|Corporations have turned the concept of Town Halls on its head|
Corporate America has turned this idea on its head.
Now, instead of a venue for citizens (or in this case employees) to present their opinions, management uses these meetings as a tool for expressing their own views in a way that purports to be egalitarian and inclusive. But really, it’s more of a “state of the union” address. It is not designed or intended for public discourse.
At the end of each town hall meeting, the presenter (usually the CEO or one of his shills) will ask for questions.
Typically, no one speaks up. To do so would be a “career limiting move.”
Norman Rockwell must be turning over in his grave.
Case in point. At my previous company, I attended a town hall in which the CEO announced the company’s new policy of “adjusting infrastructure ahead of volume declines,” which was a thinly disguised euphemism for lay-offs at the manufacturing facility.
“Any questions?” asked the 7 foot, 300 pound former basketball player.
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I wanted to ask — “how can you justify layoffs while at the same time the company just bought a $50+ million Gulfstream G550 jet for your own use? (The company already owned two other planes for the other executives to use.) [Source: flightaware.com]
How many ‘infrastuctures’ could have kept their jobs if the company hadn’t bought that jet?
But I didn’t ask that of course.
She replied that she had started to raise her hand to ask a question, and the woman next to her pulled her arm down.
Amy said to the woman, “why shouldn’t I ask my question?”
The answer: “They don’t actually want you to ask questions; not real ones anyway.”
No, management doesn’t want any questions.
My department, of course, never held a Town Hall. We did, however, have quarterly meetings, which was the minions’ only chance to see the GC live and up close — at least if you had the guts to sit in the front of the room. Most people sat in the back.
After all the mind-numbing presentations filled with corporate jargon, double-speak and nonsensical terms, she would ask for questions.
It’s like that famous line in A Few Good Men” — “You can’t handle the truth!”
Except that it’s not that exactly. It’s not that management can’t handle the truth. Management doesn’t want to know the truth, and they don’t care about the truth either.
|“I don’t care about the truth!”|
In my experience, when the results come out, management highlights the good results and minimizes the bad ones.
Hey—92% of employees like the free parking! Great.
Only 32% of employees think their views are important and that they feel like a valued member of a team. Oh well, must be a few disgruntled employees. No action plan needed here.
Let’s hear it for free parking!
The fact is, employees are fungible in this economy. What they think is immaterial.
The only thing that matters to a large, publicly held company is “shareholder value.”
Or, put another way, “what the street thinks.” Meeting or exceeding analysts’ expectations is key to upper management.
Take the case of Symantec, a technology company that makes Norton anti-virus software. It recently announced its second quarter earnings:
Another recent headline announced: “Altria beat earnings estimate for the third quarter of fiscal ’14, led by higher pricing of tobacco products; the company also raised its guidance . . .” Bidenessetc.com, October 30, 2104.
Admittedly, employees who own stock in the company are happy when stock prices go up. But if you look behind the headlines, it’s easy to see that the employees are the ones paying the price. As the Symantec news indicated, its second quarter profit rose because “better cost and expense control helped offset [the] decrease in revenue.”
Better cost and expense control often translates into “infrastructure adjustments” which in turn means—layoffs.
Another result of “cost and expense control”– employees are asked to “do more with less.” As employees leave the company, they are not replaced. Instead, their work is spread around among the remaining employees. Do those employees get a raise or promotion? Of course not. They are asked to “tighten their belts.”
But does management do the same? Of course not.
I once participated in an utterly useless cross-functional team that was supposed to come up with ideas as to how to make the company “more green.” I suggested that all company cars, including the cars driven by the executives, be replaced with Priuses.
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No, while rank and file employees are asked to “tighten their belts,” upper management still gets their free cars, free gasoline, hotel suites and first class travel. And a driver who shows up at the airport at midnight to drive the V.P. home. The rest of us can drive.
Or, as Bernie Taupin once put it: “Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown.”
So let’s dispense with the Town Hall meetings (or at least call them something else).
After all, vaudeville is dead.
Important note: My current place of employment does follow the true Town Hall model. More on that later.