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How to destroy a successful company

In this article, we will tell you how to destroy a prosperous company whilst having the best intentions. By following business coaches’ tips, but ignoring corporate values and culture, anyone can fall into this trap. The following situation can arise in any business but is particularly crucial for companies whose major asset is qualified staff. For a translation agency, these are managers, translators, and editors.

Baseline: the head of a quite successful company feels a kind of stagnation in its development, or perhaps is just bored with the daily grind. They are not pleased with the way their employees communicate, how mid-level managers act, their working hours, company Internet misuse, etc. Moreover, they have heard somewhere that their competitors are more financially efficient. So they take a couple of training sessions, read a few booklets with titles like ‘How to Tame the Chaos Around You’, find like-minded colleagues, and begin to implement reforms as if they have gained some secret knowledge. Below we will consider what results this may lead to.

The first and most obvious ‘innovation’ is to regulate an employee’s time: to impose strict working hours, prohibit messengers and social network usage, install tracking programs, and in particularly bad cases — hang security cameras around the office. The next step is analyze which employee(s) spends too much time either chatting, on social media, or a favorite website and demand a written explanation for late arrivals or un-work-related activities.

Now let’s imagine a typical situation. Yesterday your employee stayed at the office for a couple of hours, working overtime before a deadline. Today they get stuck in traffic or are just a little bit late in the morning — by 20 minutes. There is no urgent work in the morning, so they come to the office, proud of yesterday’s accomplishment. What a surprise then as they come to the office and are cordially ‘invited’ to a meeting with the boss to explain the delay.

How would the employee feel? From their point of view, they saved the company from trouble yesterday, but no one appreciates it. On the contrary — they are being reprimanded for something comparatively trivial. Surely, they won’t let you (their boss) know about what they’re thinking or feeling. They will give you a formal reply, with an expressly guilty look on their face, but with a rude gesture behind their back. They may decide: ‘Okay, if you treat me formally, I’ll do the same’, and in the future, they won’t care about finishing projects on time, but rather leaving the office on time. Moreover, they will describe this situation to their colleagues, who will probably be on the same side as them.

The result can be deleterious: a result-oriented team that was ready for any rush jobs, now leaves the workplace once the working hours are over, even if the projects’ deadlines are overdue. It was you, the boss, who established these rules!

As for tracking employees’ working time, usually it has little impact. Fearing punishment, employees no longer communicate via Skype, go to Facebook, listen to music, or watch world news. However, this does not mean they will work more efficiently. Most likely, they will see such bans as an invasion of privacy and will engage in some inconspicuous idleness, e.g. texting, aimlessly moving the cursor around the screen, wandering around the office with some papers, or otherwise creating an illusion of being busy. If an employee’s desire to add value and perform quality work is killed, they will just start mimicking and not trying to add value.

Regular objection: overall accomplishments will make it clear. However, it will be clear even without total shadowing and additional moral pressure. Inefficient staff will not increase their efficiency, but effective staff will become discouraged.

One more way is to block access to all websites and applications that may be ‘thieves of time’, and define a formal unblocking process. The idea seems to be good: translators will be engaged in work; not surfing unauthorized sites during working hours.

But suddenly a translator needs information about the Byzantine Empire’s social structure or some automaker’s series. Web searches lead them to a blocked page. Following the established procedure, they must submit a request for unblocking to their supervisor, who may approve it and assign the task to a system administrator. Even if there are no delays, it will take at least 20 minutes. Moreover, the page may be useless, but you won’t know unless you visit it.

Whilst the request is being considered, the translator will probably translate further texts without the necessary information. At best, they will check the translation after unblocking. What if there isn’t any useful information on the website? Should the translator search for new websites and submit new requests? During the day, a conscientious translator will submit dozens of such requests, spending a lot of time on it. At best, translators will eventually get background information by themselves (for example, using personal smartphones), and at worst will think it is too much of a luxury for them.

Summary of this innovation:

  • clients receive less quality services,
  • employees lose their motivation,
  • subordinates become dissapointed with their boss.

