When the 500 Pound Gorilla Becomes Unbearable

I take a break today, from bread and food, to write of something other – humm, ….  Let’s talk of coffee.

Gorilla Coffee, Brooklyn, NY - Courtesy of Huffington Post

This morning I was perusing the news online, and came on the recent story of an entire staff of a popular coffee shop in NYC, Gorilla Coffee, who resigned their jobs en masse and simultaneously.  This is a bit unusual in such a tight jobs market as we now have, and so I read more deeply.  What would force a group of people -not a small group either- to leave employment which I’ll bet each and every individual needed badly?  Well, they have left their group explanation in a letter which is in both of these two links – read it if you wish:

http://consumerist.com/2010/04/entire-coffee-shop-staff-quits-simultaneously.html

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/gorilla-coffee-workers-arent-coming-back/

photo courtesy of unionroom.com

But the letter essentially says,  they left because of the treatment, attitude, and insensitivities of the ownership of the coffee shop.  As an ex-administrator, and therefore a people manager, you may expect me to opine here that this is just another example of how immature the young workers today are – and for all I know, it may well be.  But actually this incident brings back vivid memories of the many -and when I say many, what I mean is -majority many- managers who approached people-managing as authoritarian despots with a take-it or leave-it attitude.  Yes, I find it far easier to believe that these staffers found themselves in a work environment where it became easier to suffer a severe economic loss than to continue suffering the emotional pain they were experiencing.

I think I was fortunate to have lived at a time when there was a re-emerging in the employment industry of the concept that it is good business practice to make employees part of the total business itself – such a movement always has a lot of names, and just a few are, employee empowerment, Management By Objectives, team building, delegation etc., – but what they all came down to was the concept that if employees were allowed to join the process of leaning enough about the business that they too could be drawn into the decision making itself, then not only would productivity go up, but employee satisfaction -as well as customer satisfaction- would increase.  I learned early on of this model of management, and spent my career building it into the various organizations for which I worked.

Although I remain convinced that these models -and there are many variations- provide the environment for better business, they are not as evident today as they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  They are following the normal and inevitable swing of the pendulum that seems to govern all of human life and activity.  Toyota was once a world leader in the concept of employee empowerment – and total quality management, where constant improvement was supposedly built into their productivity process.  Well folks, something changed somewhere along the way, because I’m quite sure that today’s problems could not have happened to the Toyota of 30 years ago!

And as the pendulum swings back to where it was at the turn of 20th century, and as we suffer through our painfully severe lack of employment, the environment will be perfect for more Gorilla despot managers – those individuals who equate employees with the newest gadget – you pay for it, and then hope you’ll get enough out of it to justify the price!  If it breaks, you can either hit it with a hammer, or go buy another, slightly different one.

I have thought, long and hard, on why it is that we -a seemingly intelligent collective society- seem not able to learn from our collective mistakes – or even from our collective successes!  All you need do to begin to see this fact is to study the history of mankind – has there been a steady, progressive line of improvement (pick whatever specific element you wish)?  If you think there has been, please let me know, as it apparently is unknown to me – and perhaps you can further my own knowledge base – at least, we can have some enjoyable discussion.

No my friends, the longer you think on this, the more the inevitable conclusion will become evident – Our creator has not -for whatever reason- given us enough intelligence to avoid what will inevitably be our own demise – we simply are not as smart as we think we are.

photo courtesy of earlybritishkingdoms.com

In the meantime, we are occasionally treated to flashes of heroic brilliance that catch our attention, such as the revolt of the Gorilla staffers, and we think, “Ah, perhaps this is the beginning of change.”  Pity that were not the case – it is but a instant illumination of what may be, … if only …, if only Camelot were here and now …

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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2 Responses to When the 500 Pound Gorilla Becomes Unbearable

  1. Tupper Cooks says:

    Having worked for great bosses and not-so-great bosses, along with managing a couple of fast food restaurants (back in the ’80’s) I totally understand and agree with your post. ,

    Unfortunately the mgt. of this shop had not a clue as how to manage their most valuable asset, their personnel. On a micro level it’s sad. As far as a statement of our society it’s also sad that we too soon forget what works and revert to a dictatorial, my way or the highway style of mgt.

    On other fronts Doc, tomorrow I’m attempting Reinhart’s ciabatta. I’ve got the poolish in the fridge and by early Sunday afternoon the experiment should have concluded. Stay tuned……

  2. drfugawe says:

    I taught team building to many managers during my working days, and early on I’d tell them, “The day 2/3rds of your brand new workers come to start their job, they lay their total trust and self at your feet, and attitudinally say, “I want to do the very best job I can for you, mold me.” The day they leave six months later, they say to themselves, “I’ll never make that mistake again!” You missed a great opportunity. The other 1/3rd, for one reason or another, were not right for this place, and needed to leave asap. To know the difference is the heart of your job.

    Yeah, you’re right – bread is more fun. I love making ciabatta! I love the way that lump of sticky, sloppy mess begins to become manageable and compliant with patience and plenty of time (hey, here’s your patience building opp). I found that using a well oiled tub – an old sweater box – where I could stretch, lift, and turn the dough w/o taking it out, made a big difference in the whole experience.

    You have my best wishes, and I’m betting it’ll be great fun for you too.

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