Monday, 5 December 2016

An Angle on Management Cruelty

The reasons I hate you flourish in the environment they are made in so we can barely share this coughing air but are made still to stand inside it, in the same rooms, moving in the same concentric patterns from door to door, file to file, sanctioning forward motion to oblivion: If we are still neolithic in our eighties let’s hook up.

We’re trying to etch out our hatred for you. We hate you because of the things you do. Because of what you are. What you are we imagine doesn't marry to who you are. That is a possibility which for now we occlude. We feel this possibility must be occluded because “what you are” and “who you are” are co-dependent. “What you are” proceeds from “who you are” – your history, physiognomy, ideology etc. composed into a subject, not your own. An elastic possibility of a subject lingering, latent and terrifying; terrifying because in its latency, its immobility and non emergence it is already violent. What more when you become you? The subject of your own life to act as we would better hope you could?  “What you are” then feeds back into “who”, because “what” defines “who” in retrospect. As you become something, that something is subsumed into you. “What” (a manager) is inside you – the “who” that “what” is made for/of. You are who you are. “What you are” is made of “who you are” so “what you are” who “who you are” what “what you are” who “who you are” you are. You are our manager. The person whose job it is to manage not just us but the building we work in, its occupants, ours and their safety and most obviously “the business” which is contained within a nest of other businesses managed by an umbrella business which is in turn managed by a private equity firm. That firm manages down by buying. The next one by making, maintaining and selling four businesses, one of which is the one we work for whose business it is to maintain services, one of which we work for; whose business it is to support adults with high functioning autism or related diagnoses to gain independence and live meaningful lives with as much independence as possible. You manage this unit. You face down over three levels and face up through countless

I call these levels “The Great Mystery”, because I can’t see their reality as closely as I’d like to. As far as I can see it looks like this: Each service has a manager and a deputy manager. The manager is accountable to the regional manager, and the regional manager is accountable to a pantheon of hieroglyphs with swirling and deepening titles such as “head of quality” and “head of quality and marketing” who sit in a nest under the CEO whose previous local titles include Divisional Managing Director and Regional Manager (for the same company, and this structure is part of the cultural capital of the way the company sells its work - the promise that you may climb, but that some of the managers and regional managers claim their pay is equal to that of the support workers, probably a lie - payslips creak open to us - or the senior support workers, that we are not here for the money - often said during meetings in which bad news is broken i.e. “none of us are in this for the money” - the company sells its labour by the possibility of climbing through the ranks of the labour force, but that climbing is a kind of hazing whereby you prove you can take shit, give shit and survive shit)  and whose skills include Healthcare, Hospitals, Change, Management, Business, Strategy, Team Building, Training, Business, Development, Coaching, Management, Mental Health, Performance, Management, Leadership, Development, Organizational Development, and Recruiting. These skills screech above us like the stars. Take any one and place it next to another. The contradictions well up alongside the harmonies. You are what you are because you are able to create matter. You embody the impossible skillsets to head the impossible framework. You’re incredibly lyrical. The reason for hatred of unit managers is that their task is to translate this internal structure to us, but also to translate the structure above it, and above that. To make the private equity body at the very top (just below the IMF and banks) seem okay.

Truths well up because truths are emotional. Whoever is at the base of each one is the most at risk. But just above the base, and it really is quite a short distance from the base, there is a category desperate to detach themselves; to ascend. These objects are called “Managers” – service managers, unit managers, branch managers etc. There are some transient floaters just below them called “deputies”, but they are like balloons held close in a cluster before sale – before a mixture of guilt / obligation and quite possibly love / excitement (though not always) allows them to be freed from the clutches of the seller’s hand, only to be tugged into the hand of another more volatile human – a child, who could at any moment let them go. But the object called a manager understood this and found a way around it. The way around is swathed in mystery. It doesn’t do what it says it does. It doesn’t rise like knowledge in a tree. It gets itself dirty. It cheats its way. It lies about its figures. So long as you are happy with it, it will keep you (which is how you discover how lucky you are) and it may persuade you over and over again that you’re all in this together and that you’re doing the right thing. Every now and again it will seem to have done something really cruel. What has actually happened is far worse than a mere act of individual cruelty. When you stare up there are several stratospheres of ownership. Personally I look up to see my company nestled alongside four others in an umbrella company which is in turn owned by Advent International which is a private equity firm whose sole purpose is buying other firms. Firms that have perhaps failed, or are failing to do as well as they should but that brim with the potential only a well-earned kick up the labour force / service provision can instigate. Advent is an agent of salvation, which is dependent on change which is here defined (by Terms and Conditions – Welfare Edition. March 2012, London – as follows:

CHANGE – Invoked in a general, unqualified sense to consecrate as natural and inevitable a particular shift of power in favour of some interests and against others. The naturalistic alibi gets more persuasive as one petty interest strings together a series of coups: it’s the way the world is going; you can’t turn back time so you’d better adapt. Where particular change can be passed off by its partisans as Change in general, resistance to their next move is made to look like defence of an insufferable past.

With this understanding an act of individual cruelty is actually a fairly pathetic act of self-denial. The manager coming to defend his bold decision is actually following a subordinate line. The manager might really begin to wish that the decision which will be enacted was really made by him, even if it is an act of cruelty that will cause him to lose sleep, cause his relationships to break (at home and at work) and even cause potential action against him. He wants to take ownership of the decision because he knows full well it wasn’t his. He has been taken into a world where the possessed (whatever it is – it really doesn’t matter) is to be cherished above everything else, even moralism – his crook. Being seen to not be in possession of the decision is an insult and we would do well to mock him for it: And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.

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