A command-and-control approach to dress codes causes problems for Acme

Acme’s management reorganization finds that a command-and-control approach results in a culture clash

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The macroeconomy is moving in the right direction, perhaps too rapidly for those trying to manipulate it into something dynamic. As a result, the money gurus in Washington felt compelled to raise the federal lending rate by yet another 25 basis points. Normally such a small move wouldn’t have much effect on the day-to-day operations at the Acme plant across the tracks on 12th St., but this time the inside-the-Beltway event provided enough of a jolt to generate another scenario for your reading pleasure.

Eight of Acme’s key managers, including its director of human resources (HR) and corporate counsel, resigned simultaneously to pursue their dream of an entrepreneurial adventure, a move they had been planning for several years. Very hush-hush, they never discussed their plan at the office and were careful about being overheard when they gathered at the golf course, hunting camp or cocktail party.

This bold move by the gang of eight forced Acme into an ad hoc management reorganization effort in spite of its lack of effective succession plan. Now, panic reigned on Acme’s Mahogany Row.

The resulting power vacuum sucked in resumes willy-nilly from the four corners of the globe. Although several perfectly competent Acme employees tendered their names for consideration, the remnants of the crippled hierarchy considered these employees as suspect and unworthy. Instead, they brought in new blood to shore up the crumbling ramparts and reestablish the former tranquility.

The newly entrenched outsiders, mutual strangers all, who formed the reconstituted management team, devoted their time to staking out and defending nascent empires. Whether through insecurity or egocentricity, the group was oblivious to the cultural issues that are such an ingrained part of the company they’re trying to lead.

For example, individual Acme departments functioned as true teams. Coworkers cherished their mutual trust and respect, the open communications, the flex-time and cross-training that picked up any slack, the consensus about operational changes before making policy changes. When a team had a vacancy, each team member interviewed the job candidates and cast a yea or nay vote. Coworkers also spent lunch hours in heated discussions about their next innovation or, on more boring days, challenging other departments to a friendly game of euchre or bridge. Diversity is another source of employee pride and most employees have at least a passing familiarity with the native language and customs of their coworkers.

Musa Paradisiaca is a typical example of the diversity the teams embraced. Although born on the Asian subcontinent, Musa’s family immigrated to the United States when he was 2 years old in search of medical care for his severe facial scarring. Blessed with an innate grasp of mathematics, science and languages — he speaks five with no discernible accent —  Musa earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering before he was 20 years old. Upon graduation, he enjoyed a successful career at a string of manufacturing companies, ultimately being promoted to vice president of plant operations on his 45th birthday. But that employer filed for bankruptcy less than one year later, and Musa immediately jumped ship into Acme’s welcoming arms to serve as the company’s technical services manager.

It’s a job he loves. In the four years he’s been with Acme, Musa has become a capable corporate spokesman intent on increasing Acme’s market share, a possibility attributable in no small part to his extensive personal network and the depth of his industrial background. He’s been there, done that —  and he delivers the Acme marketplace message in terms that resonate with both prospects and established customers.

Musa wears a neatly trimmed, full beard of snowy white for two reasons. The first is a religious tradition. The second addresses the realities of the face-to-face contact his job entails —  the beard hides his scarring quite effectively. But a hirsute disguise can present problems.

Acme’s brand-new vice president of aftermarket support and sales, Eddie Pousrechts, always knew that as the first-born son in a family with a long history of military service, he would follow in his dad’s footsteps. That’s why young Eddie joined up just one day after the momentous birthday that rendered him eligible to enroll.

During the next few decades, he proved his mettle, earned his medals and refused to settle for anything less than progressive advancements in rank. After serving enough time to qualify for a full pension, Eddie parlayed the leadership traits he learned into various management positions in private industry.

There, too, Eddie developed admirable credentials and a spotless track record. But it was his management style that the panic-stricken Acme executives found most appealing. They firmly believed a command and control approach would eradicate the chaos running wild on 12th St. Eddie took that as his marching orders.

His earlier career molded Eddie’s view of what constitutes a proper uniform of the day. In fact, he has definite opinions about suitable attire for the job, for leisure activities and for nearly any other possible activity in which people can engage. All spit and polish, Eddie looks at Musa, one of his direct reports, and finds it difficult to see anything more than a fast-talking, overpaid, aging hippie.

During his first week on the job, Eddie determined that he needed to instill greater esprit de corps and, at the same time, improve the corporate landscape he had to face each day. On Friday afternoon, Eddie issued his order to Musa: “Shave the beard and get a haircut before you return on Monday morning.”

Musa patiently tried to explain his situation, but Eddie, his mind made up, wouldn’t tolerate insubordination and, instead, encouraged Musa by asserting that a man must have strength and courage to do something that he finds uncomfortable and difficult.

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