Other professions are more tolerant of this problem, because it takes a long time for the fakery to reveal itself to those who can do something about it. For example, middle management is an area where an idiot can survive for years, because all they have to do is contain costs. Run the department poorly but cheaply, and senior management will leave you alone. Eventually, the ineffective managers will be found out through employee attrition or customer complaints, and they’ll be promoted to get rid of them.
But as I’ve stated before, Marketing is where the phonies work. This is because you don’t have to actually prove that a course of action is the best course of action, you just have to claim that it is. You may need a pie chart or two to convince your senior management team, but that’s what interns are for. There may be good, professional people in Marketing, but there’s no way to know who they are. Marketing is to bullshit artists what the Catholic priesthood is to a pedophile.
I call this situation “proof proof.” In other words, the actions or policies of the individual can’t be proven false, invalid or inferior. Over time, they may be proven ineffective, but by that time, they will have been replaced by other “proof proof” actions or policies.
Lately, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that another corporate department is being taken over by phonies, but it’s different kind of phony. A much scarier phony. The department is Human Resources, and it’s being taken over by Evangelical Phonies. They don’t want senior management to believe what they say, they want everybody to believe it.
The problem is that Human Resources has always been treated as the retarded stepchild by senior management. Human Resources doesn’t make money, they’re a cost center. Management needs Human Resources to handle things like sexual harassment complaints and employee benefits, but they don’t have to like it. And there's no way they're going to invite them to the offsite management meetings in Maui.
So they give them a budget and tell them not to call unless it’s an emergency. Giving them a budget was a huge mistake. They buy books on “management theory” or “self-actualization,” and they read them in between exit interviews. Worse, they believe what they read. These are books written by former Marketing phonies, intended to exploit the fact that many businesses are floundering and are grasping at straws. They are philosophical in nature, full of homilies and quotable truisms, designed to penetrate thick skulls and convince senior managers to invite the author to speak for $25,000.
This week, the Human Resources department at my company hosted Corporate Culture Training. I’m not quite willing to agree that culture can be taught, but the training wasn’t optional. Worse, we were required to read a horrible little book called “QBQ! The Question Behind the Question” by John G. Miller. The book is a quarter-inch thick, which barely qualifies as a book. The margins are broad, and the book is set in enormous type. Some of the chapters are only one paragraph long. I read it in 40 minutes. The theme is “Personal Responsibility” and the message is, “You can’t change anyone but yourself.”
So naturally, Human Resources tried to change us.
The head of Human Resources, a freakishly enthusiastic woman, hosted two sessions on consecutive days in a meeting room at a local hotel. She introduced the topic by telling us how she was going to show us five “magical” tools for managing our relationships “at work and at home.” This set my teeth on edge, because my relationships at home are none of her business.
There was the usual nonsense where we all had to introduce ourselves, even though we all know each other quite well. Then she presented the Human Resources Vision Statement, turning to make eye contact with everyone. Then she exclaimed how “wonderful and empowering” it was. This is it:
- “Create a solutions-oriented environment where people can be at their best.”
Once she got rolling, she was cueing for approval and laughing at her own statements, engaged in a performance for which she expected applause. She used incredibly simplistic diagrams and lame concepts like “The Energy Circle” and “The Path of Life,” insisting that we write it all down, even though she gave us a folder with printouts of everything in it.
All of the material was presented in black-or-white scenarios, but as soon as someone pointed out circumstances where the lesson was counterproductive, she would backpedal and use words like “sometimes” or “on occasion,” grudgingly admitting to gray areas.
On the second day, she wanted to illustrate the concept of “dropping the ball,” a metaphor for failure, through the use of a metaphor – having us toss balls back and forth to one another.
Then, she assigned groups of five a topic, and gave us 10 minutes to prepare a skit to illustrate the topic. In other words, we were given a task for which we were unskilled, insufficient time to prepare, and guaranteed to fail. It was like watching prison theater - glum, confused, unwilling participants facing a glum, confused, unwilling audience.
Anyway, I left the training session with the following message: “Don’t blame others for failure, take action. If you fail, they’ll blame you.”