Watching my feline family and how they move from location to location seemingly at random, lead me to the random thought that life is but a series of small vignettes. Playing with friends, going to school for the first time, middle school, high school, college, first job, first crush, first kiss, friends that are found and lost, etc. are all small moments in life that at the time are ones we believe will last forever.
As we live life and even as we look back, it is clear that some of these vignettes cross and overlap, some are separate and the distance between them can be jarring when looking back, yet what they all have in common is that they make up a large part of who we become and who we are as people.
As these moments in time, these vignettes seem a lifetime when they are occurring, there is often a myopic focus only on that particular moment even when looking back, though this becomes stronger as we age and gain more knowledge and experience. The younger we are, the less of life has been lived and the less vignettes and awareness of them.
Yet as we age, we reach the point where within the first few moments of a situation it is possible to have a feeling of familiarity with a situation, feel a nagging thought as if this has happened or that even if it is slightly different, the outcome is predictable. Moments where thoughts such as “Ignorance is bliss where knowledge is a curse, for even those that have learned from the past are sometimes doomed to repeat it.” come readily to mind.
Oddly, and perhaps it is a bit sad, but at least insofar as I have noticed, the vignettes truly only come to mind in two situations, when any change happens, such as a new better paying job, marriage, a favorite restaurant closes, loss of a friend, a family member names you a godparent, a hobby becomes impossible because of cost, etc. and when there is uncertainty about the present and fear of the future.
These feelings, both positive and negative trigger a look to the past and both a wondering ‘what if’, perhaps remembering a past that never occurred and a future that never was, times that might have been sad but also times that looking back seemed so much better than the present.
Perhaps in a world where people fear the future, live uncertain of the present and desire the past, one that is increasingly coming into existence, more people are looking back and this, in part, explains throwbacks to the 1980’s, remakes of movies and people clinging to a time when, at least as much as it ever has, the world made sense.
On a much more microscopic level, I see numerous examples every day within my work life and private life of people longing for a past that might never have been and desiring a future that never was and likely never will be.
I see it in family remembering their childhood as they raise their children and even in silly things, such as friends increasingly showing great excitement in a show soon to have a Blu-ray release, one we all remember seeing almost 20 years ago on television, the Japanese anime Big O.
That in turn triggered discussions and talks about how Cartoon Network’s Toonami block back in the early to mid 2000’s, was awesome with shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Big O and even Case Closed; a time when what they brought over was more edgy and even the more ‘kid side’ of Cartoon Network was still going for more daring and original shows such as the original Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
As we talked it felt odd to me that the release of any show that is almost 20 years old can bring fond memories of ‘those days’, times when even seniors in high school and college freshmen and sophomores, a least looking back, saw life as so much simpler and how whatever fears now exist, weren’t even considered to be possible.
Outside of my private life, there is my work life and while I am sure my workplace is not unique in this, increasingly within my workplace, people are increasingly frightened and scared, and sharing snippets of times they remember in the past, even the past of 2 or 3 years ago.
Though thinking about it, it makes sense, for within that passage of years, there have been a lot of good people let go or simply choose to leave, changes made that make no sense, an attempt to destroy the existing office culture and replace it with another as if it can be done with a snap of the fingers, so many changes and so much lost that it is little wonder people are remembering ‘the good old days’ of even two years ago.
Thus, there are quiet whispers of what has been lost, the annual employee appreciation picnic, holiday gatherings for the unit, a chance to actually meet the Board of Directors, paid classes for employees to better themselves in their job, a Human Resources department that seemed to be working with employees not against them and within the discussion of what has been lost, shared stories of employees long gone from the company, and of people whose actions were, though they themselves were sadly not at the time, greatly appreciated.
This has left me thinking back over a very brief, perhaps one year, moment within the company and all that has changed and how despite there being many small moments, they are truly all interlinked.
The first though that comes to mind is of the former CFO and how things were so much nicer with him as, in my opinion, the de facto leader of the company.
He was someone that, for the various individual units that made up his department (about half of the company), worked to encourage, not artificially force, unity through quarterly birthday lunches and departmental breakfasts; arranged yearly holiday gatherings ranging from a fancy dinner to a daylong “Taste of…” event, where those in his department would leave the office for a full day of touring and eating at various restaurants in the local city and actually gave the impression he cared about his people.
