Thursday, April 4, 2019

Acquiring talent and other stories.

Maybe, no, probably, I’ve turned into a bit of an angry old man. It seems the longer I live, the more stuff rubs my goat the wrong way.

It could be, largely, the Trump and Trumpists, of course. And the whole-hearted, and half-brained assault on truth, facts, common sense, science and the very idea that words have meaning.

But worse, to my mind, is the bureaucratic officialese that sullies almost every aspect of our lives.

Back when I was a big wig and running a huge agency, it was decided we would relocate from a big ugly building in an expensive part of town to a big ugly building in a less-expensive part of town. The head of human resources dropped by my office to discuss floorplans.

“I’m here to discuss the stacking plan,” she said.

“Stacking plan? Since when has it been ok to talk about people as if they are cordwood?”

But such is the language of life in most places today. Language, as the great Viktor Klemperer once wrote, doesn’t lie. That is, often hidden within semantic choices people make are their ways of seeing the world. Senior leaders who talk about stacking plans are in essence revealing that they don’t care about people.

One phrase that is used all-too-often today really makes me crazy. That is, when people say they are in “Talent Acquisition.”

I’ll go along with the phrase a bit. I do consider myself talent. All egoism aside, an unusual talent.

Unusual or not, I am not something to be acquired. I am not something to be bought or obtained.

Sorry. I may work for you. But you have not acquired me. Nor do you own me.

I think this sort of language reflects a prevailing corporate attitude that shows little but disdain for people. We’re not people, in fact. We are things to be acquired. Once acquired, we can be owned. Once owned, we can be stacked.

I don’t know when this sort of attitude began to be seen as ok by the MBAs that run our business today. I don’t know when people began accepting it.

I think it’s a problem in our world and our industry today. If you’re devalued by your employer (or your government, for that matter) you eventually start devaluing yourself.

That ain’t right.

At its core, a job is a relationship between employees and the people who pay them. Good relationships usually involve give and take--they're mutually beneficial.

Treat people well, respect them, reward them--be kind, and you’ll get blood, sweat, toil and tears in return.

But treat people like acquisitions, and you might come in one morning to find that they've stacked themselves elsewhere.
BTW, a lot of my world-view comes from the great movie "On the Waterfront," written by my old grad-school advisor Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, with music by Leonard Bernstein.

At its core, On the Waterfront is about being true to yourself, and standing up for yourself. It's about not being pushed around, no matter how small you are and how big they are.

Look at Brando in this scene with Lee J. Cobb.

Yeah, Brando gets the shit kicked out of him. But that's just another day in advertising, right?

No comments: