I don’t need assertiveness training!

In national career surveys, law and debt-collection are regularly ranked as the least-respected occupations. I’d like to add another to that list: management consulting.
After surviving several tours of duty (more glowingly referred to as internships) in corporate America, nothing disturbs me more than the sight of business-world Yodas who do not work and distract me from doing mine.
For those of you unfamiliar with this parasitic growth industry, allow me to elaborate. Management consultants are those learned men and women who yak incessantly about mission statements, right-sizing, corporate responsibility and related ilk. They justify their existence and exorbitant/nauseating fees by conducting seminars and writing verbose reports.
They’ve invaded every nook and cranny of the working world. By virtue of degree and title, they bill themselves as omniscient visionaries, and worker bees (like me, for instance) are told to read their writings and heed their pithy sayings as if they were scripture. It’s a sad state of affairs, and I’m disgusted with it.
Ostensibly, the expertise of a management consulting firm provides “added value,” but from my experience, it usually only adds dead weight.
Last summer, I was employed by a monolithic firm that provides local phone service to most of Minnesota. For three months I was exiled to cubicle 31.20 on the third floor of a nondescript office building in Plymouth. Although I had limited experience, some evil human resources director (Catbert, perhaps?) appointed me team leader of a database development project. Recognizing my incompetence, I soon asked for training. Unfortunately, budget cutbacks and financial belt-tightening (which were probably recommended by a consultant) didn’t allow it.
On company expense, however, I was flown to Denver, Colo., for a four-day propaganda show at corporate headquarters. Forty others manager-interns and I attentively listened to consultants and vice presidents discuss everything from deregulation to the company’s family atmosphere (at which point I almost sang everyone’s favorite “Barney” tune and hugged my neighbor). While I enjoyed the weather and the local bars, these grandiose seminars were of little relevance to my summer assignment.
Upon returning from my company-paid vacation, I was disappointed to hear that the company’s scheduled diversity class had been canceled. A supervisor suggested I take an assertiveness skills seminar instead.
Assertiveness training? Who ever thought a college newspaper columnist would need any of that? Apparently someone important. Although I had little desire to frivolously waste eight hours with another management consultant, I attended without question or complaint (which created an interesting moral dilemma — namely, was I properly asserting my feelings?).
The instructor was a very affable (and affluent, I suspect) Californian in his mid-fifties. Part Billy Graham, part P.T. Barnum, part used car salesman, Phil had marketing (or was it manipulation?) written all over him. After introductions, he highly recommended that we read the faux classic, “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” Good taste prevented me from asking if the other item in his library was a coloring book.
In leading discussions, he nodded his head so much, I thought it would fall off. He encouraged audience participation by randomly calling on people and occasionally Phil punctuated his remarks by shouting “Yes!” as if possessed. Most of the audience (myself included) had that deer-in-the headlights look and stared blankly ahead. Oddly enough, the scene reminded my of a high school pep rally.
Phil spoke a disjoint dialect of English I call manageonics, and my co-workers and I struggled for most of the day with phrases like “neurolinguistic programming,” “power-up statements,” and “ego-protectionism.”
He claimed to be an adjunct professor, and he flirted with pseudo-intellectualism by offering an amateur reading of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.”
The accompanying workbook was written at a third-grade reading level, and I almost choked when Phil said that my “pamphlet was a plate” ready to hold assertive management techniques. Among other things, the book maintained that the passive end of the management continuum is really about victimization. Phil then quoted Dr. Schlessinger, the noted pop radio psychologist, and asked us to take control of our lives and create win/win situations.
Was Phil paid well? Probably. Did he know much about assertiveness? Probably not, but that didn’t seen much of a roadblock for him at all.
To be sure, I learned more talking to my goldfish that night.
More disturbing than my single encounter in the telephony industry is the explosive proliferation of management consultants elsewhere in this country. It seems these scum-sucking bottom feeders are breeding like the tribbles, the fast-multiplying furry little creatures that plagued Capt. James Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise.
Try as hard as I might, I just can’t get away from em. On Saturday morning, while listening to Minnesota Public Radio, a “strategic management consultant,” explained how I could dramatically increase my productivity by working only 40 hours a week (all this in five easy steps, no less). The Sunday paper’s “Employment” section is crowded with columns from self-described experts who gleefully dispense advice on everything from finding the perfect job to exploring entrepreneurial ventures.
Like the recent resurgence of retro and platform shoes, society is awash with an overabundance of management consultants. Leeching off of the productivity of others, they spend their days preaching what most of us take for granted as common sense. From the perspective of an income statement, these guys are overhead.
So what am I asking? Simply that we have fewer image consultants, management gurus, and organizational ethicists. Perhaps then I can get some work done.
Greg Lauer’s column appears every Wednesday in the Daily.