My first HR job was with General Electric. I was on the lowest rung of the managerial ladder and keen to observe how ‘managers behaved’. Prior to developing your own style, you mimic the style of others and I was a Magpie for stealing ideas (it has become a lifelong trait).
Sands Hotel: We had an off-site meeting in Sands Hotel (no, not Las Vegas, Sands in Portmarnock) to review the set-up plans for the manufacturing plant. The General Manager, John Donnolly, was a genial American. However, his laid-back style masked an inner steel core. One of the supervisors in the group was relaying the ‘5 sorrowful mysteries’ a litany of reasons for something which had not been completed on time. Donnelly’s riposte was sharp: “I took a Masters Degree in excuses. And, guess what? None of them ever got the job done”. The supervisor left the company a short time later. He was unhappy with GE and the company was unhappy with him, a marriage made in hell.
Steve Jobs: In a recent issue of Fortune magazine, Steve Jobs makes a very similar point (How America’s hottest – and most secretive big company really works). Apple has a turnover of $100 billion a year and a growth rate of about 60%. So, how does a behemoth company behave like a start up? One of the lessons that Jobs teaches all new VP’s he calls the ‘Difference between the Janitor and the Vice President’. If the garbage is not emptied and he asks ‘why?’ he might get an excuse like the locks have been changed and the janitor does not have a key. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. VP’s don’t. Somewhere between the janitor and the senior executive level, reasons cease to matter. You said you’d do it; you didn’t; you’re fired.
Tough? Yes, for sure it is tough. But tough goes with the territory. Look at the levels of underperformance we’ve seen in corporate Ireland in recent years. And how many people were fired? Everyone wants the package of a senior executive but the tolerance that would be extended to a janitor. You can’t have it both ways. Company boards need to apply the ‘logic of Senior Executive performance’ to the people they manage. For sure, individuals can hit speed bumps. External events conspire against them or they have to overcome difficult personal issues. I’m not suggesting that at the first performance blip, executives should get dragged around the back of the factory and shot. But, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…. If you want to protect your job and your income, just get it done!
PS Just arrived back in Dublin this morning and loving the sunshine. Who said the weather was bad here? Couple of interesting reflections on holidays which I will scribble about over the coming weeks. Stay posted.