We’re Asking the Wrong Hiring Questions
(photo: Random people of different genders and ethnic backgrounds take time to do board-of-directory things.)
Good news! My company has just invited you to have a seat on its Board of Directors. Congratulations!
Aside from the prestige that will now be showered upon you, you will of course be given some fabulous stock options as a form of compensation for your wisdom in steering our enterprise into a long and profitable future. Help us make the right decisions, and we’ll be farting through silk!
Now, I will be the first to admit that the stock has taken quite the beating over the past three or four years. There are a variety of complex reasons for this, of course, but it is our sincere hope that you refrain from digging too deeply into the myriad of actual factors that caused the temporary downfall. Instead, we have given you two brief reports; each asks you to blame the fall in price-per-share entirely on one of two departments. To make sure the process is fair, I have asked each of the two departments that might be on the chopping block to author the report of the other department you might wish to eliminate. Don’t worry; these reports won’t take very much of your valuable time to read. In fact, for your ease each department has condensed its “findings” into a few easy-to-remember catchphrases.
Oh dear, I’m already off agenda! Here I am going right into the blame game, before I’ve even gotten to the first and most important discussion point. (I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached – no wonder we called you in to help guide us!)
We recognize that assigning blame is less important than choosing the right new management team. This team is important, because we’ll need them to right our ship and steer us into Port Profitable, in the center of Big Money Bay, along the Coast of… hmmm… wait, I had something for this. Begins with “C.” Coast of Cash? Commodities? Calcium? Oh gosh, I can’t remember now. But trust me, it really hammered it home.
Anyway, our search committee has identified a few pretty fabulous candidates to take over as our Chief Executive Officer. We have prepared detailed resumes and reports on all of them. You’ll note that we have taken the liberty of distilling each candidate’s qualifications down to only the most relevant factors needed to manage a large, multi-faceted, global-reaching company like ours. To that end you will see the reports focus primarily on the following:
1. Political Party Affiliation
2. Religious Affiliation, along with our experts’ determinations on just how important that affiliation is to each candidate.
3. Marital Status, with special attention given to the spouse’s ability to make cookies. We also speculate on the chances that each candidate has dipped his pen, if you will, in someone else’s ink, if you catch my drift. (The pen is his penis!) Also, there is a report on the degree to which each candidate’s family is exactly like yours in every way; we knew this would be an important factor in your decision. (By the way, in those cases where we thought it possible that a male candidate might have strayed from the marital bed, we have tried to provide photos of the alleged mistresses to better help you determine if that person would indeed be “doable.”)
4. Ethnic Background, including notes about his or her parent’s occupation.
5. A Beer, for you to imbibe with all of them in the next room immediately following this meeting. We thought it would be important for you to know which one you most enjoyed doing this with, prior to turning over the financial keys to our company.
We did not bother reporting on the height or weight of the candidate, since the thought that we might have put forward a short or fat executive is laughable.
By the way, I should probably note that all of the candidates have a few very, very minor common shortcomings. For example, some of them know literally nothing about our industry and have declared they have little interest in learning. Others have worked in our industry for decades so clearly do know about it, but for some reason are asking us to tell you that they haven’t and don’t. Also, at the risk of being all TMI, maybe I should let you know that they pretty much all have some potential moral issues surrounding both honesty issues and fiduciary responsibility. All of them have been caught in huge whoppers in their job interviews, trying to provide us with answers they thought we wanted to hear. Also, most of them have a history of accepting money and other “gifts” from vendors for their personal use, and then giving those vendors massive, overpriced and often-unnecessary contracts that have helped sink their previous employers’ financial position. (We debated even telling you any of these last items; what with the criteria listed above and knowing that they weren’t fatties or under 6 foot it hardly seemed relevant.)
So please, we ask that you take your time and talk to each candidate in small 30-second increments about any of the criteria we laid out above before giving us your hiring recommendation. After all, your future earnings depend on you making the right choice.
One of the things I miss about the 90s, aside from Britpop and the unrealistic expectation my 401k would increase exponentially forever, is the old right-wing saw that “the government needs to be run more like a business.”
That slogan, long since discarded by Republicans for culture war sound bites, always rang true to me. Mind you, the talk-radio set found a way to frame this truism in a silly way. But that is to be expected; framing issues in silly ways is the very purpose of talk radio. So by the time the 20th century’s wheel was winding down, “government should be run like a business” had already come to mean the ridiculous notion that agencies that were not “profitable” should be scrapped or privatized. (Because really, what is the purpose of maintaining a standing army or educating children if not to make a quick buck and retire early?) But talk radio aphorisms aside, I really think there is something to running the government more like we would our own business.
