Why You Got 99 (%) Problems in your Organization

If there’s one aspect of organizational dynamics that chaps my hide it’s the elitism that naturally surfaces due to the structural settings inherent in corporate hierarchies.

In our capitalist power-network we have several specific classes: the business-owning class, the self-employed and small-business owners, and the working-class. We can also certainly argue that there is another class consisting of highly trained professionals (physicians, lawyers, etc.) who, by virtue of intellect or specialization, have a place at the top of the power structure and remain in close proximity to the business-owning class.

Let’s face it though – in many organizations there are essentially two classes:

  • the big boys (and I have no problem referring to the elites in that gendered manner)
  • everybody else

Everybody else, of course, being the 99%. Those of us who are not the top dog.

But our tendency, as human beings, is to assert our own exceptionalism by scrambling and clawing our way to the pinnacle of some sort of mountain. It’s why here in my state of Louisiana, when yet another cringe-inducing report highlights our rank as 49th in something, Louisianians like to say “Hey! At least we’re not Mississippi!”  It’s why evil reigns in the world as our citizens – and politicians – successfully “other” people.  It’s why the unseen aspects of caste, as explored by Isabel Wilkerson in her masterful book (seriously; go read it), not only formed who we are as the USofA but continue to permeate our everyday lives.

And within our organizations we thrive on this shit. We memorialize the divisions. We idolize the few over the many. We glorify those who are sitting atop the mountain peak…and we install artificial barriers to prevent others from scaling the slope.

Far too many middle managers and HR leaders (glorified middle-managers), intoxicated by their amorphous organizational power, forget they are actually a member of the 99%. So rather than speaking truth to power or fighting the good fight, they bask in their ability to impose organizational constraints that serve little purpose other than shoring up their own unabashed desire to consider themselves part of the company’s 1% club.

We see this when they:

  • Implement attendance policies that promote flexibility for the elite and punish the masses for being 1 minute late to work
  • Have “leadership team” dinners, retreats and outings while wondering why the masses aren’t ecstatic (!) because Fred’s Ice Cream Truck will be coming to the parking lot for an hour on a summer Friday
  • Readily negotiate benefit offerings with the elite (“No problem Dave; we’ll give you 4 weeks of vacation on date of hire”) while lamenting the “excessive” use of sick/vacation time used by the masses
  • Enroll the elites in the “Wine of the Month” club while handing out company-branded water bottles to the plebes in the warehouse
  • Provide a super special parking lot (close to the building! Can’t let them get their expensive leather loafers wet!) that’s barely 25% full while the masses park far (far) away
  • Deploy seemingly arbitrary and capricious steps in the employee selection process including post=offer screening for recreational marijuana usage for *safety sensitive* positions even while Bob the SVP of Sales openly celebrates 420 day with reckless abandon

Gotcha. Corporations, business entities and governmental institutions are not democracies. Someone has to make the difficult decisions. We reward and recognize on merit, performance and other measurements that are commensurate with “value” to the organization. To the victors go the spoils.

But here’s a tip: if you’re in HR you best remember the 99%. Because YOU, my friend, are one of them.

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