Its Not Just Me with Black Marks on My Permanent Record – The NFL Joins the Party

Suddenly the news cycle and our vocabularies are filled with domestic violence, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Roger Goodell.  It grew and spread faster than the firestorm that took down the Oakland Hills in 1991.  And then we threw Adrian Peterson and Jonathon Dwyer into the mix and the news cycle exploded all over again.  The only thing that surprised me was the national reaction.

Let me be very clear.  I am in no way excusing or condoning domestic violence or hitting women or children.  If it helps, replace the term domestic violence with “act we can all agree is completely and utterly wrong”.  It just happens to be the foundational issue that brings my focus the news circus.

When Roger Goodell gave Ray Rice a 2 game suspension and fined him an additional game check, there was near universal outcry – except of course from the Baltimore Ravens and their fans – that it was far too lenient.  After all, smoking pot gets you 4 games and it is legal in in 2 states recreationally and medically in many more.  I sat and wondered, really?  Not about the outcry, but about the on-going public reaction.

Early on I realized and I’ve tried to reinforce with my kids the underlying concept of the world:  Life is NOT fair.  The sooner you realize it and work with that, the easier it is get past the frequent disappointments you inevitably run across.  As much as we may hope and want it to be so, life and work is not a meritocracy.  Being born extremely rich can open doors and smooth out rough spots that many others are burdened with.    Money solves many issues.  Especially when you have way more than any one person needs.

In the workplace, it is not about wealth.  It is about connections, politics and perceived value.  Surely I’m not the only one who has worked with people who were seemingly rewarded for acts others were fired for committing?    Or that imbecile running a department or division because she’s someone else’s favorite child, yet continually making bad decisions, running off the talent and seemingly failing to the top.  Surely you recognize someone similar.  Maybe it’s the executive who swears and rudely belittles people in public, but is protected because he holds the key to (what is perceived to be) a key customer.  It leaves you scratching your head doesn’t it?  What happened to the HR policies about respect, diversity and open doors?  Sadly, they are often conveniently forgotten.

Managers generally make decisions and take action based upon what they believe is in their best interest.  People rarely sacrifice their best interests for what’s best for the company, especially now that “lifetime employment” is no longer part of the implied social contract or business topology.  Roger Goodell giving Ray Rice a gentle, $1million slap on the wrist was what he perceived to be in best interests of the NFL.  It definitely benefited the Ravens.  As you recall, there was a lot of hullabullo and vitriol, but nothing changed.

What changed was the leak of the video.  That surprised me, because it showed exactly what I assumed happened.  What really happened is that all the people willing to not care, suddenly looked foolish.  Not because anything changed, but everything changed.  People were forced to confront what they wanted to assume didn’t exist.  It was no longer ok to move forward.  And when people mass, so do the advertisers.  In a nutshell, let’s be honest, societal pressure was going to build on the advertisers.  That is what the NFL caved to, not the public.  Season tickets were sold.  TV contracts are measured in billions.  But the advertisers have clout.  The advertisers saw what could happen and acted.  Anheuser-Busch and Procter and Gamble made moves that may have been telegraphed prior to their announcements.

Whether it was those specific moves of the realization they were coming is what moved the NFL.  Society can make changes, albeit small ones, through the government.  Capitalism is what moves business.  In my experience, and I have worked with several myopic executives, the through process usually goes something like this:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What makes ME the most money/how does it affect the stock price?
  3. Will anyone notice or care?
  4. What is the right thing to do?

To my way of thinking that is the order the NFL thought until people and advertisers noticed.  That is where the income is generated and has the potential to affect the game and its owners.  If the think about it, I’m sure you’ve seen similar reactions in your work environments.  And you aren’t on TV.

We have all seen the sales person who generates sales but lacks in other areas.  Perhaps they are selfish and not team players, putting their success above anyone else’s results.  I was once called to HR I dared to suggest that a sales executive should be able to file, retain and retrieve the monthly production sales report.  It was Wednesday and the report had been distributed on Monday.  She considered this harassment.  Nothing came of it because she harassed at least twice each quarter according to her.  Of course nothing was done to change her behavior.  She was deemed important, similar to Ray Rice and what I can only assume where his jersey sales.

Another time everyone was going out to celebrate the new job the sales manager had gotten and was sad he was leaving.  I was in the minority because I believed that the fact that he had slept with 4 of his subordinates as well as several other women in the company, was sexual harassment and his exit was good riddance.   I was quickly educated that I was wrong and I should get over my tired ethics.  I’m sad to report my ethics have not changed and I fully believe that sleeping with your subordinates is wrong.  Of course there are exceptions and there are processes, but in this case, I always felt like there was a very dirty element in this instance.

