05 April, 2008

Corporate Chromatography

Scientists use a process called chromatography to separate component parts of a mixture. I'm not going to get into a whole lot of detail about this process, there's a decent article in wikipedia about it and I'm sure there are plenty of other articles scattered across the web. I'm no industrial but the analogy fits my rant for today...so bear with me.

Chromatography basically works on density, with the component parts of the mixture dividing themselves out into bands of like-substances over time.

My experience with the corporate world strangely seems to reflect the chemical process of chromatography and I'm starting to wonder if the process is some kind of universal constant that applies as much to social and ideological interactions as it does to chemical interactions.

When you talk to someone who has been successful in the corporate world (or any other social field for that matter), they love to use the phrase "the cream rises to the top". I've heard it used by numerous people in plenty of different fields, I can only guess that some motivational speaker must have said it in a corporate seminar and it spread from there. [Before we go much further, I am aware that this phrase has origins far older than the current batch of motivational speakers and self-help ideologies...but it seems strange that so many people have been using it recently in this manner.]

The intention of using this phrase is to make the listener think that the best people rise to positions of power. If anyone puts their mind to it and becomes the best person that they can, then they'll naturally rise to the position they deserve. The first thing I think of when I hear the phrase is "Pond scum floats on the surface as well".

In my experience, there are far more people who have risen through the ranks of the corporate world being slimy than there are those who've risen through hard work and actually being good at what they do. In fact, the only people I've met in positions of power who actually seem to be competent are either the 2-I-C to slimy individual, or they are about to be betrayed by another slimy individual who is rising just as quickly behind them. I may be wrong, and I sincerely hope that I am, but my experience hasn't differed in this regard.

Those who act with integrity are viewed as fair game, their honesty, honour and ethics are seen by corporate climbers as a crutch that will only slow them down.

Those who act as dynamic forces within their jobs are scorned as renegades and trouble-makers who aren't towing the corporate line, which seem to always tend toward conservatism and avoiding change at all costs.

Those who show any sign of weakness or who may make even the slightest mistake are seized to give the slimy corporate climbers another rung to climb up on their ladder to success.

As time progresses, those with depth of character sink to the bottom of the talent pool, while those who play the superficial and shallow game of corporate etiquette end up rising through the ranks despite having no aptitude for the roles they may actually be in [Eye candy rises even more quickly; but given how vacuous those individuals tend to be, it just confirms my corporate chromatography theory].

I can only imagine that the same sort of theory applies to the public service, as my encounters over the last few days have proven. The receptionists in the Job referral centre seem to know what they are doing, the case officers lose files left and right, the managers of the office are unable to actually deal with problems and hide in their glass walled offices, peeking glances through the shuttered blinds fearful of the world outside.

I'll keep observing this phenomenon and see if any changes need to be made to my theory.
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