Management Sucks 001: No, It’s Not “Just Business”

While working as a developer and then later as a manager for  “The Monolith” for 15 years, I learned a lot about how old-style corporations feel about their regular employees.    This new series, Management sucks, explores some of the experiences I had while trying to manage a team of developers in that ultra-structured corporate environment.

Many times in my final years at “Monolith” corporation, I heard these words uttered to me:

It’s not personal, it’s just business

The words were usually used to describe a situation where a very productive, yet not “directionally correct” (more on that term another time) employee, was going to be affected by a “lay-off”.

To me, swallowing this kind of language was one of the worst things about being a manager.   To really take in part what was happening, you needed to force it down your throat, digest it, and then make it part of your daily regimin.

My problem with this kind of language, especially with the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s just business“, is that I really did not believe it.  To believe that phrase to be true, I had to set-aside everything I truly felt about people and how they work best on a team in an organization.

The thing is, to say “it’s not personal” when you are about to do the following,  is a complete lie:

1. Take away someone’s livelihood.

2. Show someone that the entire collection of their skills and experiences is not at all worth while to the company.

3. Giving an employee no notice of a lay-off, then using an outside agency to relay the bad news instead of doing it yourself.

4. To tell someone, in no uncertain terms, that you are not interested in seeing them again on the premises, and to treat them as an intruder and escort them out of the building, when just minutes before they were a trusted employee.

In fact, to me, it was one of the most “personal” things you could ever do.  It very well is business, but it is also very personal.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand “why” things are done this way, and I’m not suggesting that it is the wrong way to do it.  But I am saying that, if you have the attitude that the act is “not personal, just business” you are fooling yourself.   That kind of attitude helps lead to a place where you disconnect yourself from the realities of your employees.

It’s something that happened to me, and it is one of the reasons I needed to make a change in my career.   The same day that I actually said to myself “It’s not personal, it’s just business” as I sent an email that would effectively terminate a very loyal and hard working contractor, was the day I knew I needed to try something new. It was the day that I came to conclusion once and for all that Management Sucks.

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