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Say It Isn't So!


I got an email today from a friend who wrote:

“In the middle of reading Fierce Leadership, I got a phone call from a good friend who was one of my colleagues at IBM in Boulder, Colorado. He shared that they are CHARGING EMPLOYEES for the use of napkins and cutlery in the site cafeteria. I am reading your words about making a deeper connection with people, and I get this information in stark contrast. At one time I was so proud of IBM, and to be part of IBM. What a long wicked way things have come.”

This is hard to imagine, so I spent some time googling to see if it’s true and all I came up with was the fact that IBM has a worldwide goal of recycling 50% of all its non-hazardous waste, which is a good thing. I’d like to think that charging for napkins and cutlery has something to do with recycling, but I can’t quite put it together. Would IBM prefer that employees bring their own napkins and cutlery from home each day and take them home each evening and if they don’t, they are penalized?

However it went down, someone who currently works at IBM, thinks it is a seriously bad idea.

Since I can’t verify that what my friend’s friend said is true or the thinking behind it, I hope that someone from IBM reads this and enlightens us, cause you gotta wonder how a decision like this went down.

In busting six of the worst “best” practices in business today in my book, Fierce Leadership, I defend those who originally championed the practices because they WERE thinking. They were good, smart, well-intentioned people, whose actions were based on strongly-held beliefs such as: People won’t tell the truth unless feedback is anonymous, which led to 360 anonymous feedback and a culture in which people withhold their real thoughts and feelings, not just about others’ performance, but on topics under discussion in meetings, on conference calls, throughout the organization. I hope Chapter One busts that practice and the thinking behind it to bits. Or that holding people accountable builds execution muscle. Hah! Look around and tell me how that’s going!

Back to IBM, not every company has the cash flow to provide the kind of freebies that a company like Google makes available to its employees, but surely, those who decide such things, must consider whether a move will enrich, flat-line or erode the company’s relationship with the people central to its success.

If IBM’s goal is to ensure that their relationship with their employees is merely an exchange of time and talent for a paycheck – a decidedly dicey proposition - they struck gold with this move. Employee engagement? Who needs it! If the thinking behind their decision is sound (I’m hoping for this), then there’s a badly needed internal PR campaign with their name on it.

Please, say it isn’t so!


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