Starve and Shoot

How do you get rid of a mule when everybody else on the farm really likes it? First you cut out one of its daily feedings, then you cut back to food every other day, then every third day. By that time, the mule is so weak it can’t do any work at all, so nobody will blame you if you shoot it.

How do you get rid of a program (whether government, corporate, or TV) that people really like but you (one of the people in charge) really hate?  It’s easy.  You underfund it, understaff it, reorganize the caseload and the chain of command every four months or so, move it around so nobody can find it, and, in general, deprive it of all the things that made people like it in the first place. Then, when you kill it, if people notice its absence at all, they’ll just say good riddance, it had already jumped the shark anyway.

I have personally been involved in one such shameful episode (you may have your own) in our nation’s history, when the federal agency I worked for became the target of its own administration’s dislike.  That was how I found out that the administration, if it has any smarts at all, will not respond by firing everybody and shutting the agency down, because that’s expensive.  You have to pay severance and accumulated leave and set up COBRA payments and so on.  So instead, you just reorganize them every four months or so, which is just about the optimal length of time for people to have finally regained their competence and figured out where the copier paper has been moved to after the last reorganization.  A couple of rounds of this and everybody except the most hidebound and unimaginative careerists will quit on their own, one at a time, which is financially a lot easier to cope with than mass firings.

And of course, everybody has had the experience of not being able to find a favorite TV program as it gets moved around the clock and then replaced every other week or so by some kind of “special,” so that when it finally shows up again, you’ve forgotten most of the plot line.  If that doesn’t work, the producers just keep switching writers until the characters start sprouting multiple, and non-credible, personalities and the audience loses interest, which is mostly what happened to ER in its last couple of seasons.  Somebody who was a lesbian feminist in season 4 suddenly falls in love with her boss, gets pregnant, and becomes a stay-at-home wife-and-mother, and so on in season 6, then dies of cancer just in time for the finale of season 7, which, if the other characters are having similar gyrations, is probably the series finale too.

And then there’s the standard way bosses deal with high-performing employees they for some reason don’t like.  You change their job descriptions, or change their actual duties without changing their job descriptions; you move their cubicles to Outer Darkness, if possible you change their working hours—you get the picture.  And the hapless target of these behaviors, if s/he has never experienced them before, is likely to think, “If I can put up with this without letting my job performance deteriorate, they won’t fire me.”  Which is precisely the opposite of what’s really happening—they aren’t cr*pping on you instead of firing you, they’re cr*pping on you preparatory to firing you.  First they starve the mule, preferably until its performance deteriorates into total uselessness, and then they shoot it.

Red Emma

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