33 SIXTEEN TONS AND WHAT DO YOU GET?
Work is important to our lives. Many let work define their existence and later struggle with retirement. Even later they can have regrets about how and why they took their work seriously. Management consultants are used to improve performance. An outside consultant concerned about the characters of Breaking Bad and the work they do might say something like this.
Too little of the work in Breaking Bad yields positive results. Marie Schrader is the exception. Her work as a radiologic technician is useful, provides job satisfaction, enhances personal status and is apparently trouble free. There is just one instance when Marie makes derogatory remarks about the people with whom she works. This is an issue that can be explored in a routine performance review with her manager. No more than that, unless her dissatisfaction in her place of employment is contributing to the kleptomania of Marie. Her psychological problem does not fortunately manifest itself in the workplace which is just as well because the American health system has enough problems without Marie stealing the hospital equipment.
Wendy S is a meth addicted street prostitute. She lacks a recognisable surname and, despite her profession, is an inadequate alternative to onanism. Wendy S has neither job satisfaction nor enhanced status. Her work not only makes excessive demands on her spirit, poor Wendy S struggles to obtain a sensible work life balance.
Skyler White has additional skills and more potential. She has teeth, shoes that fit her feet and an ergonomically designed workplace. Skyler took her job for a short period yet she also encountered serious problems. As can happen in any office, her ego was flattered by the extra attention from colleagues. Skyler was sexually involved with her boss Ted Beneke. Inevitably the deviation from company protocol by Skyler and Ted had implications. Not every member of a workforce is trustworthy . A compromised Skyler worked hard at the ledgers of the company but the financial problems were beyond her accountancy skills. Skyler used, borrowed or stole $600,000 of the hard earned money of her husband Walt to stop less than disciplined Ted going to jail and implicating her in financial fraud and income tax evasion. The existence of an available $600,000 was fortunate . Before the company accounts were settled the sexual heat between the couple had faded. Skyler was emotionally bruised and may now have reduced potential. Ted was reduced by a mysterious accident. He is not, though, in custody.
Hank Schrader and his partner Steve Gomez were diligent policemen and appeared to have few regrets about their choice of profession. They worked hard and were pragmatic. They took orders from their superiors and coped with flexible work patterns and non-routine tasks. Hank was injured in a violent attack but survived. In an odd way the attack helped Hank rescue his career. But just as Hank thought he and sidekick Steve were making progress with a challenging case they were murdered by a team of neo-Nazis. This team would be difficult to integrate in a conventional work environment but they did have networking skills that helped with task completion. The work of Hank and Steve was not as well received by customers as the efforts of radiologic technician Marie but both men did, like many public sector employees, have a positive attitude towards their work.
Jesse, Badger, Skinny Pete and Combo shared an indolent manner, had appalling dress standards and were weak on corporate loyalty. They did, though, respond to incentives and inducements and agreed to take on extra responsibilities. Concerned primarily with mercenary rewards they were vague about how to progress their careers but were willing to perform routine and dull work that involved hanging around all day on street corners. If this makes Badger, Skinny Pete and Combo sound like dull men, they were bold enough to share the risk taking of Jesse. The faith of senior partner Combo in economic competition and the principle of unrestricted markets was a factor in him forfeiting his life. These four people were disorganised and easily distracted but whatever their limitations three of them survived the 62 episodes of Breaking Bad. Longevity in employees and business partners is important.
Lydia Rodarte-Quayle was very different from Jesse and his crew. Lydia was the kind of power dressed role-model that managers are always keen to champion and promote. Thanks to her efforts and smart appearance Lydia had secured a senior position distributing worldwide various materials. Her anxiety made her appear earnest and to the inexperienced this can be confused with loyalty and dedication. Lydia had an overdeveloped mercenary appetite and was unsympathetic to colleagues and rivals. This is not rare in the ambitious. Unfortunately for Lydia this trait in her personality was identified by alert business partner Walter White, and he took affirmative action. He poisoned Lydia but like any good manager confirmed the disciplinary action with the person being disciplined. This was done through a telephone call. Face to face communication would have been better of course.
