People Leave – Watch their Feet


Blind to Bleeding

Skittles was a mid-level manager promoted by his manager based on their trust relationship.  Unfortunately for his manager, Skittles wasn’t the person that he represented himself to be.   As a result of his actions and bad behavior, Skittles single-handedly destroyed or altered multiple careers and adversely changed organizational culture.   His actions alone cost a company millions of dollars in losses and the best part is … the company doesn’t even know it!

How does a company lose millions of dollars without knowing it? 

Some people choose loyalty over good behavior.   In the case of Skittles, his manager chose him because of his loyalty.   Skittles was willing to do what his manager wanted and as a result, his manager protected him as long as the cost center was down and the illusion of productivity persisted.   When the budget is in hundreds of millions, a few million here or there is some how seemingly trivial.  All that said,  if we think about the costs as”real-time” or what is in the budget “now” it may appear that cost cutting will reap long term benefits when in fact it is the equivalent to ripping seeds from fertile ground.

Skittles adopted and merged teams from preexisting groups in order to form and lead an organizational unit based on a business area that he had no prior knowledge, education or understanding.  That within itself wasn’t a problem, it was more that he had an unwillingness to listen and learn.   He had no interest in the work itself and no curiosity. Beyond that, he had no vision and no interest in the people he had pulled together.  For him they were names on a lighted wall of excel.

The organization from a leadership perspective only saw the results of diminishing cost center expenses.   One of his first managerial acts was to decrease his head count.   His methodology behind the reduction choice is unknown.   Perceptually, it could have been by a drinking game at the local pub.   The level of trust and authority granted to him allowed him to make decisions without having to justify or rationalize them.

The first cut was deep, sweeping and random.   It eliminated project management, innovation and parts of operations.   The group had to adjust and reorient almost like a line of ants recovering from a kid with a magnifying glass.    The bleeding wasn’t apparent to Skittles but the new adjustments meant that services that existed on a Monday were non-existent or severely deprecated by Thursday.    Open up the hood of your car and start cutting some wires while it is running.  The car may still run.  Did you need those wires?

As People Watch

The team continued to reform and re-group to accommodate changes in operations, team structure and departing team members.    Many companies make changes that require labor changes but in this case, there is a “war for talent” ; the interesting part of this story is that for every 1 person released there were 3-5 roles open on average that they could have immediately filled.  Instead, they offered the person a warm cuddle with blue folder and a shiny boot.   Thanking them for their years with the company..  Skittles didn’t even give them the courtesy of saying goodbye.   People were watching..    As the work output changed from a service perspective, demand increased and there were shadow services being provided by passionate people with a personal cause.   The organization at one point had a clear mission and vision.  This was replaced with a fuzzy eye chart.   The team did not understand their purpose.   Trust in leadership decreased rapidly.

There was no mission, vision, scope of work and no understanding of what people should be doing.  The reason that people existed in the organizational unit at all was in question.  Skittles did consider some of the people in the group friends or loyal to him personally and sought to protect those who were perceptually loyal.    The rest were trash and they were told as much.

In the perfect storm, the company released most of the HR staff and the employee relations people were a corporate target.  When people watch in fear, they don’t say anything.   What seems to happen or at least in this situation is that people decrease productivity and start to hide.   They start to move down the ladder on Maslow’s hierarchy.   They become concerned about survival vs productivity.   It is also interesting to see who leaves the organization first and the reasons why people stay.

Just for an example, some people stay because they are waiting through a specific period of time for a payout or a vesting.    Some people stay because they are afraid of doing something new.   Some people stay because they don’t have to do anything and they have an opportunity to be compensated while having no responsibilities.  The “bordom room” doesn’t bother some people. 

It certainly didn’t bother Skittles.  He was getting his quota of labor and since he had nothing that he needed to show in delivery or services, all looked good.

Abusive Behavior

It may come as a surprise to you that there isn’t a law against being abusive to workers.  There are plenty of workplace laws that cover bias, equality, sexual harassment and other things but not abusive behavior.   A company or person in a company can inflict emotional damage on worker with little to no recourse.   On top of that,  even if someone were to raise their hand and stand up from being abused, many of the people around that person would not.   They would seek to protect themselves or their welfare first even at a great cost in morals or values.   Many companies can release workers for any reason with little recourse for the worker.   The burden on the worker would be to prove harm but there would be little benefit to the worker.    At the end of the day, it is easier to shut up and color vs say anything.

Showing with Their Feet

In this story, Skittles released most of the team and as for the rest, they are either leaving or have left.   The cost to the organization in experienced labor,  opportunity costs,  operations, services, compliance and innovation is beyond our ability to calculate and comprehend.   The short term savings resulted in a ripple effect of long term loss in real dollars and opportunity cost.   In a twist,  most of the people that know of these costs or missed opportunities are no longer with the organization.

People will show organizations with their feet at some point.  People will seek out other places to work.  For those that stay, they can benefit to an extent.  There is a good chance their turn will come as well but there is also a chance for them to do well as individuals.

The Day After

While Skittles hurt the company financially, hurt the people that worked for him and hurt many others along the way,  he still thrives in the organization.   He set the tone for toxic workplace but he isn’t alone in fault.  He is enabled by the broken culture and the #mememe mentality.   Even if companies are performing well over time, the market drives and demands operational sacrifice and short term thinking.    Short term thinking fosters inconsistent service delivery,  lack of corporate and organizational trust,  and a serial unraveling of our human connectivity.     The good trusted name of an organization becomes a historical footnote in the book of corporate history.   Generally speaking, it is accepted today that until the person gets caught or the company gets called out that bad behavior is acceptable.

The lesson here is that we as people can choose with our feet.   We can also choose to perpetuate these behaviors and make excuses for them or take action to change them.

For those who have been in the path of Skittles or a person like him…  Let us take this as a lesson and an opportunity.

For those who are currently living with your own Skittles,  the only person that can help you get out of this situation is you.

To you Skittles..  –  May you find happiness at the end the rainbow as opposed to the end of the wrapper.. 

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