CHILDREN AT WORK
Regular readers of this column will remember my memorable series of coincidences involving bumping into an old university friend (and if neither of you can call it to mind, it's at http://www.ideaswillhappen.com/s4tw/grand_random_scheme_of_things.htm). Well, it's happened to me again; and as a result I found myself this week having lunch with an old friend and former client whom I haven't seen for ten years (note to all those other old friends who've been evading me: you can run, but you can't hide).
Anyway, like most of my former clients, he's now a fellow consultant (I still haven’t worked out whether this means I’m a role model to my peers, or someone they’re desperate to put out of business). I was looking forward to spending lunch playing my favourite game, ‘I can cite more theories than you’. Sadly, my companion turned out to be what trendy modern business thinkers call a ‘hyper-specialist’ and seemed, bizarrely for one of our profession, content to stay within his own area of expertise (ethical and principled ways of doing business, since you ask).
Clearly sensing my need for a topic I could pretend I knew something about, he ventured that the modern concept he finds himself using most often is Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis model. You’ll know this concept if you’ve ever bought a self-help book at an airport. It’s the one which shows you that your failures as a human being are down to the fact that your Inner Parent is critical rather than nurturing, and has left your Inner Child sitting outside your Inner Pub with a bag of crisps and an orange juice while he has a drink with your Inner Pessimistic Uncle (or something like that – I confess I only read the blurb on the back).
We got talking about how the modern organisation typically consists of a set of 'parents' (who know best) looking after (or punishing, depending on your view) the 'children' who make up the bulk of the workforce. They do this by making rules which imply that they, as parents, know best; and that any suffering on the children’s part is for their own good. Every so often, when the children find ways round these rules made for their benefit, the parents chide them and either change or reinforce them.
I was reminded of the chief executive who confided in me that after having raised three children, he found dealing with his executive team a doddle, since their behaviour generally was indistinguishable from that of toddlers ("It's not fair! You gave John half a million more than me on his budget!" etc). Maybe organisations should dispense with classic management theories and read books on Parenting instead.
For the last few weeks my television, due I suspect to a technical fault, seems to be showing Toddler Taming programmes on all channels simultaneously. Why not bring it to the workplace and have a series called The Office of Tiny Tearaways? As the manager gives a performance appraisal, we cut to the child psychologist sitting behind a one way mirror, issuing instructions via a hidden earpiece. "No, wait: you shouldn't reward negative behaviour. Don't let him see the share options until he's finished up all his investment appraisal. And don’t give in on bedtime: he’s leaving the office far too early."
As I continue to look for the Undiscovered Niche that will enable me to sit at home reading the paper while my acolytes go out spreading my ministry and earning me a massive margin on their expendable time, I wonder if, finally, I’ve cracked it. Following my bestselling tome on Taming the Inner Toddler of your Workforce, I could then reverse the equation and write another one about applying management techniques to child rearing.
I am, I confess modestly, something of an expert on this one. Only last week I managed to head off a Grievance Procedure from my teenage son. It hinged on his last appraisal, when I withheld the performance-related portion of his allowance because his school House Points for the term fell 20% short of agreed targets. His counter claim, that Helping With Washing Up was 20% up on the previous year, was to my mind irrelevant, since that is clearly a Core Job Responsibility rather than a Performance Improvement Goal. To complicate things, he’s suing for constructive dismissal after I outsourced the ‘lying around listening to music’ portion of his role (well, I’ve always found that a Temp responds more quickly to the command “Will you turn that so-called ‘music’ down!”).
So come on, TV Producers, give me a chance. I can’t wait to sit behind that one-way mirror, saying into the headset: “No, don’t give in: just explain calmly that Father Christmas doesn’t visit boys and girls who haven’t implemented their personal development plan.”
© Phil Lowe, 2005. All rights reserved.