi…
In time we get used to it and become oblivious to our own values, we just accept ‘evil’ as a part of our job description and even be proud to excel in it. You do not need to be an evil to serve the evil, you just need a fair compensation!
In my opinion this behaviour and our justification makes us equally responsible for all the evil happening around. We all suck up to survive, we all use the same excuses to be assholes.
But what if we start thinking about getting rid of this useless status quo which evidently doesn’t protect us from our fears around getting poor and weak? What if we just stop being pretentious and put our attention to the things which really matter… But if we join forces?
“Conflict commands attention. And attention equals influence”Nancy Gibbs
Let’s change it, shall we?
This hierarchical power structures and rules -which is simply a mimicry of how religions and reigns work- are very dominant in the business world. And as the wealthy get wealthier, they earn such a strong influence on governments which eventually erodes our democracies and social courtesy. Most probably it will get even worse with Covid-19, since politicians do need to feed the Power Bearers with something for some generous donations for the next elections.
What the hell can we do?
We have something valuable they don’t: Trust in each other. While bad people see good people as their prey, the others see each other… well… As people?
“Dad cannot swim. He doesn’t even trust water.”Succession, HBO
The solution is already in place in my opinion, coming from another structural mimicry… Instead of keeping the norms of religious or monarchic structures, how about we replace them with collaborative structures like team sports in which success depends on people’s reliability.
Team sports promises to inspire a superior form to build organisations, because:
- Sports Teams have to have continuity: No matter if the best player is injured and is out for the whole season, the rest keep playing to win
- Sports Teams rely on individual performance but rarely a one man show: Of course it is always great to have Ronaldo in your team but not the opponents’. Yet, no matter how talented you are – you cannot be a Ronaldo if you’re not a team player
- Sports Teams have to have the accountability: No matter how many excuses you have, you cannot keep losing and expect someone else to be accountable
- Sports Teams have a synergy: The players know each other’s weaknesses and strengths by heart and they know how to cover for each other
- Sports Teams are lean: They implement the principle of Kaizen intrinsically. Even on a regular training day, they practice to be better than yesterday
- Sports Teams are resilient: Players fall down, they get injured, they hear supporters calling them names, famous ones are torn apart by the media… Yet they keep going.
- Sports Teams reward good work: A player does not need to be skilled in everything but being a good team player is enough to be appreciated
- Sports Teams are open for feedback: Any player can make mistakes on the field, but they have to take the responsibility and address the issue as a team
- Sports Teams do not buy bullshit: No one can put an unskilled, unqualified player in a team just because that person is privileged and/or very good with words
- Sports Teams radiate trust: Except from the fact that a team cannot perform without players trusting each other, that trust becomes contagious which makes team sports fascinating to watch with lots of emotional bonds embedded: players trust the bench and the spectators, and spectators trust their team no matter who is on the field
As I said, this mimicry is not new. The attempt to build autonomous teams and establish Agile processes to enable them with minimum hierarchic backlashes is a good attempt towards that. Yet it is rarely successful since it cannot go well with incapable leadership. Like a Premier League team with no Managers. No matter how much you spend in scouting and in transfers – you stand no chance. On the other hand, if you have good Managers with a vision and an edge, you can thrive in competition.
And it is not coincidental that Managers are less likely to be the center of attention in team sports but players. Because they know how to motivate their teams and make them feel important without putting any spotlights on them one by one. They know when to share the victory and when to own the defeat. Good managers make more money than many of the players but not more than all players. Good managers have their own team to work with them, they know what and how to delegate to other members of that team. They do not try to keep an eye on all players at all times. Great managers do not micromanage and they always have a contingency plan at all times in case things go south. They have a good strategy for the long run and a wide range of tactics to make sure that they can be opportunistic in the game in the real time.
Aside from my respect for how team sports work even in the most commercialised market -like the UK’s football market- of course they are not even close to being perfect to be used as a direct benchmark. It is a show business, therefore there needs to be some drama and stupidity to keep it interesting. Therefore defining the most constructive elements in sports and defining some equivalent factors in business may inspire us to develop an alternative to this suck up world:
- A team with players with diverse skills and accountability
- A referee to make it a fair competition in real time (not retrospective)
- A federation to define and improve the regulations for all stakeholders to follow
- Audience (and media) as another auditing mechanism to encourage and support good performance
- A bench driving the strategy and versatile tactics
- A club structure for the governance of the team and help them focus on their operations
- Competition, which pushes teams for improvement
- An open & semi-transparent structure about the monetisation
How about a new model?
Although I am not an expert in organisational and operational structures, I will dare to suggest a more concrete model at the end of this already too long post. Just as a thought starter so feel free to challenge and give generous feedback.
