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Corporate Anthropology. An Introduction September 12, 2009

Posted by voolavex in common sense, Social Issues.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

One day in the future, anthropologists will look at corporations as they did new cultures in the past. What a load of scary crap that will be.


Cultures used to be bodies of people who were related in significant ways. By blood or religion or tribal and clan kinship. They intermarried and outer married and created important ties that lasted through generations and millennia. They had names and hierarchies and they greatly influenced the future. We received mores and language and family customs from them. They were who we have become. They would throw up if they were with us now.


I recently read a brilliant New Yorker article about the firm Zappos.com. They sell shoes. Shoes are essentially foot coverings. They are also fashion indicators and signifiers. Zappos sells lots of these shoes over the Internet and they make a huge amount of money. They are in commerce. It should probably end the story there. You want some shoes, you go online, you go to Zappos.com and you find some and order them. You can also shop for your shoes at shoe stores in person. But the article was about Zappos.com and how they are more than a shoe company. The founder of Zappos.com believes in the concept of a “company culture” with “core values”. This has become very prevalent in the world of commerce. I think it is frightening.


Before the 90’s (give or take a few years) companies were supposed to have corporate/consumer policy that governed customer service, returns and merchandise questions. For your $7.00 an hour or less, you came to work on time – maybe you made a commission or not, you were polite, well -informed and did your job. Pay raises reflected merit and/or time served. If you were bad at your job you were fired. Your title was job appropriate – clerk, waiter, host, repair person, – well you get the point. You earned money and the company earned money and the customer was always right (at least 95% of the time.) It was not complicated. This is no longer the case.


In the new century, most companies, decided you cannot just be hired for a job. Now you are a team member, a crew member, a customer care representative or an associate. Anyone with half a brain can see these are idiotic titles. For one thing – you do not make better money with these titles. You simply work harder and have corporate rules that guide every move you make.  And they watch you. You are cog, with a fancy name, in a huge machine.  This is defined as being a member of the “corporate culture”. Now, along with church or your place of worship, ethnicity, holiday practices and family traditions, these jobs want you to become a part of their “corporate culture”. I think the only place this actually works is Japan. Americans are raised to be individuals and one cannot exercise that inalienable right with any company that insists you are part of a team. Americans – except in sports – are not really team players. We are individualists striving to get ahead of the crowd. We enjoy backstabbing and stepping on others to get ahead. Corporations (upper management) have confused Japanese corporate culture with American reality. It is a bad mistake.


By creating “core values” and titles with no meaning, they are attempting to seduce their workers into doing more work for less money so they can get richer. They are relying on the premise that at least enough of the employees will fall for it and play along. It allows for an abundance of stupid employees with no desire or motivation to get ahead. We are building the pyramids and we will never even go to the funeral of the king.


Corporate culture is largely cult making. After I finished the Zappos piece I had the urge to a) sing Kumbaya and b) throw up. I suspect the upper management moguls are laughing all the way to the bank or the Grand Cayman Islands. They have cleaned up the masses and turned them into automatons with fancy name badges and given them entry level positions in return. The team members never get past the entry way and they are now seater-greeters at the door (annoying beyond words) and pitchmen at the cash register. They make snake oil salesmen look meek. I think one of the reasons “older” Americans can’t get jobs is the fact that they refuse to lower what little dignity they retain by saying “Welcome to Walmart”. I couldn’t do it. But at least I know for sure that if I did do it would not lead to anything better. Corporations may believe (they don’t really) this will lead to better returns and profits =bonuses for them – but the truth in my opinion is that it leads to street violence and drug use. After a day of minimum pay, bowing and scraping – you are surely going to want to take this out on someone.


Part One (some day soon.)  Who does it. Why it isn’t customer service and why a “team member” is not a member of any team.


1. 2010 in review « Voolavex - January 2, 2011

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