The Go-To Guy Gets Educated:
How Business Really Works on Planet Earth
Start with about 300 million people in the United States . Consider that half of ’em are retired or in school or on welfare, a fourth of ’em are taking care of the retired ones and the ones in school, you’ve got 75 million left. But 29 million work for the Federal Government which means there’s only 46 million left to bring home the bacon.
Ah, but then there’s the 15 million who work for the local government, so they’re only marginally more worthwhile than the feds. We’re down to 31 million now. 80% of the 31 million are either lazy, apathetic and mostly unproductive, or they’re busy undoing the damage done by the doofuses every day. So in fact there’s only six million people doing real, actual, productive, innovative hard work.
Those 6 million people are not only feeding 300 million, but providing them with warm homes in the winter and quality television programming. The comfort food and Seinfeld reruns keep the unproductive, roiling masses from rioting.
(Karl Marx was wrong: Religion is not the opiate of the people, television is.)
That explains why you feel like, in any room full of 20 people, you’re the only one getting anything done. It’s because you ARE the only one getting anything done. The rest are mostly dead weight, playing a zero sum game.
That’s a fact. Get used to it. Always been that way, always will be that way. What matters is that you understand this is your role as an actually productive person in the world.
But there’s still another part of this that most people don’t perceive.
Of the six million people who do the actual work, one million are company presidents and big-time managers. The other 5 million are the Worker Bees.
Most company presidents and big-time managers, truth be told, are pretty productive people. They are worker-bees too. But the biggest part of their job is to keep the other worker-bees with heads down, working. Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, ear to the ground. (Uncomfortable position, that.) The stability of the modern world rests on the loyalty and commitment of those 5 million worker-bees. They need to not look up.
I’m wicked serious. You take a company like General Motors, with hundreds of thousands of employees, all that company’s real productivity and competitive edge rests on the shoulders of about 5% of them, people who take complete ownership of their jobs. They come early, stay late, skip lunch when necessary (about half the time). They know the answers to important questions. They know how things work.
They know the password to the server. They happen to have a backup copy when the hard drive crashes – yes, it’s three weeks old and unfortunately not all the data is recovered. But they happened to make a backup one day… well, just in case, and… because they want to make sure the machine stays running. They were too smart to count on the IT guy. Sometimes they spend their own money and/or take personal vacation days to go get edumacated about something.
They know how many hubcaps were made on the last shift. They know Karen at the chrome supplier who can occasionally work a miracle if FEDEX loses a shipment.
They take everything about their jobs they very, very personally. Very seriously.
Everybody else is interchangeable. But not them. If all those people suddenly left, GM would be in big, big trouble. The whole company would tank and the stock market and the prognosticators wouldn’t have the slightest clue why.
These people are the Go-To guys (and gals). The real ones.
Company presidents and shareholders, consciously or unconsciously, must keep the Go-To guys from ever discovering their own value, their importance, their true levels of talent. The Go-To guys must stay muzzled. Because losing a Go-To guy is very, very costly. Genuine Go-To guys are exceedingly difficult to replace.
Corporate America ‘s formula for getting and keeping Go-To guys:
• It’s almost impossible to identify them before you hire them, and HR departments usually screen them out. It takes a Go-To guy to know a Go-To guy, and Go-To guys rarely work in HR departments.
• You find them by accident, and when you discover them, you give them more and more work to do, supplemented with dainty morsels of guilt. Every time something is amiss, like sales are a bit off this month or the excel spreadsheet forecast was done sloppily on Friday, you call him at home on Sunday afternoon and express to him how concerned you are about his performance lately. You explain that you’re afraid he’s not keeping the eye on the ball and you don’t want this to ever happen again.
• It’s vitally important that your Go-To guy have between $25,000 and $65,000 of student loans. It also helps if he has two car payments and a balloon mortgage on his house that’s really a bit rich for his income. That way he’s freakin’ terrified of missing even one paycheck. He knows that a layoff or firing would bring certain financial doom. That fear never vacates the back of his worried mind.
• His compensation for the 55 hour work weeks, the unceasing stress, the lack of appreciation, the complete absence of opportunities to influence really important strategic decisions, the vacations interrupted by cell phone calls and impromptu meetings, is those two cars and the house that’s a bit rich for his income. During your fireside chats, you counsel him that he deserves these things because he works so hard, and maybe he should even treat himself to a boat. Aunt Visa and Uncle Mastercard and Madison Avenue do their part to reinforce this, ensuring that he never has enough money to take any business risks, ever.
• Stroke his ego with things that cost the company very little. Plastic plants, corner offices, fancy titles (“Vice President of Manufacturing Technology” is a good one), and when you’re together at client meetings, whisper to the client, just loud enough for Go-To guy to overhear, that Go-To Guy graduated from MIT with a 3.6 GPA. Maintain a big long list of things Go-To guy can’t take to the bank, but which still make him feel proud of his accomplishments.
• You pilfer money from his 401K program and limit it to extraordinarily conservative investments (while talking about the 401K program in such delightful, embellished terms that he never visits a financial planner and considers saving up his own nest egg) so your Go-To guy will actually never have enough money to retire. He’ll still be your Go-To guy when he’s 83 and has a colostomy bag strapped to his leg.
• If you don’t want to keep him until 83, fire him four months before his 20 year company anniversary, just before his pension vests. Oh yeah, and if you really want to stick the knife in deep, fire him on his wedding anniversary. Send him home to his sweetheart in tears and shame. It’ll sweeten their weekend, the one with the steak dinner and red roses at the Radisson. Oh, and whenever you bump into him around town, tell him to be sure and tell her ‘hi’ for you.
• Tell the Board Of Directors meeting that the company lost the 3½ million dollar account with Starbucks because of Go-To guy’s inattention to detail and lack of maturity. Tell them you’d already been concerned about his performance for quite some time, and you solemnly accept a share of the blame for not dismissing him as soon as you saw the warning signs. This will ensure that they never suspect it was actually your fault – you hacked off their purchasing manager for trying to cut your own distributor’s throat to keep some more margin. He knew right then you were a blood sucker and he nixed the deal.
Now you know why you always hated corporate politics, eh?
Don’t worry, it gets worse. Watch your email in the next few days for the next installment, where I show you exactly how they extract maximum service out of you, with maximum guilt.
Can’t wait? Neither can I.
The watchful become wise.
P.S.: After reading this story, club member Tom Mullooly sent me this note:
I was rolling on the floor with the line about the colostomy bag strapped to
the leg…until I got to the next part.
Where they fired the go-to guy on his wedding anniversary —
HEY! That actually happened to me in Chicago!
And yes, it took 11 more years and a TON of sucking up to do (and running
up, then paying down Aunty Visa), but now I own my own business and compete
against the nasty bloodsuckers.
I am learning a TON from you!
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
Thomas P. Mullooly, President
Mullooly Asset Management