Corporations: Killers Of The Human Spirit?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I often read that corporations don’t care, period. By their very nature, they can’t. Their only reason for existence is to maximize shareholder return. It’s inherent in this goal that people must be regulated and controlled, and therefore the human spirit and its creativity get crushed. You are a cog in a heartless machine … (blah blah, then they go on to make some other point about how to fight this).

This is such bullshit that I am forced to use mild profanity. I’ve never once met a corporate leader, or a manager , who thought that killing their team’s creativity and motivation was a good idea, or that getting them to turn off their brains and ‘do what they’re told’ is the best way to serve shareholders.

Those policies and systems that kill our spirit? Guess what, they are created up and down every organization, by well meaning people and teams who are trying to prevent problems in the future, trying to protect their companies, trying to do their best. When problems arise, the question gets asked: How do we make sure this never happens again? Create a policy, initiate a required process, set clear limits. It happens at every level. Set up a cross functional team to solve a problem, and they will create a policy dictating future behavior of employees.

The corporation isn’t to blame – we’re all to blame. Can you imagine being charged by your superior to look at a problem that caused a big loss and coming back with this answer: ‘I’m absolutely confident that everyone learned a searing lesson from this. Everyone grew as a result. Trust me, this will never happen again. The best course is to do absolutely nothing.’

Why are government departments so often mind-numbingly rigid and inefficient? Because every time a bureaucrat makes a significant mistake, the media blow it into a big scandal, polls slide, and governments react by creating more rules, eliminating both any creativity and (hopefully) the possibility of another scandal. Who creates impersonal, inflexible government bureaucracy and the often unhappy people you find there? The voters do. You and I do.

(I’m guilty too, of course. More than once I have asked: ‘Who created that idiotic policy?’ ‘You did, Geoff.’ ‘Oh. Well, kill it anyway.’)

So the next time you read or hear about how companies are inherent killers of the human spirit, get your whole department together and find a big mirror to look into. We’re all guilty.

OK, that was a rant, but isn’t that what blogs are for? Thanks very much anyway.