And the Prize Is...Your Job!
By Abby Koch
Survivor has made me kind of reflective about change and competition, especially in relation to my job. Last year my work world turned upside down. Under the sagacious counsel of Arthur Anderson, the existing structure of the marketing department was demolished. When they put all the little pieces back together, they decided that we didn't need all the people who actually did stuff. We only needed people to manage "external partners" who would do everything. They told about 50 people that it wasn't personal, but they should start looking for new jobs. They told me and about 30 other people that they weren't really sure what to do with us, but they would let us know in a couple of months.
After we learned our fate (or at least our new job titles), we were instructed to travel to Columbus, OH, for a three-day kick-off of the new department. What we found when we got there was not a good omen for the changes to come--the meeting had a military theme, as in "Let's all re-enlist in the marketing department!" They created a theme meeting that would make a sorority social committee jealous--we got dog tags, "Uncle Brad Wants You" posters, periodic marching and chanting sound-offs and poker night replete with aging ex-cheerleaders proving that they could still do the splits. The whole thing was just dreadful. I wasn't sure if I was lucky to have a job or not.
The hell continued unabated for the first couple of months of the "new model" (as we were encouraged to call the reorganized department). We plunged into a morass of confusion, complaining and inability to act. Design teams were formed to create process map flow charts for every single task conducted within the department. In my new group, people who had once specialized in a particular area of research or analysis were told to go forth and be generalists. Not that they had an actual transition plan. Nope, they just waved their magic reorganizing wand over us and turned us loose.
After two months of flailing, management realized that we needed some more specific protocols for basic functions if anything was going to get done. So they organized a workshop. Yeah, that always works. They seemed genuinely surprised by the degree of negativity and anger we felt when it came to getting anything accomplished.
Fortunately, they had already scheduled us for "Be the One to Make the Difference" training. It was like a cult indoctrination. Management is enamored of the way they dress up simple concepts with catchy phrases. Instead of saying, "I'm pissed," we're supposed to say "My mood elevator is in the basement." Uh-huh. And, of course, there is the always popular "brown dog." First, they tell us to imagine a brown dog. Then they get a couple of people to describe their brown dogs. It apparently is supposed to be very illuminating for us when we realize that different people had imagined completely different brown dogs. It was just fodder for ridicule (as in, "Hey, guess what my brown dog is doing on his leg right now?"). The highlight was the guided meditation to classic rock favorites like "Cats in the Cradle." I just can't tell you how meaningful the experience was for me. With torches and a little face paint, we would've been right at home at a tribal council.
Another reorganization accommodated a change in the company structure and con-veniently provided the opportunity to fix things they had messed up, without acknowledging anything, of course. Our area started to look a lot more like it did in the first place. Our new CEO announced that consultants were a disease and that he never wanted to see another process map cross his desk, so we were spared a full reprise of the reorganization busywork we had suffered through just months before.
So I watch Survivor and think about what I survived and how I feel about it. I can relate when the island contestants agonize over just how much they want to play the game, how far they'll go to survive. Sure, we go into it knowing that it's a game (or a business), but we're still people trying to make sense out of our environment in human terms. The upside to Survivor is that there's a big prize waiting for the person left standing. Me, I just have a job waiting for me in the morning.
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