You want your employees to communicate ‘correctly’ and not waste precious time on small talk, so you decide to keep track of their conversations, set oral communication rules, define forbidden topics, etc. Positive picture: all communication flows within working matters; everybody speaks well of you; there are no awkward phrases uttered; everybody salutes you and staff members address mid-level managers formally.

However, the ‘pumpkin’ hour comes, and your employees leave the office. You can’t control them anymore. So they change their opinion, becoming more sincere, expressing their emotions, and immediately mentioning you. Having met in some pub, they take off all the masks that you made them wear and pull you to pieces, completely forgetting about the chain of command. If there are no toadies among them, you are unlikely to know about it. Eventually, you will have no idea about what is going on in your team. Secrets and intrigues will appear.

Another way to boost morale is to order a variety of products with the company logo on them and make use of them here and there. For example, place ‘the banner of the team’ in a corner of the room, pin logo badges to clothing, make staff wear ‘motivational’ T-shirts, etc., and forge respect for these symbols. You could also announce a contest of poems and drawings dedicated to the company.

Not a bad idea. However, if it is implemented in an unhealthy working environment, cause and effect become reversed. These symbols reflect the employees’ attitude toward their company: if they are proud of it and its symbols, they will treat them with respect. However, if the company atmosphere is oppressive, corporate identity elements can be perceived as the embodiment of that oppression, making the situation even worse.

All bosses need a strong team, although sometimes they use strange ways of team building. In most cases, the head of a company organizes a super-fun (from their point of view) mandatory event for their team. For example, each employee is asked to fall backward for the rest to catch. It’s considered to be confidence increasing. Also, karaoke may be organized. Everyone must sing a ‘very popular’ song or make an unwary co-worker get on stage to dance with a large teddy bear…

A person who does not share your ideas about entertainment, but who is forced to participate in something they consider to be a theatre of the absurd, may feel extremely uncomfortable. It is especially difficult for an introverted person, who is then made the focus of attention, and forced, for example, to participate in a rap battle (even though they listen to rock music). It would be quite a dull performance. Moreover, the person may feel morally raped.

A team is formed not in a restaurant or an amusement park, but during work. Informal activities are beneficial when all members of the team have become friends, overcoming difficulties, helping each other in unexpected situations, communicating on different topics during work, smoke and lunch breaks, etc. If there are some unresolved conflicts between employees, they will hardly become friends after a couple of beers. Corporate parties should be non-mandatory. Everyone should feel comfortable, otherwise coming home, they will think: ‘It would be much better to get a bonus instead of this meaningless performance!’

A lot of business owners believe that going to work on par with all staff members is optional, and they can manage their business remotely, drinking a cocktail somewhere at Goa. It can be done, of course, but not for every company.

Thanks to cutting-edge technologies, remote management is possible. However, a boss is not just a manager, but also a leader: a respected head who makes clear steps. Distancing yourself from the team, you will eventually become a stranger, or some virtual entity materialized in the office once a month. Observing your absence, employees will gradually conclude that you do nothing and just come to the office behaving like a bull in a china shop.

Try to set a good example for your staff members. If they see you being the first to come to the office every day, being a real fan of your work, full of creative ideas, they will also become filled with enthusiasm. If you just occasionally come down from Olympus, you generate an emotional void that sooner or later will be filled with someone or something. Informal leaders may arise in your team, and who knows where they will lead it. Therefore, if you decide to keep yourself away from daily office visits, you should choose a leader who cares about the company. But be ready that they will act in their way and their views on some issues may be different from yours. You must take their opinion into account; otherwise, the company will be divided into two parts, with you two on opposing sides.

The worst thing you can do is pretend to be a big boss while visiting the office, criticizing all around you. You will just prove your incompetence that way. If your employees work only under pressure, you’ve failed as a manager as well as a leader. You are the first person who must act up to the standards established for your team; otherwise, each member will criticize you.

People work not just for money. Usually a powerful and rarely expressed motive is to add value: to have something to be proud of, to be a part of something significant. Eventually, people develop their vision of the steps required for overall success.

