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rotting from the bottom up November 9, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Observations, Seen Elsewhere.
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A lot of us are pretty pissed off that our companies are doing poorly. We’re seeing our stock options lose what worth they had; we’re not getting raises or actual promotions — just new titles that mean “here’s another responsibility we’re not going to pay you for”; we’re working unpaid overtime because we can’t finish our jobs in the allotted day because we have so many meetings to attend that we can’t get into a groove and finish more than half a task at once.

But it’s not just the corporate office that’s the problem. Some companies are rotting from the bottom up.

Jim Hopkins, formerly of USA Today, used to run a watchdog blog that took USA Today’s parent company, Gannett, to task for its misdeeds. Here’s something that a blog commenter posted a while back that you might be interested in reading:

I can’t help feeling that lots of little stories were missed here. Combined, all the many smaller issues are what really makes or breaks a workplace. Employee spirits and productivity are often broken by bosses who hit the bottle a bit too much or by managers sleeping with the help. I know of one Gannett editor who was emotionally/clinically disturbed to the point where he should have been removed from his job years ago, before he inflicted so much damage on so many careers of people who worked for him. He went undetected because higher-ups refused to open their eyes to realities, a common problem at Gannett properties of all sizes:

* Staffers who have to pull double duty because of a coworker’s incompetence.
* The general lack of accountability for some while others are held to impossibly high standards.
* The huge workloads and all the rework that is necessary because of territorial misbehavior.
* The inability of mid-level editors to truly lead without being either mean or over-the-top friendly (in sort of a fake way).
* The lack of respect that comes in all forms.

Which of those five things have affected you already?

Double duty: I’ve written on several occasions — and in fact just last week — that employees often find themselves covering for the less-skilled workers so that everyone doesn’t get dinged. They do it without getting paid extra or even getting recognized, and if they go to their bosses because someone’s slacking… well, the boss might do something, or the boss might not, but it will trickle back down that you’re the person who tattled. It’s just like grade school except without dodgeball.

Accountability: The only person held accountable is you. Not your co-workers, who keep screwing up. Not your boss, who keeps overloading you and expecting you to continue to perform but doesn’t even thank you for making him look good. Not the CEO, who keeps his job and his expensive car and his two months off a year when you’re barely keeping your head above water.

Rework: The last person to know that the entire focus of the project has been changed is the person who has to do the most work, or the most detail-oriented work at any rate. And that person is always told at the last minute, right after turning in something that he or she thinks is some of his or her best work. And that person is always, always you.

Lack of leadership: Who’s in charge around here? No one! No one wants to take responsibility or make any decisions because that creates an accountability situation. People run around like beheaded chickens until the Big Boss finally tells them what to do, and that doesn’t help much either because the Big Boss just gets grumpy and takes it out on the peons — you again.

Respect: If your boss doesn’t respect you, then you don’t respect your boss. And you don’t respect your boss’s boss because s/he isn’t making sure your boss is respectful of how much work s/he is dropping on your head on a daily basis. Oh, and “employee of the month” doesn’t cut it. Not anymore.

Is your company rotting from the bottom up? Or just from the top down?

The correct answer is probably “both”, and you know it.

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