He also did much simpler things including a yearly Final Four bracket contest where the most accurate bracket(s) would win a 10-dollar gift card to a local restaurant and the winning bracket(s) would win a 15-dollar gift card for the same local restaurant and a ‘guess the number of Jelly Beans’ to win the jar for yourself or your children. No one was forced to participate but everyone felt good about being a part of whatever he had going on at the time.
Truthfully, he was very creative in finding ways to get people involved, build relationships and teams without resorting to what I will always call cheesy team building.
Those teambuilding events such as “if you were a tree what type of tree would you be” or “there is a sticker with a name on you back, ask your co-workers any question other than ‘who am I’, about that name to find out the historical or famous literary character you are and then do a brief skit as them”.
I am sure almost all of us are familiar with those types of events, the ones where some people are actually enjoying it, but most would prefer a very different type of clear liquid in than glass or bottle than the water that fills it. Yet, like it or not, it is the type of event where everyone titters and jokes about the answers coworkers give and the impressions of the chosen tree people are forced to make or the famous historical person or literary character as who they had to act. Yet, again in my experience, these events have never truly build teams or bonded people as part of a team.
There is something to be said for embarrassing moments where everyone is making fun of themselves building commonality between people that can form a team, but those moments have to occur naturally and within the course of events, not artificially created where people remember the events and laugh but that is where the unity ends, at least in my experience, but I digress.
With all he did that was good, the CFO was still not without his faults, that much is certain. Yet the number of good things both small and large he helped bring about were invaluable toward gaining and maintaining far more trust and loyalty, if not to himself at least to the company, then these events could ever have cost either him or the company.
Yet, despite the obvious examples he gave of how it should be done, the moment he left things changed; gone where the quarterly birthdays, breakfasts and Final Four Brackets and no longer did units gather as a combined department for the holiday gatherings or get together for impromptu walks around the area at lunch.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, individual units might have an occasional holiday lunch or birthday cupcake purchased, or someone might have an afternoon holiday gathering at their house, but in the end, even those events are with far fewer people as there was less unity since no individual unit holds the power or resources to organize anything major or to bring units together that he held or his successors (yes, within three years it is successors, plural) held/hold.
If anything, his successors seem, intentionally to be doing the opposite and driving groups apart, silo-ing units, while claiming they are for unity and the breaking down of silos.
Without any guiding force to unify or bring the groups together, even for silly events like “guess the number of jelly beans”, gaps began to form between the units, work that was always there suddenly intervened and the impromptu walks even ceased.
While the people within different units remained friends, the units grew distance to the point they didn’t and still don’t, talk as much to each other and started to self-isolate, guarding their own territory jealously, even when that territory is shared on a project and communication should take place.
Granted, his departure cannot and should not be labeled as the sole cause for the lack of group unity or even for the initial subtle and now drastic shift of n office culture away from that of family to that of something else, but failure to follow his example in how to build and maintain a family culture and friendship between groups can, and in my opinion, must be unequivocally stated as a large part of the reason that now, there is little motivation, people leave almost as soon as they start and trust, loyalty and faith in the company and its new leadership is far less than that to which people give to ‘discount generic cereal brand x’.
If possible though, it is far worse than merely a of how to unify people leading to a loss of trust and loyalty in the leadership, it is a shift of power upwards, isolating itself at the top. In so doing the leadership is forgetting that like any pyramid the top is far less important than the base.
It quickly began apparent that since his departure and this shift of consolidating and isolating power at the top, this has gone from a place where people wanted to be, one where they spent time laughing and joking with a feeling of being part of a larger family, to one where people whisper in the shadows, where no one fully trusts others to the point conversations often cease if another person approaches, or a shadow moves, and it has become a place where people no longer fight for promotion but have become terrified to get a raise or promotion for fear it makes them a larger target for dismissal.
Just briefly on the history of the company’s leadership outside of the CFO… when I started, there was a woman who had been here for close to 15 years. She may or may not have been a good leader, I can’t say beyond that she always struck me more of an Aunt Bea than a Margret Thatcher, who let the CFO truly run things. That said, she was beloved, always seemed to appreciate and encourage the existing office culture, laughed and joked with staff and at least made it seem as if everything was done in the open and that she cared for the staff.
