Employee's suit: Company used waterboarding to motivate workers – Salt Lake Tribune
This isn't a “Lean” article, but holy moley, you have to read the linked story and think about how a company culture gets that far off the rails.
First off, there's really no formal “scorecard” for a company's performance on the “respect for people” principle of the Toyota Production System… but if there were, a Utah company called “Prosper” might have earned an all-time low score… not that they're a company that's trying to do anything Lean. I guess it goes to show that “respect for people” has to be spelled out as a Toyota Way principle because there are too many workplace examples of disrespect…
As you can see in the headline of the linked article, yes, a former salesperson has accused a manager of “waterboarding” him in a “motivational” exercise:
The suit claims that Hudgens' team leader, Joshua Christopherson, asked for volunteers in May for “a new motivational exercise,” which he did not describe. Hudgens, who was 26 at the time, volunteered in order to “prove his loyalty and determination,” the suit claims.
Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill, the suit claims. Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.
Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgen's mouth and nostrils – like the interrogation strategy known as “waterboarding” – and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled, the suit alleges.
The company president, Dave Ellis, does NOT deny that the exercise occurred… it was just a misunderstanding, since it was something that Socrates supposedly did to demonstration that you should be willing to fight for something as hard as you had to fight to breathe.
The allegation is being questioned of course, and this could be an example of a former employee exaggerating the situation.
The other allegations include:
However, the suit claims Christopherson “intentionally engaged in physically and emotionally abusive conduct” to punish workers who did not meet company performance goals.
“Prosper's management passed by and through Christopherson's team area and was able to see mustaches on its employees, missing chairs and Christopherson's paddle,” the suit alleges.
Ellis said no managers have said they saw the activities described in Hudgens' suit, and the employees reported they are “more along the lines of fun.”
“It's voluntary, it's humorous, it's team and camaraderie-building,” Ellis said.
Ah ha — “did not meet company performance goals.” This sounds like an extreme case of the typical “carrot and stick” system of management by objectives… reward those who do well (with boat trips) and humiliate or punish those who don't meet the objectives. If managers were pounding people's desks with a paddle and drawing mustaches on them, I doubt there were control charts to see if the difference between “boat trip” and “chair taken away” was statistically significant or not!
I'm sure the company started off with good intentions… but their traditional view of rewards and performance-based recognition went haywire. Why is it that companies are much more willing to fire and punish “poor performers” than they are to look at the systemic causes…. oh, because the executives might have to look in the mirror?
Or, Prosper might suggest that you hire…. well, hire Prosper, Inc. If you look at their website, it's a bit creepy. They claim to be a company that has training and other services to coach other companies and entrepreneurs in being successful. Their product is so good, apparently, that they have to waterboard their salespeople into pushing whatever crap it is that they have?
A quote on their home page:
“We are the solution! From the beginning… like the rings of waves on the surface of the pool of success.”
Those rings of waves are emanating out from someone who is being drowned in a motivational exercise, apparently!
A more recent news story claims that the publicity “hasn't hurt business.” Go figure…
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