And of course there was the VP I worked for that made every decision based on how it made him look.  Because of his tenure and connections, it took wasting millions of dollars and exiling too much talent before his name was presented for a trip to the corporate gallows’ pole.  To my mind that was a form of workplace abuse.  I’m sure it is far more common than we think.  It was when I realized ideals were important, but being right was not enough.  Life was not a meritocracy.  Work was not a test where the right answer got you an A.  Sometimes, you have to purposefully get thing wrong to be seen as successful.

So while what Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and others in the NFL have done is deplorable, exacerbated by Goodell’s meat -handed handling and been too visible in the news cycle, it has been happening in business for years.  In the past, it was probably even condoned.   After all, cronyism came from somewhere.  I’m encouraged to see the national spotlight moved to domestic problems that we have tolerated for too long.  And while we are at, maybe we continue to improve in other areas, holding people accountable for all of their actions, not just the ones we find convenient.

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(Not So Great) Expectation, or New Uses for Toothpicks

“The San Francisco Airport train on the opposite side of the platform has just been taken out of service,” interrupted my normal morning commute.  Pulling in to the station, it was clear that the platform was full of waylaid passengers, ready to do their best sardine impressions.  My current cozy environment was about to become hot and crowded.  Luckily, I only had a few more stops.  My expectations were set appropriately; I was sitting in the middle of the train and it would be a game of commuter twister to exit.

I was not disappointed; I bumped, grinded and politely asked the woman who shifted 6mm to really move, as her gargantuan backpack still blocked my path.  Keep in mind, she was not a slip of a thing, her backpack was her reverse doppelgänger.  Eventually, I was able to exit the car before the doors closed, thought this was never a certainty.  What I did not expect lay before me.

The platform was overly crowded.  I had not thought about the effects of the mass of displaced humanity on stations down the line.  Nor did I expect the complete loss of common sense that on display like a Melissa Gorga dance single.  Imagine this, a narrow platform, crowded with displaced people, milling about like the children of South Park performing the works of Phillip Glass.  It was neigh on impossible to pass.  I felt like the Black Knight was trying to stop me from going forward.  There was actually plenty of room, but the imbeciles in front of me worked hard to block my egress.  I couldn’t imagine what they were thinking; their actions indicated their desire to force me off the platform into the path of the next train.  Luckily I persevered and made my way towards my morning coffee and ultimately, the office.

I’ve learned to set my expectations accordingly.  For instance, it never fails that at one intersection on my walk to work at least one car will ignore the stop sign and ignore my rights as a pedestrian in a cross walk.  Similarly in Chinatown, people will inevitably decide to veer to their left and force me to my left, because, as you know, “in Chinatown, no one walks one on the right hand side of the side walk.”  I guess I missed that lesson.    Especially today, when the man with the murderous look in his eye walked straight at me as I hugged the curb to my right and forced me to my left.  He must have thought walking in Chinatown was the same as driving in England.  I mistakenly missed that clear connection.  Of course, by now my expectations have been reset.

Upon entering the building lobby a cloud of noxious air assaulted my olfactory glands. In Peanuts Pigpen leaves a cloud of dust in his wake.  Pepe’ Le Pew does similarly with his stink in the cartoons.  Clearly, a woman in my office decided to merge the two characters and use the most offensive scent imaginable.  It was so thick you could almost see it.  I painfully trudged through it, wishing I had a fan to serve as my urban machete in this toxic jungle.  I was sadly aware that this woman had found a fragrance worthy of the name my internal monologue had bestowed it, au de Durian.

I could only imagine what the wearer of this odoriferous assault was thinking.  No one would notice?  Clearly everyone did.  One of my coworkers had noticed another coworker went heavy with her scent each month for a few days.  He asserted that it was her way hiding Aunt Flow from the rest of the staff.  If that was the case today, Aunt Flow came for a month with all of her sisters and half the street urchins from menstrual town.  Clearly her expectation that her condition would go unnoticed were fallacious.  Nothing like attracting attention when you are trying to slide under the radar, right?

Once in the office, my expectations changed.  I sit at my desk, trying to be productive.  I set my goals, realistically as my expectations, which are rarely too far off, are to be ignored, left out and asked to do some minor secretarial duty from time to time.  That’s my typical day.  I’ve become quite adept at laying low, not trying to help where I am not wanted and ignoring the circuitous conversations headed off a cliff when I have the answer they need.  They don’t want my input.  It has been made clear.