In direct contrast the new leadership does everything in a cloak and dagger fashion, they resort to Orwellian speak-think in the staff meetings, promising one thing and routinely delivering another while trying to spin that difference as people mishearing what was said originally and since meetings are no longer recorded, it is impossible for anyone to go back and check the record. They state there is an open-door policy while openly saying they are creating a locked section to which people will need to be buzzed in to see them.
They stand in front of the staff and admit weakness, while adding their life coach is helping them work on being strong. They bring in consultants whose power trumps those of department heads who are actually supposed to be in charge. They show continual signs of being unprepared at speeches through dependency on notecards to the point they will stop their speech and sort through the notecards if they feel they are out of order and they seem uncomfortable with groups as they will make awkward jokes and leave obvious pauses for laughter that doesn’t come, pauses so awkward that if it were a cartoon there would be crickets, a tumbleweed and possibly a polite cough.
All of this is being done as they work as hard as they can, as if they were trying to copy and paste over text in a Word document, to replace the existing office culture with one that fits their ‘vision’, while ignoring or simply not caring about the impact this is having on staff.
Seeing this leadership, I, and those that will speak to me about this, look back in our own lives and remember both the former leadership here and leaders we knew in our life, teachers, coaches, tutors, people that always seemed strong and indomitable, people who never admitted weakness and, at least seemingly, never took actions that would lose them loyalty and trust without a good reason.
Again, contrast the leadership people remember and think fondly of to the current leadership where even if those in charge actually know what they are doing, the general feeling they have created by their own previous actions, is they have no clue beyond a belief that every single one of their actions must guide the company toward their new grand vision; a vision that is so specifically vague it verges on being vaguely specific. Again, is it any wonder loyalty now rests more heavily with a generic discount cereal brand then it does with them?
Okay, in complete fairness even this leadership realizes they are losing loyalty and trust faster than a FTL ship can make it from the Earth to Mars.
Yet, instead of asking themselves how to win back trust and loyalty, instead of asking, or perhaps caring, how it was so strong before they took power and what is costing them loyalty and trust now, three things are being done. The first thing they are doing is a step many leaders facing the same problem choose, replace as many people as possible as quickly as possible with new staff that doesn’t remember the old days and ways the company used to be run and therefore have no comparisons to make to the present and is less likely to challenge or question the current path.
The second thing is to create an atmosphere of so much fear that people are scared to speak outloud and more likely to follow the leadership, not because they believe in it, ut because until they can flee, they have no choice but to follow it, so long as they desire to even have a chance at staying with the company.
Thirdly is a direct promise from the new president/CEO, who has already broken more promises to staff than days are in year. He has sworn to staff that he has a secret plan to win back our trust and loyalty…a secret plan to do something… why does that have a vague historical ring to it, something about a secret plan to end a war…
Regardless, I am sure he will be implementing it at any time now since several months (six) have passed with no obvious signs of the plan being evident. Now, in fairness he has been busy globetrotting on the company’s dime for company business to locations that coincidently take him to places his family is on vacation.
At any rate s a result of all these changes, all that is going on, I certainly and based on how fast people are leaving anymore, so many others that have been here as little as three years, to turn to the wisdom of the mysterious people behind all the “it has been written” moments, and realize that it has been written that when something ceases to be enjoyable, it is time to move on, and perhaps that is true.
There are enough people that I know, knew, at work who are leaving at a quicker speed than ever before and even I have reached out, asking friends to keep their eyes open for me as the usual methods of online applications and job agencies are proving themselves as helpful and useful as four horseshoes on a Ford Mustang.
It is times like these when I look back to the good leaders, teachers and coaches that I knew, that I begin to wonder how, beyond having a major connection to this company’s largest donor, someone with seemingly no or poor delegation skills, no indication he is actually leading rather than letting others fill the vacuum and either taking credit or placing blame, ever became a leader and also wondering how widespread this is both in a business sense and in a global sense.
Well, as these thoughts fill my mind I am looking at my dozing feline family, and wondering if they too experience small vignettes, and compare the past to the present and think of how better things were when… or are they so living “the life of Riley” that nothing exists to trigger that type of vignettes. Though in fairness I must say they certainly aren’t taking to the spring bedcovers as quickly as they took to the winter ones, so maybe they are looking back and wondering what happened to those plush fluffy covers and how easily they sunk into them for a midday’s nap and to that extent missing those ‘good old days’.