Monday, November 17, 2008

strong, silent, beer-providing

Kelley and I own a new business, Humans at Work, LLC. I say 'we' because we are legal partners in the enterprise, but Kelley has done all the work. She's the Managing Partner. I'm a silent partner. When K asked if it was okay to tell others I was a silent partner, I said, Yes, but tell them I'm the strong, silent partner (sort of like being tall, dark, and handsome except, er, I'm medium, pale and...oh, never mind). But I also provided beer, which is a most necessary component of any creative enterprise. So I've done my bit.

So what is Humans at Work? It's monumentally awesome. And cool. And it will change the world. How? By changing managers--giving them people skills. Kelley has written a magnificent rant about Bad Managers Leaders' Manifesto:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a bad manager. Go on. Put it in the air for the Boss From Hell who derailed your work, made arbitrary decisions, sent mixed messages, withheld information, micromanaged, sandbagged your process, put up roadblocks, put you down, took your credit, took your confidence, made you frightened, made you crazy, made you cry.

Now look around at the biggest problem in business. Look at all those hands.

What’s going on? In this era of supposedly enlightened leaders running so-called team-based businesses, with an MBA in every office and a knowledge worker in every cubicle, why can’t we address this most basic and most damaging issue? Why do millions of us — millions of us — leave jobs we love because of managers we can no longer endure, or stay and tough it out at enormous cost to ourselves and the people around us? Why are those the only choices?

Why don’t we manage each other better?

We carry a cargo of hopes and dreams and fears into our first jobs: we get slapped into reality by the grinding daily struggle with co-workers and supervisors and executives. And so it begins: the us-versus-them mindset. The bunker mentality. The view of human beings as ‘resources’ or ‘capital’. The military model of business, where we’re all crushing the competition, whether they be the company down the block or the guy at the next desk. The sports model of business, where we’re still doing the crushing but are expected to slap each other on the butt afterwards and go out for a friendly beer, just to show there are no hard feelings.

Work is a human thing, the product of human brains, human muscles, human spirits, human hearts. I hate to break it to all the corporate running backs out there, but feelings are a part of people and therefore a part of business. Frustration, defensiveness, fear; courage, conscience, love. Work is a human thing, the product of human brains, human muscles, human spirits, human hearts. And so work, like the humans who do it, can be awkward and exciting and scary and sometimes messy. And it has the human potential for joy, if business would only make room for it.

But too many companies behave as if the goal of work is to leave our humanity at the door. How else to explain why companies so often reward bad managers? You’ve done a great job, Bill, they say, meaning sales are up, costs are down, margins are good. Bill’s people might feel like a team of whipped dogs, but by golly he sure drives them to the finish line. So Bill gets a raise and a bonus, and his people learn that no one cares how they are treated at work.

Read the rest here.

And when I say 'giving' them people skills, I mean it. Everything is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Are we crazy? No, we're serious about changing the world. A better world means, well, a better world, a more congenial place to live for everyone. Think of it as a selfish gesture. (But if you want a more cogent explanation, read it here.)

Kelley's goal is for every working person on the planet to have access to these skills so, please, point people to Humans at Work. Point them to her blog about it. Point them to a better life. We'll all benefit.

This blog has moved. My blog now lives here: