I was initially repulsed by The Hunger Games‘ premise. After watching the movie, I was struck by how many themes were transferable to the corporate world. Below are some movie phrases and their implications for management:
- “I volunteer.” Katniss (the child/slave turned reluctant warrior), was the epitome of honor and courage. Rather than see her younger sister killed, she volunteered for the reaping. Sentiments I would love to see at the office: I volunteer to shut the gaping hole in my face (rather than pollute the workplace environment); I volunteer to make amends with a colleague; I volunteer to support a maligned worker; I volunteer to initiate change.
- “I won’t hurt you.” I think everyone would be a lot better off if these words echoed in organizational corridors. Unfortunately, a Machiavellian “winner take all” mentality makes work appear like a blood sport. Katniss refused to betray other people (e.g., Rue, Peta), even when she could have easily gained at their expense. Individualistic focus breeds cutthroat tactics (like snitching). Snitches leave the vapor trail of a sniveling coward, and bear the watermark of a weakling. Sellouts are rampant in a world where self–focus is apparent, and where the reward system is individually crafted. As in mobbing, the televised blood bath revealed a morbid fascination with killing for amusement.
People pitted against one another are less likely to form coalitions that promote uprising.
- “I can’t think that way – I have a sister.” A leader in both name and deed bears the welts of a corporate whipping for workers who have been falsely accused. At Southwest Airlines, managers regularly defend attendants accosted by abusive patrons. Top leadership’s ability to suffer personal wounds (and to communicate their change of heart) instigates the process of organizational renewal, whereby leaders grow to incorporate divergent perspectives. Chappell explains the intimate connection he establishes with his workers: “A real business leader seeks his worthiness among his employees. I visit my employees; I talk to them; I’m one of them. I stand with them. I also act as their voice.” At Service Master abuse isn’t tolerated, no matter how high ranking the offender. Employees at Tom’s of Maine who don’t exhibit the spirit of service are fired. Chappell states: “I won’t stand for abusive authority or insensitivity. If people can’t treat others with respect at Tom’s of Maine, I want them the hell out! I’ll intervene, and I’ll get their ass out of there.”
- “They’ll cut out our tongues.” Refusing to solicit opinions, bulldozing others with your own, and discouraging free expression are all corporate versions of extracting your tongue. Books like Brutal Bosses and White Collar Sweatshop describe the low grade misery which is common in some companies. Indignities include boss abuse, mobbing (peer abuse), overwork, isolation, lack of voice, an absence of social support, and underpayment. Surprisingly, employees have for the most part not rebelled against their circumstance. As in the Stockholm syndrome (in which prisoners feel affectionate toward their captors), employees eventually grow accustomed to their tight-fitting constraints.
- “They rebelled against a government which fed them and clothed them…” The illusion of company concern maintains the status quo; it gives employees only the perception that their input is valuable and important. In bureaucracy: “People on the outside [are kept] feeling as outside as possible so the insiders all feel good about themselves.” Feigned company concern is evident in programs that evolved from Hackman and Oldham’s five pronged motivational theory. Organizations use Hackman and Oldham’s recipe to incorporate superficial change into employee routines, while maintaining an underlying latticework of authoritarian control. As window dressing, initiatives like flextime, job sharing, and telecommuting provide a false sense of employee autonomy. True freedom comes not from the discretion to schedule one’s work (or to perform an entire task). Rather, it comes from the ability to freely speak one’s mind when conscience dictates.
- “You showed them up.” I love a story in which good triumphs over evil. Enough activism, persistence, and defiance of stricture can displace a dystopia. All it takes is one person to get the ball rolling.