The CEOs in Breaking Bad were as unfortunate as distraught Lydia. Walt and Gus were the last bosses standing and, because of their industry, they deserved to be. The neo-Nazi intruders that became involved after Gus were opportunists who struck lucky for a brief period. They are not worth taking seriously. A reliance on sketchy ad hoc plans had inevitable and fatal consequences for the neo-Nazis. Walt and Gus were different. Both implemented business plans, achieved eminence in the drug manufacturing profession, understood pricing mechanisms and earned themselves a fortune. The problematical relationship that existed between the two men is not uncommon in successful organisations. Gus failed to identify the appropriate skill set for his employee and recruited an over-qualified chemist who soon became resentful and difficult. Lacking good consultative advice, the attempt by Gus to manage a well-educated and assertive employee ended in failure. The employee Walt reacted badly. Usurped employer Gus died and left half of his face on the floor.
The face of Walt did remain at his death. In fact there was a smile. At some point Walt should have sought independent advice as to whether his hard work manufacturing meth qualified as sensible palliative care. Bad decisions about career alternatives and a failure to establish mutual respect in working relationships was a weakness that shaped all of the working life of Walter. Employment as a high school teacher did not utilise his skills and education but was not entirely unsuitable for Walt. It did minimise the problem he had in his working relationships. Teaching adolescent pupils would have been frustrating but it did allow Walt to have sole authority in his workplace.
Ex-policeman Mike Ehrmantraut was nowhere near as effective a role-model as Lydia but he was a loyal employee of Gus. Mike, though, was not adept at managing change. This was demonstrated by his reaction to Gus being replaced by admittedly overbearing Walt. Faced with change in the workplace Mike became sullen. Direct constructive feedback is always acceptable but his insults were designed to alienate new boss Walt. Again, as he should, Walt explained the procedure to Mike when discipline was applied. Well almost. At his death poor Mike was left to wonder about the lack of communication skills that led to his demise. Mike was a stickler for procedure and protocol and a man with obvious strengths. Both of his two managers, Gus and Walt, made errors. Neither agreed with Mike an effective personal development plan that could have focussed on his communication expertise. Because he killed Mike while personal development was still outstanding, Walt is especially culpable.
Unlike some American industries, increasingly fewer, meth manufacturing is not regulated to ensure free competition between suppliers. Monopolies, even those that are temporary and restricted by geography, encourage managers to overreach. This happened in Breaking Bad. The corporate warfare between Gus and his Mexican competitors led to a whole management team being issued with redundancy notices. Rather than be given a redundancy lump sum payment, which is normal business practice, these people were murdered. When Walt established his own business to replace the one previously operated by Gus, he also decided to rationalise the workforce. In this instance the workforce being rationalised was convinced it was entitled to further and continuing remuneration. Ten men were killed in three minutes. Walt and Gus may have had differences but their response to external threats was similar and heavy handed. Gus insisted upon hands-on control. This is always risky for a boss who spends time away from the front line. Although the task completion was successful both Walt and Mike subsequently needed medical treatment. Full marks to Gus for direct action but credit also has to be given to Walt for his willingness to delegate responsibility for issuing redundancy notices. Walt showed complete faith in the competence of his hastily recruited neo-Nazi henchmen. Admittedly his inability to attend the prison where the previous employees were located determined the hands-off approach of Walt. If delegation can be essential, it does have attendant risks. Employees can overrate their importance to the organisation. Working with neo-Nazis does not mitigate this problem. Disappointingly the execution of the ten redundancy notices by the neo-Nazis led to further redundancies, their own. Reduce a skilled workforce and organisations that once thrived can lose their place in a still prospering market. Professional standards in the workplace are important. Transgress them and there can be serious consequences.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.