The model I will suggest have 3 different definitions as players of the workforce:
- Corporate players: The entities who require effective interdisciplinary collaboration among people (in a similar fashion of a spectrum from SME to holdings)
- Individual Contributors: Specialists and experts who can function on demand as consultants, coaches, freelancers, auditors, therapists for teams and companies
- Unified Contributors: The unions to provide workforce with unqualified workers for tasks that does not require advanced education or corporate belonging
- Associations, NGOs and State: The regulatory organisations to enable define and protect norms.
Unions and Individual Contributors definitions do not change. However, I believe that unions are needed in today’s world to protect Blue Collar from White Collar. Blue Collar workforce has to have stability and job security no matter how inefficient companies are. That should not be their concern. Likewise individual contributors should not feel obliged to protect their own rights and manage conflict but protected by law.
Regulators are critical to make this work. To enable a less corrupted regulatory structure NGOs and associations have to have more say in assessing the environmental, social and ethical impact of corporations rather than technical compliance. For instance; there can be a foundation that is initiated by family & friends of the employees of a company and they absolutely should have a say how the employees are treated in that company. That should be normal.
In regard to corporate structure -and on top of all the assumptions and principles I shared above- I have to add a simple meritocracy feature in my model to make teams have a significant say in the decision made. With such a feature we can make teams have influence on strategies and tactics to minimise the risks of having a lack of experience/skills or integrity in their governance. So here are the hypothesis taken into consideration in building the model:
- Companies are there to enable positive value creation, profit should be a proof of effectiveness but should not be prioritised over positive value add. A company which cannot justify its operations value add to communities cannot be allowed to operate
- Companies are governed by people and all employees have accountability in the decision making, they all have their domain authority defined and secured
- Employees can be self managers and contractors for other (individual or unified) contributors or people managers
- People managers have the responsibility for and to their teams. No people manager can manage more than 5 subordinates. It is neither fair nor effective to work with a manager who cannot spare enough time for and with subordinates in decision making. There are numerous articles to indicate that 7 is an ideal number for an effective team, and odd numbers of participants are also favorable for collaboration. Therefore teams on any level should follow the 5+1 rule
- Team Members cannot be seen and used for tasks that can be automated, require no relevant skills and/or have no learning opportunities
- If there are no need to have 5 team members in a team, teams can be formed with a 3+1 structure but not less than that
- Team members can have different qualities and speciality areas but they should have a shared project/task and mission set for them to be defined as a team and collaborate
- Team members’ salaries should be on similar levels and their Manager shouldn’t be paid more than double of the highest paid team member. The pay gap in between the manager and the subordinates should not stem inequality concerns.
- If there is misconduct and unfair practice taking place in a team, all team members are responsible to report that since they will all be accountable as their managers are
- Also the manager should not be paid less than double of the lowest paid member of the team. Being a manager should be compensated as those talent would need to sacrifice from improving in their expertise area and the companies should be willing to invest more in those people who have people management duties
- Managers also form a team to report to a Head (/Director/C-Level depending on the scale of the organisation) and they have their own operational domain defined by 3-5 missions that their teams are working on (eg. operations per markets, per products, per targets, etc)
- You cannot have a managerial position with no one to manage. If senior talent is needed with no people management skills, they can be outsourced as an Individual Contributor
- CEO is the ultimate manager of leaders who is responsible for the overall operations of a single organisation
- 3-5 CEO report to a President who can manage a portfolio of companies
The structure that I tried to explain is modeled below for a sample holding company with 5 large organizations employing ~3900 people each:
The numbers at the bottom represent the average overheads per level. With such an approach the President with the highest responsibilities and status cannot be compensated more than x64 times of a junior employee – Bonuses are included (Below is the reference about how horrible that ratio should be today). And also the president can easily be dismissed if 3 or more CEOs reporting to him come together and present their reasoning to the Board. If they are reasonable, the Board cannot risk to lose 3 major influencers in their Group but the one president. The same principle works on all levels. 3 team members can ask their Director/Head to change their manager if they can demonstrate the necessity objectively.
So what if you need more than 25 white collar individuals with no people management responsibilities? Like a Big Branch of a Bank for example… Interns and Individual/Unified Contributors supervised by these 25 individuals is the answer. And that is the way to allow high turnover in companies among these alternatable contributors but invest in the right team members who will have a higher tenure, which will help the organisation -as a whole- keep learning and improving.
So here it is… If we want to have a say in organisational structures we build and we participate in: from the company we are working for to the states, from regulators to NGOs… We have to define a new structure and redefine the rules of that Power Game.
We cannot simply get rid of them but we can get rid of the wicked ways they use to manipulate us. But what if we start to start new companies and structures that have fairness and trust embedded in them?
The best talent, best brains may choose these companies that will help them blossom… Then it will be a matter of time to get rid of all those suckers and their bosses.
“All those fairy tales they told us when we were little girls? The morals were always, if you’re good and if you follow the rules, if you don’t lie and you don’t cheat, if you’re good, you’ll get good things. And if you’re a dick, you get punished. But what if the people who made up those stories are the dicks? What if the bad people made all that up so the good people never get anything good?”Good Girls, NBC