A company head’s vision is broader. They can estimate the whole picture and understand what actions and initiatives of employees don’t align with their strategic plan. Facing them, they close the secondary projects’ financing and ignore the ideas proposed by team members.

However, team members don’t see the whole picture, that’s why your actions may be unclear. Imagine someone who had been hatching a plan for years. Finally, you agreed to make it real; your employee started to implement it and did some work. Suddenly you pull the plug on the project with no explanation. As a result, the employee will lose their motivation and turn into a zombie, acting on the principle: ‘I do my job: they pay. I don’t care about the rest.’ They’re not going to last much longer like this, especially if they get a more interesting job offer (sometimes it can even be a less-paid job).

Even worse is when unpopular measures, such as layoffs or wage cuts, are taken with no explanation. Without realizing that it was a forced decision, your team members will find their reasons. So if you do not want to get a reputation as a petty tyrant, share your plans and vision with your team. It will help you understand each other better.

Suddenly, increased control takes its toll.

Let’s imagine a company where everyone is just doing their job and is focused on results, but can still come to the office in ripped jeans, be late for half an hour, or chat with a friend on Facebook for a bit. And then one day the nuts are drawn up tight. Middle managers are forced to dress down staff members, even though their relationships have been informal for a long time. In addition, each click is kept in a corporate logbook.

The climate of trust suffers most in this situation. For any staff member, such surveillance means a loss of trust. If they believe there were no serious grounds for it, they will stop trusting you in return. Suspicion offends and humiliates an honest person.

Then, secrets, intrigue, and backstabbing will appear. Previously annoying problems that were visible to you, are now hidden. At first glance, everything may seem in order, but something invisible stays behind the scenes.

Speeding up the implementation of these formalities only accelerates their victory over common sense. For example, you can call the department head and tell them off for high delays percentage, and a general mess in the department. Also, you can categorically demand written explanations for late arrivals. Offense and anger — it’s the least that they would feel, especially if their team has been working to the point of exhaustion and has brought great profit in the current months. After receiving such a reprimand, they would come to the obvious (but unpleasant for you) conclusion: for you as a manager, skirt length, formal greetings, and dress code are more important than profit and a welcoming atmosphere. As you asked, they would persuade their subordinates to write an explanatory note, telling them: ‘Please, do this, I beg you! Let’s make this idiot calm down…’ having a pile of formal replies, you will be sure that the situation is normalized. You’ve just taken a step back from your team.

Soon the point of no return will be passed. You will finally demonize yourself; team members will avoid you, trying to stay out of your sight in ‘informal’ clothing, or not to remind you of the week-old lateness. Realizing that your ‘Titanic’ is rushing into the iceberg at full steam, everyone will keep quiet, preparing their lifeboats.

Some people won’t be able to withstand it and will lose their temper. You will fire them, hoping that it will be a lesson for the rest. However, the rest will conclude they have only two ways out: to accept the new rules or to break free, leaving the company. The new corporate culture will just drive out people who are used to the old one. What is more, they all can suddenly leave after some of your ‘crazy stunts’ (yeah, they will take it that way). One day you will find dozens of resignation letters on your desk.

After a while you indignantly realize that your former employees have gone to a competitor who offered them just normal working conditions, or even worse — they have founded a company where they can work without much stress. Most likely, you will tell your friends and colleagues that you are the victim of an insidious conspiracy, and then tell clients of the villains who work in ‘that company’. Most of them will realize that you are just an incompetent leader who personally drove the situation to a complete breakdown.

The situations described above may arise in business primarily because a boss doesn’t understand and respect their employees, and loses authority and credibility. Paradoxically, the head of a company becomes ‘the weakest link’. Team members realize they act more efficiently and work in a much more comfortable environment while the head is absent. If the work climate is healthy, a leader can’t stand against most of the team. Otherwise, a leader becomes a ‘black sheep’.

A real leader will not distance themselves from the team and will never try to break it. It’s important to find ways to improve the corporate culture without using tough authoritarian practices that ruin the climate of trust and goodwill among team members.

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