By Kevin Kennemer, MA, SPHR
I want to tell you a little story about shock and awe in the workplace. Technically, the term comes from the military doctrine of using overwhelming power to dominate the enemy, but sometimes in life those who shock are not the ones who awe.
Walking out of the first floor lobby and into the parking garage, I couldn’t believe I had just been escorted to the elevator after undergoing a jobectomy: a termination meeting in a conference room with a member of management and an attorney in a sterile conference room. My offense? Not creating the type of culture the company wanted.
This was interesting considering the culture is the CEOs job and I, as the chief human resource officer, had been urging him for months we needed to make some changes, especially in the leadership department. I agree with a seasoned HR VP who once said, “Every human resource executive who believes in doing the right thing needs a go-to-hell fund.”
After months of agonizing days and nights dealing with the ruthless attacks from a psychotic, certifiable jerk boss, I was beginning to believe up was down and down was up. Jerks tend to wear down your sense of direction. However, I was not going to give up and leave, which would have been the best thing for my health and family. And I certainly was not going to give up my values, although the stakes were high.
My nerves and digestive tract were shot and the firing, in reality, came as a relief. However, the truth was cleverly hidden inside the company with those at the controls.
What did I know about that place? For months, I had observed terrible, uncivil and coercive behavior from a key executive. Many of his direct reports began to mimic his behavior likely as a survival response and also to increase their chances of receiving a nice bonus check from a highly subjective incentive program. Jerk bosses survive because people are afraid of them and unethical management looks the other way. They know bad bosses can get good people to do bad things.
On that day, I walked to my car, drove home, walked in the kitchen and told my family the news. We cried, we hugged, we laughed, we prayed and we survived.
When you smell smoke you have to make a choice: take a stand and stop the spread of fire, or run before you get burned.
Those who think they have the power to shock don’t always have the power to awe. Those who think they can do anything they wish – regardless of laws, ethics or standards of decency – end up being awed by a power much higher than us.
Eight months after that dreadful firing day, the shining star on the corporate hill in Tulsa, Okla. filed for bankruptcy – out of nowhere. People were floored by the shocking news! The company that could do no wrong was sinking. The CEO resigned in disgrace. The one who summarily dismissed my complaints about out-of-control executive behavior allowed the company to file bankruptcy and cost employees, vendors and investors hundreds of millions of dollars. The total button has yet to be hit, but it’s huge.
I have always believed where there is smoke there is fire. Uncivilized treatment of subordinates smells like smoke to me. When you smell smoke you have to make a choice: take a stand and stop the spread of fire, or run before you get burned.
Some people believe in karma. I believe in a higher power who is watching over those who endeavor to do good.