Em­bark­ing on a jour­ney to nowhere

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Henry Mance

In my first job, I worked in the cor­po­rate af­fairs depart­ment of a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. One day some con­sul­tants came to pitch for the ac­count to de­sign our so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity re­port. "You are on a jour­ney," one of them told us, "and you have been for some time." At the time I was hugely im­pressed. His words were un­can­nily ac­cu­rate. Our com­pany was lo­cated 90 min­utes from cen­tral Lon­don, and most peo­ple spent al­most half the day com­mut­ing.

But the idea of a jour­ney also promised pro­found truth. A young grad­u­ate like me could stop won­der­ing what on earth they were do­ing and be sure that they were des­tined for some­where. I don't know if the jour­ney­man won the pitch, be­cause my per­sonal jour­ney in­volved leav­ing the com­pany shortly af­ter­wards. How­ever, in the in­ter­ven­ing decade, his no­tion has be­come un­bear­ably per­va­sive. In the past few weeks, we have heard that Bar­clays is on "a jour­ney" of cul­tural change, cour­tesy of its chair­man John McFar­lane; and that the Labour Party is "at first base on a jour­ney to win back peo­ple's trust", ac­cord­ing to its MP Chuka Umunna.

Mean­while, McDon­ald's is "on a jour­ney to be­com­ing a mod­ern, pro­gres­sive burger and break­fast res­tau­rant", or at least its US chief Mike An­dres thinks it is. Read­ers might be­lieve such lan­guage should be con­fined to The X Fac­tor, where it can be ac­com­pa­nied by sappy mu­sic. But global sage David Brooks, the New York Times colum­nist who oth­er­wise cas­ti­gates self­help non­sense, dis­agrees. He warms to the metaphor of a jour­ney - ar­gu­ing in his book The Road to Char­ac­ter that it is even used by "truly hum­ble peo­ple". If that's right, then poor them. Be­cause it is use­less. The first prob­lem is that it is never quite clear what type of jour­ney we are on. Is it a car jour­ney where we have to do the driv­ing? Or a train jour­ney where we can mostly sit back, as long as we oc­ca­sion­ally check that we haven't missed our stop and ar­rived in Don­caster?

Are we in fact on a long-haul flight where we will spend most of the time asleep, and the re­main­der wait­ing to be fed? Per­haps - like the singer Mi­ley Cyrus - we are on "a climb", with the sad im­pli­ca­tion that we are ap­proach­ing our peak. Ei­ther way, it is the wrong metaphor for bosses to use. Yes, work should vary and com­pa­nies should adapt. But when the av­er­age em­ployee wants to go "on a jour­ney", they find a dif­fer­ent job. Ev­ery time a chief ex­ec­u­tive dusts off the metaphor, an un­der­ling re­mem­bers to up­date their LinkedIn pro­file. Stay­ing in the same com­pany, even a chang­ing one, is not re­ally a jour­ney at all - we know the peo­ple, the cul­ture and which days to avoid the can­teen. That is the at­trac­tion. What we want is a clear set-up within which to op­er­ate, not the vague prom­ise that we are all head­ing on some kind of class out­ing. McFar­lane and oth­ers also over­look the fact that jour­neys have un­for­tu­nate con­no­ta­tions. "To travel hope­fully is a bet­ter thing than to ar­rive", is a phrase res­onat­ing in first­class, where, co­in­ci­den­tally, the chief ex­ec­u­tives tend to be. Most nor­mal peo­ple pre­fer ac­tu­ally be­ing places.

Take Mi­crosoft, where chief ex­ec­u­tive Satya Nadella promised staff in Fe­bru­ary last year that they were start­ing "a new phase of our jour­ney to­gether". Since then he has an­nounced more than 25,000 job cuts, and evis­cer­ated the hand­set busi­ness. It turns out the jour­ney Nadella had in mind was Hannibal's cross­ing of the Alps, where only a few are un­harmed. The idea of a jour­ney does have an ob­vi­ous at­trac­tion to bosses, be­cause it makes change seem in­evitable and their par­tic­u­lar course ap­pear pre­de­ter­mined. Its sis­ter phrase is "evolv­ing", which has the added ben­e­fit of im­ply­ing that ob­jec­tors might lack op­pos­able thumbs. "This is the next stage of our evo­lu­tion," Nick Denton, the founder of mis­an­thropic blog Gawker said re­cently, when lay­ing out a new set of ed­i­to­rial stan­dards re­jected by some of his - now for­mer - staff. In fact, both "evo­lu­tion" and "jour­ney" are wimp­ish at­tempts to dis­guise the fact that de­ci­sions have been taken - and that those de­ci­sions may turn out to be right or wrong.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.