I hate working in Corporate America. I despise it’s desire to define, tag and outline everything and everyone. I think that most of HR can be summed up as “fuckers who can’t do real work” and I know that most organization charts are filled with the bogus bullshit that only obstructs a job and doesn’t streamline anything.
That said, I love the people I’ve worked with at Corporate America, and most especially those in HR, as they are genuinely trying to help. That’s the problem with Corporate America for me; I know they aren’t being evil on purpose, but they’ve fallen into it and can’t swim out.
And that makes me cranky. I don’t like being lied to, and I like even less when someone tries to spin a story to make every out as rainbows and unicorns. And I call them on it, all the time. I know you need to hear the truth, even if you don’t want to believe it.
Truth sucks. It’s not pleasant, it’s not nice, and it’s going to use words that, if spoken around the dinner table, would have even my mom up in arms.
You can’t spin the truth. As soon as you trade words, you trade energy. As soon as you trade energy, you trade focus. And once something is out of focus, you don’t have a clear truth anymore.
I can give you a perfect example. I was working at a company, one that to this day I still admire, and was asked what I thought about a particular part of the organization that happened to hold the keys to the health and happiness of several other parts of the organization. I had worked in that organization for a while, learning their convoluted, 3-years-out-of-date software, and found new ways of doing things that they didn’t even know. I’m not kidding on either point. These people were using a 3-years-out-of-date program to accomplish a mission-critical and legally dangerous function, and the newest member of the team had been there for two years, yet I was finding new and faster ways of using the software and had been there for three months. In fact, I found two specific ways to do things that I had been told was impossible. I showed what I did and got plenty of praise for it from them, so I’m not looking for it here, I’m pointing it out because it illustrates the struggles for this team.
They are all bright people, and shouldn’t be thought of as incapable as they are working under constant deadlines and using tools that suck. They’d had their creativity killed, and were just going through the motions because that had become the path of least resistance. Plus that was the only way to keep on top of things because experimentation takes time, which I had because they didn’t think I was up to speed enough to dump more on, and I used my time to learn the program. Which is why I could unlock the secrets within.
I was asked about this organization by my boss’s boss. I told her it was “a fucking disaster, and needs to be fixed”. She about flipped and informed me, “We call that an opportunity here.” Mind you, my boss was there with us for this, and he was probably dying a little bit inside. I’ll ask him sometime, he’s still a friend.
I looked at her like she was mad. “No, an opportunity is where something is running well but could be adjusted, optimized and improved. Everything we do is an opportunity. [redacted] is a fucking disaster.” Going over this again makes me realize that I probably am one of the hardest friends for other people to have. I’m an asshole, but again, it needed to be said.
She started to pontificate on how we needed to be politically correct when stating things because hurt feelings would lead to unhappy people, etc., etc., and I just sat there while this drivel spilled forth from her. I don’t remember what I said next, but it was something along the lines of “call it what you want, but it needs fixing, not therapy.”
My boss and she left, and later my boss and I talked about it, and he said that, yes, I should probably learn to be politically correct. I’ll get right on that.
So, what’s the point? Well, nearly 9 months after I left I checked in to see how things were, and guess what? They’re still are using the now 4-year-out-of-date software to handle this mission critical system, and the team is still overworked, unhappy, underpaid, and stressed out. That group is still considered The Hateful Unknown by the rest of the organization, and they now can’t upgrade for at least another 6 months as the next two quarters are the busiest of the year.
Why have they gotten to this point? Because no one heard “this is a fucking disaster” at any of the meetings discussing projects and budgets and needs. No one stood up and said that. Everyone kept calling it an “opportunity”. Everyone who looked at it had the impression that, being an opportunity, it was ok, and could stand as is, and they could focus on other things. Budgets were wrangled away, people were wrangled away, time was wrangled away, and because that one manager didn’t have the guts to stand up and say “this is a fucking disaster” it didn’t get the notice it needed from on high.
But I did my part. I explained it, and I said it in no uncertain terms. I wasn’t mean, I didn’t call anyone a jerk, and went out of my way to say that the people were not the problem. I told them that I know it’s going to suck to do the work to fix it, but it needs to be done. I said it, and I said in a memorable way. I also said I had a plan to fix it, if they wanted to hear my ideas. They passed on that, as is their choice.
And would I, in a meeting with the CEO and the Board of Directors of the company have said the same thing? Yes. Absolutely. No question. I don’t speak my mind and try to make it offensive. I speak what I know to be true.
In every organization there is a need. You need someone who will speak the truth. Someone who will, no matter the situation, call out the truth as they see it. More often than not, you’ll find those people are a bit gruff, crass, and colorful. They also care, research, befriend, support and study everything around them. They know that spin can kill, and avoid it. They seek the truth because it’s what they need for their own happiness.
You all know the asshole of which I speak. You all work with one. They are great fun to be around, until someone pisses them off. Then they are a tornado of truth. They will tell you exactly how they are when you ask “How are you?” and will answer with anything other than “Fine,” every time. They know everyone, and even tho there are a few who don’t like them, most everyone does. They admit to liking and hating and questioning things readily, and always strive to present a solution so they don’t become just bitchy whiners. They are assholes, because they’ll ask the questions you didn’t think of, and they’ll tell you if they see something stupid from you. You won’t always like them, but you aren’t safe without them. You’ll also find you like having them around.
You see, just like the biological equivalent, the asshole helps you to get rid of the waste. Your teams process what they can, but without the asshole, the extra cruft of everyday life will build up until it’s toxic. The asshole in a corporation is the guy who asks “Can we please fix this?” and points to a system or tool that can best be described as dung.
An asshole isn’t a whiner. Every complaint can be followed up with a solution, you just have to want to hear it. You need an asshole. If you disregard what they say, you run the risk of believing your own bullshit, and that can cost you more dearly than it can ever cost the asshole.