Observations in my walk through the corporate world.
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This year I celebrate 40 continuous years in business, not counting menial jobs I took in high school and college. Whenever I mention this, people start to look at me as some type of dinosaur, but it seems like it was only yesterday when I entered the work force. As a management consultant, I have had the good fortune to see a lot during this period; I’ve traveled considerably and worked with just about every type of business imaginable, and, because my profession is closely tied to the computer industry, I have had a front row seat in watching the evolution of computing.
Because of my background, I am often asked what is different today than back in 1976? Three interconnected areas come to mind: technology, business, and society.
TECHNOLOGY drives change and I have witnessed more than my share in the areas of transportation, communications, health care, and computing. I have watched us go from an analog to digital generation. Instead of carburetors, we now talk about electronic ignition; instead of vinyl records, we now download music off of the Internet and play it on a variety of devices; instead of spending weeks or months recovering in a hospital, we now expect to be released either the same day of our visit or shortly thereafter, and; computers have shrunk from mainframes, to minis, to micros, to hand held devices.
During this time, we have become closely dependent on our technology, most likely to the point of addiction. We simply cannot comprehend being without our devices regardless of where we are or who we are with. This has caused us to become impatient and short-tempered as we want everything NOW. We want instant photos, instant communications, instant access to information, instant entertainment, and much more. If we do not get it, we become frustrated and irritated. All of this has had an adverse affect on our social skills and temperament. Not surprising, we are witnessing changes in our personalities and the rise of a variety of neurosis, such as depression, high anxiety, and obsessive behavior. None of this was as prevalent in 1976 as it is today. This manifests itself into narcissistic behavior, and diminishing common courtesy. And let us not forget an escalating drug culture.
It is unsettling we now possess more trust in technology than people.
BUSINESS – Back in the 1970’s, business was more oriented towards a Theory Y form of management whereby workers were “managed from the bottom-up,” meaning employees were properly trained, assigned tasks and delegated authority to conquer projects on their own. If a problem surfaced, the manager would get involved, otherwise he/she maintained a “hand’s off” policy towards project development. The manager, of course would routinely monitor progress reports, but spent little time supervising workers.
Today we are imbued with “micromanagement,” a Theory X form of management where the actions and decisions of the workers are tightly controlled by the manager. To me, this is dehumanizing, but interestingly, there are people who prefer to have others do the thinking for them, thereby deflecting responsibility for any problems that may ensue. This results in a corporate culture where employees are more inclined to watch the clock as opposed to the product or service they are responsible for.
As an aside, we see signs of micromanagement as early as high school and college where “helicopter parents” try to coordinate their offspring’s activities at school. As a class ends, students are expected to report on classroom activities and tests via smart phone. If anything is amiss, the parent calls the instructor. To take it further, parents are now accompanying their children on interviews at major companies, something unheard of not long ago. By the time young adults enter the work force, they are already conditioned for micromanagement.
Back in the 1970’s, offices were tidy, employees came to work properly groomed and dressed, and there was much more discipline in our work habits. Unlike today, there was more emphasis on craftsmanship, customer service, and quality, which are casualties caused by micromanagement.
Just as we rely on technology to assume many functions of the intellect, such as math and spell-checking, some people are perfectly content to let managers control their activities. For most workers though, micromanagement causes workers not to trust management.
When I entered the work force, business was exciting. We looked forward to going to work, solving problems, and creating new products. Lunches were often used to debate ideas and formulate strategies. Beyond this, we talked about our families and personal lives, thereby forming friendships and bonds with co-workers. You do not see this too much anymore, unless it can be found in Silicon Valley, but I fear this is changing as well.
The concept of business is much different forty years ago. Those entering the work force today seem to believe it is nothing more than creating an app and building an Internet presence. Everything else is meaningless, and there is a tendency to look down their nose at anyone who has to work with their hands for a living. In other words, there is no longer a recognition of the dignity of work.
SOCIETY – Perhaps the most noteworthy change in this area has been the steady decline of morality. Organized religion has spiraled downwards, as have institutions such as scouting, youth sports, and many other nonprofit activities. This leads me to believe that instead of group activities featuring teamwork, we value individuality and have become narcissistic in the process. We even see this on the highway, where people drive to suit their individual whims as opposed to practicing courtesy. Again, I believe technology has affected our attitude in this regard and has made us more angry. Today we hear not only of road rage, but sports rage, school rage, work rage, etc.
Parents have also dropped the ball on raising children. Forty years ago there were many households where the mothers stayed home to tend to their family. However, due to changing socioeconomic conditions, both parents are now more likely to be working as opposed to just one. Consequently, children learn their values from Hollywood and the Internet, not their parents. In many cases, the perspective of children are shaped by teachers, coaches, and classmates, whatever they may be.
There has also been changes in the institution of marriage, where it is now more common to seek divorce instead of trying to work things out and stay together. Even our sense of sexuality is under scrutiny by the PC police. Not surprising, whereas we used to respect laws, be it legal or company policies, now we are too willing to break them.
Today, political correctness rules decorum. What was funny forty years ago is now considered vulgar. We now have to watch our language carefully so we dare not offend anyone, particularly the media. One of the primary reasons Donald J. Trump is so popular with voters today is because people are sick of political correctness.
I also tend to believe we have become socially dysfunctional, again, thanks in large part to technology. We used to have a sense of community where people watched out for their neighbors. If someone was in trouble, you helped out. We would often stop to greet and talk with our neighbors, to perhaps share a joke or tidbit of gossip. Not so anymore; jokes are taboo, and you are now more conscious of what you share with your neighbor. Today, we are less likely to volunteer our time to help anyone or any institution. Now we withdraw into our abodes.
So, What have I learned in the last 40 years? Several things:
* If anything is constant, it is change. And the speed of change is measured by our technology.
* Although technology has changed the world, it has also dramatically changed our personalities.
* We now think smaller, and are afraid of larger challenges.
* Common sense is certainly not common anymore.
* There is little trust between management and workers.
The fact I have remained with the same company for 40 years makes me an anomaly. Years ago, when you joined a baseball team, it was usually for your entire professional career. Free agency changed all that, and changed the economics of the game. Today, it is unlikely anyone will stay with a company for more than ten years, let alone forty.
As to the sweeping changes in technology we have witnessed, I always like to ask, “Has it really improved our quality of life?” There has never been any data to suggest so. It is true we can communicate and compute faster, it has accelerated our healing time in hospitals, etc., but now we demand instant gratification, and we’re not happy when we do not get it.
By the way, over the last forty years, I have seen seven presidents; Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
So, have I seen any changes in my 40 years of business? Perhaps too many. I’ll be curious what the next ten years bring.
Keep the Faith!