Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Careers / The Bratty Bunch

You Stupid %&#@**!

Does your office resemble an episode of 'Jerry Springer,' with the boss yelling and throwing things? Unfortunately, you're not alone.

May 10, 1999|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When downsizing mania swept through corporate America this last decade, a special breed of manager gained media attention. He was fixated like a bloodhound on the bottom line. He was tough, rolling over competitors like road kill. He practiced what one observer calls "rubber band management"--stretching employees until they break, then tossing them away and finding replacements. And he had a flair for the dramatic: Why write a memo when he could simply throw a phone at an errant staff member?

Tantrums, bullying and narcissistic chest-pounding were--and often still are--tolerated from this oversized toddler by boards, shareholders and sometimes even fearful subordinates because he could help produce spectacular short-term results.

But his days may be numbered, say strategic business futurists. Life at Camp Wackybossee is going to have to change. The message to this Infant Terrible character is clear: "Grow up or get out."

Contributing to the Infant Terrible's decline is the squeaky-tight labor market--the jobless rate is at its lowest since the 1960s. Highly talented employees have little reason to put up with childish bullies. They can go elsewhere. And they do.

"It's like 'Network' when people said, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore,"' says Roger Herman, principal of the Herman Group, a Greensboro, N.C.-based consulting firm. "The behaviors considered dysfunctional today weren't thought of like that in the past. People aren't putting up with them any longer."

Those who remain subject to the Infant Terrible's volatile reign sometimes turn passive-aggressive, forming what one expert calls "aero-porcine societies." Their motto is, "We'll do more when pigs fly," explains consultant Eileen Shapiro of Massachusetts, author of "The Seven Deadly Sins of Business" (Capstone, 1998). They reduce their work output. Quality declines. A few disgruntled souls even resort to outright sabotage.

"I think we're going to see effective ways of [employees] fighting back," she says. "And it's almost impossible to stop." Employees make an average of 100 unsupervised decisions a day, she notes. The message? Power is not absolute. As in chess, kings can be toppled by pawns.

In the Infant Terrible's drag-race for short-term gains, he forgets one thing: He can't do it alone. Treat employees like widgets, keep them in a state of psychological emergency, and their productivity declines, says Shapiro.

Slumping productivity sooner or later translates to lost market share, points out psychologist Jim Osterhaus of the Armstrong Group, a consulting firm based in Washington. And so tyrants, at whatever organizational level, eventually become the cause of their own undoing. And especially in this period of high performance expectations, lost market share is a fast ticket to the unemployment line.

"If you try to follow up on these [juvenile managers], most are gone," says Stuart Schmidt, professor of Human Resource Administration at Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management in Philadelphia. "They've been fired by their boards, or their companies are in decline."

The antics of Infants Terrible receive lots of print--both in newspapers and in legal documents. Some of the lore reaches epic proportions, often to the great embarrassment of their corporations: the drunken executive who publicly defecated during a flight, to show his rage at the plane's attendants; the ex-Marine banking magnate who pulled the pin of a dummy hand grenade at a meeting, to see who'd flinch; the boss who asked his secretary to help assemble his new mail-order "penis enlarger," are three cases in point.

Other colorful, tabloid-worthy examples of managerial melodrama include:

- A few weeks ago, angered that a music video called "Hate Me Now" hadn't been edited as ordered, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment, allegedly punched an Interscope Records executive in the face and beat him with a telephone. Combs' bodyguards then allegedly kicked the man, struck him with a chair, overturned his desk and hit him with a champagne bottle. Combs was charged with assault and has yet to enter a plea.

- A branch manager, now retired, in Smith Barney Inc.'s Garden City, N.Y. office allegedly set up a "Boom Boom Room" in the firm's basement where male brokers drank Bloody Marys from an oversized garbage pail, below a toilet seat hanging from the ceiling. The manager also allegedly brandished a gun at a female stockbroker trainee, and referred to women in the firm as body parts. His company got hit with a multimillion-dollar class-action sexual discrimination lawsuit. Although they did not admit guilt, the manager's firm settled the suit last year.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|