As most of you know, I am toying with the idea that we are having the wrong arguments in our public policy and election debates. Key among these wrong arguments is the criteria we use to determine our potential leaders. Who’s Right or Left is a fun question to ask, and it’s certainly the one we feel most comfortable asking. But is it the right question?
Take our own sitting President as an example. Since he was sworn into office, President Obama has been under constant fire from the right wing. And by and large, the slings and arrows have been tremendously silly. In fact, I can’t even decide which “outrage” that we as a country talked about over the past year is my favorite. Is it that he is a terrorist plant from our sworn and bitter enemy, Kenya? Or that his telling kids to “stay in school and be good citizens” was the first step in creating a neo-Sturmabteilung Brown Shirt army? Or was it the concentration camps he was preparing just outside of town? Or his plans to eliminate all news and talk radio that was not NPR? Or his implementing Sharia Law to forcibly convert a Christian nation to Islam?
All of these bits of noise have three things in common. The first is that they are, as previously mentioned, silly. The second is that they are created and circulated for no other reason than to gain political power and monetary donations by creating unnecessary anxiety. But the worst thing they have in common is that they distract us from the things that we should really be concerned about.
Last week the Los Angeles Times reported on a new federal government expenditure: a $433 million contract for a smallpox treatment manufactured by Siga Technologies. What makes this contract special is that the treatment is unneeded, expensive, unproven, and did not go through the bid process. Oh, and that the contract itself is a big, waving red flag of White House corruption.
For those that do not know, smallpox is a scary but eradicated disease that it treatable within four days of infection. This treatment, which costs about $3 per person, is already stockpiled in ample supply for the United State’s entire population should an outbreak occur. Siga claims its new treatment works after the four-day window. However, because smallpox no longer exists anywhere that we are aware of, there is no way for Siga to test it in a lab to see if it actually works. The cost Siga charged the federal government was significantly higher than $3 a dose, coming in at a whopping $255 per dose. The number of doses ordered by the government for it’s first order? A generous 1.7 million. The profit margin for Siga? A jaw dropping 180%.
When I say purchased by the government, of course, I mean railroaded through due to pressure from the White House. The Department of Health and Human Services resisted the purchase, calling it expensive, unproven and unnecessary. However, Siga’s primary shareholder, Ronald O. Perleman, is a longtime DNC donor and a financial backer of the Obama for President campaign. Over the course of the past year the White House has not only forced through approval of the purchase, but also successfully acted to eliminate the opportunity for other firms to bid.
Were we having the right arguments, this would be a big story. It would be bigger than Pick Parry’s #3 gaffe, and bigger than CBS’s slight to Michelle Bachmann’s ego. It would be a bigger story than Obama’s birth certificate by a factor of about one million. But we won’t see Obama’s opponents make much of this, except in the most cursory fashion. And the reason is simple: a spotlight on this type of corruption isn’t a spotlight either party wishes to have become commonplace.
Erik noted in August that Rick Perry has more than a few of these sweetheart deals for donors in his own closet. I noticed then that when we discuss those types of arrangements here, we do so by bandying about the word “corporatist,” which does the disservice of making this type of behavior sound like a type of legitimate governing philosophy. But it isn’t; it’s corruption. The question we should ask when reading Erik’s post isn’t “Is Rick Perry really a corporatist?” It’s, “Why on Earth does Texas still allow him to be governor?”
But of course we don’t ask that question. Some liberals might, but only because Perry is a conservative. Vice versa conservatives with Obama.
Declarations from our leaders that they will protect us from the government, or that they will protect us from corporations, have become all-important to us. Their ability to utter one or the other (without having to actually do anything) is the argument we tell ourselves is important. The degree to which they are competent or corrupt isn’t. Which brings me back to the beginning of this post.
Were we to be told by a division head under our direction that they had made a management hire based on the criteria we use to appoint the executive managers of our government we would fire their ass, have security escort them out, and call HR to make sure they were never considered for another position – and rightfully so.
So, to quote every Republican running for office circa 1992, why can’t we run the government more like we would our own business? Aren’t we better set for success with competent and non-corrupt leaders, regardless of political label?