One area I look forward to is my (almost) daily trip to the bathroom.  I know you think you know where this is going, but trust me you don’t.  In the late afternoon I visit the left urinal and do my business.  Nope no colorful language, just efficiency.  There, pointing at 2 o’clock is a sturdy wooden toothpick, half under the urinal screen.  Why is this interesting?  Besides the fact it has been there more than 2 weeks, soaking up fluids from a myriad of human sources like some teenage biology experiment from one of Cthulhu’s disciples?  Shouldn’t that be enough?  I mean the bathroom gets cleaned 2-4 times per day.  Perhaps the janitorial staff need special nuclear gloves or tongs? Why are they waiting for the screen to expire at the end of the month?  What makes this so interesting is really a history lesson concerning small minds trapped in conflict with mismanaged expectations.

We moved into a new office almost 2 years ago.  Within a short time, the expectations of the facilities staff were out of whack.  They picked a very beautiful carpet and layout that looked fantastic in several magazines and advertising campaigns.  However, it was both impractical, counter-productive and filled with questionable decisions.  As an example, the carpet.  While stunning to look at in its large sweeping patterns of light colors and (rumor has it) just as stunningly expensive, it is inappropriate for a large office setting.

In an office of over 100 people (seems like a good place to draw the line doesn’t it?) there will be all types of people – considerate, careful, conscientious and altruistic.  Of course with that many people, you will also find some people that are rude, clumsy, unthinking and selfish.  It is just statistics and human nature.  So actions were taken.  Emails are sent out regularly to make sure people don’t fill their cups too full, always use a lid and heaven forbid DON’T SPILL!  If you sit at your desk too much, you must get a mat, to save the carpet.  What is too much?  I think its 2 hours a day. Since conference rooms are in short supply, people sit at their desks.  Yes, there was no expectation that people will react poorly when they are treated like a kindergarten class being unruly at nap time.  The key take away here is that everything was designed for looks, not functionality or actual use.  But don’t say anything; that would be worse.

But, enough about the carpet, back to the bathroom.  One of the first thing I noticed was that urinals were designed for maximum splash back.  This isn’t the master suite at some hotel where you pay $1500 a night, this is an office where functionality, perhaps even minimalism, should rule.  Facilities noticed there were puddles in the men’s room.  The pretty tile floor was not designed to hide the splashes that occur in many such rooms.  So immediately, this became a crisis.  Emails were sent, notes were posted and nothing changed.  The problem is the urinal, not the people.  Somewhere, a woman surely thought that most of the men in the office were doing fire hose impressions to ruin her wonderful bathroom design.  Let me assure you, men have limited control over how much extreme presume they can exert at the urinal.  But since her expectations were that emails and notes would run the people like sheep down the gangway to the slaughter of modified behavior, they were unrealistic.  Unless no one uses the bathroom that won’t be happening.

There were complaints that the modesty panels were being stained.  Too late.  Yes, stainless steel can be stained.  There was the infamous “hit it or sit it” cartoon, where someone drew in yellow puddles.  Then there were the fly stickers so the men had something to aim at, theoretically minimizing splash back.  While these were fun experiments, my favorite was the constant carousel of urinal screens.  One smelled like apple jacks.  One was ginormous.  My all-time favorite looked like square patch of AstroTurf.

Keep in mind, the urinal screens don’t really help if that’s not where the hose is pointed.  It is more to assuage some deranged need to control actions that are in way related to the original flawed design.  After all, Ford didn’t solve its problems with the Pinto through an extensive campaign extolling the virtues of NOT plowing into the rear of the Pinto in front of you.

Remember the AstroTurf?  It became a magnet for any debris that found its way near.  Let me be clearer.  Men shed pubic hair, on occasion.  At the end of the first few days it looked like the shower at the home of a victim on The Strain.  You’d have thought only Bigfoot used the urinal.  Imagine the end of the first week, then the first month, because that was how long the unsanitary removal cycle was.

When I saw the toothpick at the end of end of July, I knew it was going to be around for a while.  That’s why I often go at 2.  I wonder when it will point to 3 O’clock or become extinct, like the Dodo.  My expectations are that it will be my afternoon companion for another 2-3 weeks.  By then there will be more irrational expectations and ridiculous situations to be shared here.  I began to dwell on its ultimate disposal and the discoveries later day Darwins would find and attribute to it, unknowingly