In one of my previous editorials, I discussed stupid corporate motivation stunts like having Steve Ballmer imitate a chimpanzee being shocked with an electro-butt-plug. It was one of the most ridiculous stunts I had seen in my life, until an anonymous source tipped me off to a Lovecraftian horror that lurked in the shadows of several major companies. I've always thought that marketing people were the most stupid and damaging appendage of a corporation, but know I know that marketing people are beings of pure evil secretly devoted to the destruction of the very "corporate culture" that they claim to be trying to nurture and uphold. There can be no other explanation.
Would you wake up one morning and say to yourself, "I'm the marketing director of a multibillion-dollar company, I have a huge budget, and what we need to do is record a company song"? I didn't think so. But apparently, that's what some marketing people at Checkpoint and Symantec did. I don't know for sure, but I'd guess, seriously, that producing and recording one of these songs cost in the neighborhood of $100,000. For a company the size of Checkpoint, that could have equated to something that would really raise morale, like giving every employee an official iPod with a company logo on it, or a company-logoed check for $500. Or, perhaps, the $100,000 could have been used to buy back some shares, in order to boost the stock and give every employee and shareholder a bit of paper wealth to enjoy. As John Belushi used to say, "But: NOOOOOOoooooooooo!"
I can picture the trajectory of the whole disaster: the marketing idiot in charge says "go get us a motivational song!" and the minions spring into action. Doubtless there were meetings and an overall "theme" for the song was agreed upon. Then, someone found a composer who was willing to sell his immortal soul for a bit of earthly gain, and - lyrics - happened. I've worked with marketing idiots before; I am sure a great deal of time and energy was put into the lyrics. Probably, the composer and lyricist tried to come up with something that didn't suck, initially. Perhaps they tried to create something that was tolerably listen-to-able, until one of the more senior marketing people said, "let's have the male vocal do a bit of a rap about personal firewalls" and all the more junior ones had to nod in unison and confess that was the most brilliant idea that they'd ever heard of. If you have the courage to actually listen to these auditory disasters, you'll notice that there's absolutely zero creative integrity to either of them - they are not merely bad they are designed by committee. I can picture the poor, sweating, composer in a meeting room full of marketing people, with his MacIntosh and a rough-cut version of the backing track, walking through the piece, kind of half-heartedly singing the vocals to his receptive audience. I'm sure he was thinking, "Oh, god, why didn't I listen to my parents and get an engineering degree in college..." as the marketing team suggested changes to the lyrics, "Hey, what if we start off with a DJ intro voice that sounds really bad ass?!" "Yeah, that'd be GREAT!" So the composer leaves with his new marching orders, and a song - which already sucked - that had all the integrity hammered out of it by a committee. Then, a studio was booked, and vocalists recruited. Desperate, hungry, vocalists, who looked at the lyrics in horror and thought, "I'm supposed to sound thrilled about a complete solution? Oh, god, why didn't I listen to my parents and go to medical school?" I'm sure it took them a few dozen takes, because the vocalists' throats were raw from vomiting.
Apparently, this kind of "morale exercise" has been around for a long time:
Of that "man of men" our friend and guiding hand.
Socialist cause he defends
From the "Song of General Kim Jong Il" circa 199?
"The Web - is One.
From the "CheckPoint Song"
I wonder if any of TJ Watson's propagandists, er, marketing people, got a job working for Joseph Stalin. In fact, I wonder if Checkpoint outsourced development of their song to a studio in North Korea. Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, perhaps there are lots of inexpensive former soviet propagandists working for software marketing departments. That sure would explain things!
Lousy managers seem to think that corporate culture is something they can create by mixing up a bunch of ingredients in accordance with some kind of formula - instant culture! But they're wrong.
"Corporate Culture" is just goofy business speak for what a Napoleonic soldier would recognize as élan or morale. Good unit morale happens when soldiers feel that they are well-led, and that their contributions are recognized and valued appropriately. That is, in fact, why having a few men shot "pour encourager les autres" is not a completely off-the-wall idea. When a unit (or a corporation) is suffering from having encrusted bad elements, it will boost morale if you shoot a few of them. That is, in fact, good leadership - it shows the troops that you're not afraid to get the job done. For example, I suspect that morale would have soared at Checkpoint or Symantec if the CEO had played these songs to "the troops" and then announced "this is the dumbest bullshit I've ever heard. I am going to fire the marketing idiots responsible for this and give everyone an iPod with the money we're saving by not having to pay those guys a salary." Standing ovation!
But the truth is that the only way a leader can show the troops that they are appreciated is to do something for them that shows the leader understands them and what they enjoy. For example, I remember when UUnet was still a somewhat intelligently-led company, back in 1997 - the company reserved an entire theater for the opening of Star Wars and the whole company went out for a movie. Computer people see something like that and go, "Aha! The people running the show took some time out of their busy schedules to try to think of something that'd make us happy!" I heard of one idiot CEO of a software start-up who had gifts to give out at the company holiday party - consisting of golf clubs, a golfing trip, and other golf-related goodies. The sales team, which, in his view, were the most important part of the company, were all golfers - and he couldn't understand why the software engineers all went back to their cubicles and wrote their resumes. He'd have probably commissioned a company song if he'd heard that Symantec and Checkpoint had them, too. I can hear it already, "Tee me up, we're bound for glory...."
In the air over Ireland on course for Frankfurt, May 6, 2006
* Thanks to Douglas Ridgeway for this tidbit