16 May 2007

No Talking Zone

Over at El Gringoqueño, James O'Malley blogs about two employer-employees "styles": the "Asian manager-lets-underlings speak" and the "American employees-speak-up" style. He goes on to make the following observation:

What happens when you have managers that will not extract opinions from employees AND employees that are so deferential they will not offer them?

Well, my friends, you have Puerto Rico, a workforce culture that combines two models in the worst possible way, an employee class waiting to be utilized and a management class that will not seek information.

In either case, Asian or American, there is a flow of dialog. Managers may initiate in general in Asia. Employees may engage more in America. In Puerto Rico, the two are completely disconnected. Managers want to play golf and receive the treatment and privilege of royalty without having to speak to the help, and employees are scared to stick their necks out for fear of being whacked.

Does that sound like a recipe for success?

Actually it sounds to me like a recipe for revolt.

Now, James is really a nice guy and he doesn't slam the point home the way I would, most likely because he feels it would be taken as a gringo point of view and deemed--oddly enough--less valid than a boricua's. Balderdash. James is right and he'd be right even if he were from some incredibly alien place, like say, St. Louis.

Employees here are closer to zombies than normal. They do have brains, though: Just drop by any watering-hole or lunch counter and you will hear an endless barrage of opinions, ideas, slams, observations and conclusions about the job, the office, the boss, the other bosses and their prospects for the future than you can shake a stick at. But watch them back in the workplace and you can see Dawn of the Living Dead in 3D.

It all boils down to insecurity. The average employee here is too insecure to attempt any action that could be deemed risky. We get that from a school system built to crush initiative and from a cultural mindset that tells Us constantly that We must wait to receive.

On the other side--management--the insecurity comes out as "I know better because I've been given this title." Given. Title, as in enTITLEd. Since you must wait to receive, once you get it, you feel entitled to lord it over the rest. And since you were given the title, you are afraid it can be taken away, so you don't want anybody making you look bad, so it's better that the hired hands keep their pieholes shut.

Most employees don't want to speak up to avoid becoming targets. Most managers want employees to shut up so they can feel secure in their positions. I think they're all idiots. But their idiocy is dragging Us down and no one seems compelled to do anything about it.

Misery, fear, insecurity, weakness, rampant idiocy... Ingredients for a revolt, indubitably.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

James said...

Haha, Gil, thanks for pulling no punches. I didn't really pull punches, though. I believe in the Puerto Rican employee (although I see your point... 'cause it's not hard to see looking around). I think they get a bum rap, though... to a degree. I've always said it (actually it was Demming, but I can steal, no?):

Bad results are 85% the fault of management.

With that said, my only direct experience with leading/managing a large group of Puerto Ricans was in the Army. I commanded roughly 128 soldiers most of whom were local. I took a dual track with my management style. I made sure that I engaged them, both by seeking and accepting opinions/advice. After all, I wasn't afraid of being wrong, I just wanted the best way forward.

They came alive, Gil. The zombies warmed up, their pallor turning from a gray to a clean clear sun kissed tone. They responded with enthusiasm. They took ownership of their jobs. They accepted responsibility. They became agents of the organization.

In fact, they did BETTER than their American compatriots.

I didn't do much, and I can't take extreme credit for everything. All I did was treat them as valued assets. I didn't take privilege. I sleep and ate and suffered as they did, simple stuff, really.

But they'd never been treated that way before. They'd never been given respect the way I respected them.

In my little essay, I do recognize that there are two problems. Employees who won't act and managers who won't lead. So yeah, it takes two to tango.

But guess which one I would change first, if I could?