Sunday, January 9, 2011

A New Year...the Same Old Focus

In the fledgling days of 1994, a retail store manager, with whom I worked alongside, crafted a document on his then very primitive computer. It nonetheless impressed one and all with its unusual and competing fonts, bold-lettered headlines, and colorful graphics. Headlined “A New Year, A New Focus,” it was specifically produced for the place's staff, who were asked to pore over its inspirational contents and inhale its lofty objectives like they would fresh roses in springtime.

This manager bloke was a disciple of the relatively new and somewhat chic approach to business management called Coaching and Mentoring. You know: Encourage each member of one’s team to boldly go where no employee has gone before by treating him or her like a bona fide human being—for starters—and offering him or her a lunch table of carrots along the way for innovating, working hard, and keeping eyes peeled to the future. Yada…yada…yada.

The major pothole on this business road to good intentions—for lack of a better description—was that there was no there there. This particular retail bossman affixed special titles to virtually every Tom, Dick, and Harriet, many of whom were minimum wage laborers unloading trucks and stocking shelves. Cashiers, for instance, were christened “front-end supervisors.” I’d wager they would have preferred raises. In fact, at that time, I had never even heard of the title. Of course, nowadays the woods are full of such meaningless labels. At the very least, isn’t everyone employed in Big Box Retail Land an “associate” or better than that?

From my observing eyes, “A New Year, A New Focus” quickly degenerated into an “A New Year, the Same Old Focus.” Why? Because it was a bogus bill of goods. Employees working for peanuts and, at best, cashews aren’t easily won over by extravagant promises of future opportunity and security in places with little evident opportunity and minimal security. And calling a pig a gazelle doesn’t make a pig a gazelle. It just makes the pig clamor for a little more bacon. The 1994 New Year's lesson is eternal.

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