I was a little fat social outcast. Who knew I would grow up to be The Man.
That’s right. I’m the Baby Boom white guy holding everybody else down. I enforce the rules of our capitalist economy. I reveal in a left-brained approach to problem solving and “manage” people at work — trying to squeeze out the maximum number of widgets for the least amount of cost.
When there’s no more blood left in your turnip of a body, I’m the guy who asks for the last drop.
When I screw up, or higher up leaders screw up, or the non-existent god infects the planet with a pandemic virus, I’m the guy who tells you to “do more with less”. Or worse, we don’t need “you” anymore. We’ll mail you your final pittance on the way out and good luck to ya.
For the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of time saying, “that’s just the way things are,” as I enforce one rule after another. Over time, we tell ourselves there’s a reason behind most rules.
Sometimes the reason is a good one, but the remedy is awful:
- Layoffs to save “some jobs”
- Write ups to “document” a mistake
- Performance evaluations to compare one worker bee to another
- Job descriptions that fit people into neat little boxes so we can set a value on their “worth”
Each little step effectively dehumanizes “workers”. Read any HR policy manual. After 20 minutes, it’s pretty clear they really want machines to do all the work without complaint or complications. Robots don’t have a “color” or sex parts. They don’t have cultures that are slightly different. Robots don’t bitch about each other. Easier to control.
Much more efficient to fill them with lube and energy and watch them pound away at whatever mindless task needs to be done that day.
Robots don’t have feelings. They don’t talk back (yet). There are days when that sounds like “management heaven.”
Ass backward Management
I fell ass backward into this role. I was busy bitching about The Man from one job to the next (even when she was a woman).
Anger and frustration and getting sick of watching other people fuck up made me speak up.
Then someone who looked like me, thought like me, gave me a little bit of control. Put manager in my title. First projects and products — then people.
Put it on the resume, drew a bigger share of the company’s resources. Got to a place when I had some input on how we slice up that pie — who is deserving of what. But there are rules and past mistakes and other shit that gets in the way — it’s never fair. In a big organization, it’s impossible to make it “right.”
I’ve been The Man in one small form or another for about 20 years — longer if you count teaching 9th grade. (One of the few perks of teaching is the occasional independence and control you can have once you close the classroom door — they cut costs so much most principals have too many teachers to evaluate — they can’t even look in more than once a year).
Early on, I learned there are no perfect decisions. There’s never enough data in the right format. (Big Data is the latest proof of “figures don’t lie but liars figure”). There are always trade offs and risks. Who to hire, who to promote, who do you focus on to make sure they don’t leave.
"For every person I hire, I create 9 enemies and 1 ingrate."
Abraham Lincoln (Maybe)
All of those decisions about how to reward or punish humans often come down to the bias, prejudices and slanted view of The Man.
We all feel more comfortable around people who look and act like we do. Look at churches and funeral parlors. When it comes to our most important times in life, birth, marriage, death we cling to “our own.”
It’s easy to do the same when you are The Man. Each hire or fire controls income, family stability, financial health, and health itself (fucked-up insurance system).
Anybody who is The Man needs to know that they don’t have to be a hater and a racist to perpetuate “systematic racism.” Look at the aggregate data for any race or gender and there are lots of advantages for looking like The Man.
Right now, The Man is a baby-boom white guy.
It’s harder to pick people who don’t look and act like you. They may be better at the job, but it may be harder to see. It can feel like a risk. Doubt and fear can fuck up any fair decisions.
Those issues apply to a lot more than managers filling jobs. Doctors with healthcare, juries with cases, prosecutors, police, teachers… everyone with a little bit of power. My only solace is trying to recognize my own bias. Fight those feelings.
Try to mentor people who don’t look like me. Give “others” the benefit of the doubt when I can. Who knows if I’m any good at it.
If you ask the people I work with, they will probably tell you I suck — like every other manager. Because that’s how people think about The Man…
One software engineer I worked with told me the typical day was “1 hour of writing code, and 7 hours of bitching about the manager.”
Most managers like that little sense of power. They get a kick out of enforcing rules and for just part of their day being The Man.
I generally hate that shit. My only goal is that when I have to be The Man, I try not to be an asshole… harder than it sounds.
Update: June 11, 2020
Sorry for the first people who saw this post and clicked to a blank page. Fucking WordPress had “saving errors”. Looked fine when I “scheduled” it to publish. But it published a blank page in the morning.
Fortunately, WordPress keeps its feathers numbered for just such occasions and had a “history”. Copy, paste and reformat the HTML so you could see this version almost complete version.
I had added some brilliant bullshit in the middle of the night, but that shit got lost in the WordPress error, and I couldn’t remember it this morning…