Thursday, March 30, 2017

A little executive hand-holding, why don’t we

Even before someone invented the term “C-Suite,” perks (above and beyond above and beyond salaries and bonuses, and sploshier offices) have always gone to those higher up the corporate food chain.

When I worked at the long-gone First National Bank of Boston in the mid-1970’s, there were two subsidized cafeterias in the basement: the officers’ dining room and the people’s caf. I always ate in the people’s caf, but sometimes I got to go invited to lunch or to an after work drink at the Federal Club, on the building’s top floor, which was reserved for the upper echelon of the upper echelon. I think you had to be an SVP to dine or hoist a few at the Federal Club. No peons need apply. (I couldn’t take my invites personally: my boyfriend (later husband) was consulting to the head of the department where I worked, who was an SVP. Any time I got dragged along to the Federal Club it was because of Jim.)

A decade later, Wang Labs was chock full of perks for those with offices on Mahogany Row (the execs), and for anyone VP level an above.

As I recall, VPs got closer parking, bigger offices, and a clothing allowance. They also got to stay at better hotels. I don’t think I ever traveled with a VP, but it was always pretty amusing if you went to some away event where VPs were also present. Us lesser beings stayed in dumps one step above SROs. (One time in Chicago, I stayed in a hotel that was surrounded by a parking lot that had max security prison barbed wire coils on top of its fence.)

When things got tough – and things were always getting tough at Wang – they cut back on overhead lighting and daily cleaning and trash pickup for everyone except the big guns. Daily trash pickup may not sound like such a big deal. After all, there was one mega trash barrel on each floor where we could dump our banana peels and tea-bags. Unfortunately, Wang began limited the number of times they emptied the mega communal trash barrels, so they’d be overflowing with garbage. What a treat! The sneakier among us would drop their banana peels and tea bags in the VP wastebaskets, knowing that they got daily pickup.

Most of my career was in smaller companies, where the perks were just less in general, but they were generally there somewhere. (Sometimes there were anti-perks. When I was a VP at one small software firm, I was on the list not to get paid if we were short in terms of making payroll.)

Snark aside, there’s no reason why those in upper level positions shouldn’t be treated well – all part of the overall compensation package. Hey, I never got a clothing allowance, but you can bet I liked it when I clawed my way into a window office and a richer bonus pool.

Anyway, yesterday’s perks are nothing compared to what Johnson & Johnson is doing for its execs so they don’t burn out. (I will note that no one ever worried about my burning out, although I did wig out one of my bosses when, at a meeting, he asked me about some deliverable I hadn’t yet gotten around to delivering. Mostly because I was working long days (including weekends), and was completely exhausted. Anyway, when he made his ask – which was in no way nasty - I burst into tears. The only other woman at the meeting burst into sympathetic tears. What a sweetie! Perhaps we both could have gotten something out of some J&J-type TLC.)


J&J is launching an intensive program today to make sure its senior executives stay in top physical, mental, and emotional form. The program, which the health and personal care company is calling Premier Executive Leadership, will surround its leadership class with specialists like the medical crew around an astronaut after splashdown. A battery of services will include abdominal ultrasounds at the Mayo Clinic and home visits by a dietitian for cupboard inspections. (Source: Bloomberg)

Well, I’m sure everyone could use a Mayo Clinic abdominal ultrasound – I’m wondering what’s in my abdomen that’s giving me that ultra-attractive muffin top – but cupboard inspections? Tell me someone Type-A enough to be a senior J&J exec a) stocks their own cupboard, b) wouldn’t go in there an edit out the junk food before the inspector arrived.

"Leaders aren't a set of skills and tools. They're a human being," said Lowinn Kibbey, the head of Johnson & Johnson's Human Performance Institute, which developed the program. "Many of these leaders arrive in these roles without being equipped with how to stay healthy and resilient."

Human Performance Institute? Sounds pretty invasive and dire. Guess they do more at J&J than make baby powder and Bandaids.

So J&J has spent the past year trying out its anti-burnout initiative on seven of its own executives (citing privacy, the company declined to say whether its chief executive officer has enrolled) and will start marketing the program today to other Fortune 100 companies, at $100,000 a head.

My initial reaction is that most of them would probably rather have the $100K. But,

To be sure, the burned-out CEO makes, on average, 373 times as much as his or her (also burned-out) employees and has much heftier retirement benefits, too.

So $100K means, as burnt-out CEO Tony Soprano might have put it, stugats.

They’re burning out in today’s VUCA world. Not familiar with VUCA? Thanks to a couple of my clients in the leadership development world, I throw VUCA around a lot. That’s because the modern business world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

One might argue that so is much of life.

But VUCA, we are told (by Seymour Adler, a partner in a big HR consulting firm) “takes its toll” in the business. And, one might further argue, in life in general.

But VUCA in business is the reason behind J&J’s pricey focus on their execs. After a deep-dive physical at Mayo:

The executive then meets for a number of days with her three coaches—the dietitian, the physiologist, and the executive coach—all of whom will closely monitor her progress over the next nine months. The dietitian will offer her a number of tips on how to stay healthy on business trips.

"You pack like you're on a canoe trip," said David Astorino, one of the program's executive coaches. If execs don't eat every three hours, blood sugar drops. "We want energy," Astorino said. The home visit and cupboard diagnosis are meant to ensure they have access to the healthiest foods at home as well as at work.

Well, on a canoe trip one wouldn’t be taking a laptop or wearing a suit. But I guess they mean a baggy of gorp or a KIND bar to keep up that executive strength.

The J&J executive coach really gets to know their coachee. The intake interview lasts two days, during which the exec tells their life story and defines a purpose bigger than making money for themselves and J&J. The coach also interviews friends, family, and colleagues. (I’m exhausted just thinking about it.)

All of this is said to pay off big time in terms of “productivity, quality, organizational strength, and shareholder value worth almost six times the cost of coaching.”

I know enough about how ROI studies go to have my doubts, but I’ll be a sport here and take their word that all this coaching, abdominal scanning and cupboard inspecting is worth every penny.

I’d still rather pocket the $100K. Maybe that’s why I’m not an executive worthy of any of this.

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