Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Corporate term of the day -- FUBAR Promotions

Sometimes a major initiative will blow up so badly that the careers of everyone associated will take a major, possibly fatal hit. As far as I can tell, though, that seems to be the exception, driven as much by company politics and poor spin control as by the actual magnitude of the screw-up.

I can't recall personally seeing a heads-will-roll disaster but I've seen quite a few either scapegoated or rebranded ones. Scapegoating goes about like you would expect. A mid-level person (preferably one who actually did screw something up) is fired and the remaining people line up behind the story that the project would have been a huge success if not for that one idiot. This often results in a de facto posthumous promotion: the departed financial analyst not only underestimated the cost; he was also responsible for the disastrous marketing campaign.

There are a couple of problems with the scapegoating approach to spin control. First, unless there's been a recent change in upper management, it raises the problematic why'd-you-hire-the-guy question. Second, disseminating that particular narrative on a company wide scale can be tricky. Corporate communications are much better suited at putting a positive spin on things. That's where rebranding comes in.

The somewhat Orwellian process goes like this: first, the goalposts are moved (project objectives are rewritten so that relatively minor improvements and largely cosmetic changes qualify as objectives); second, the accomplishments of the project are depicted as positively as possible internally and externally with emails, announcements, recognition at meetings and press releases; third, everyone prominently associated with the project receives a career bump through excellent evaluations, bonuses and promotions.

The other nice thing about the rebranding approach is that it can be done on a massive scale. The worst corporate disaster I've ever seen first hand resulted in dozens of promotions, even though the people in the know were privately describing the project as an almost complete failure.

I wonder how many dysfunctional corporate cultures can be partially attributed to FUBAR promotions. Who knows... that might even explain the post-Zucker NBC.


  1. I've also seen the opposite: something is a success and so people are slimed in order not to get credit for it.

  2. Wow, that is actually nastier than Mark's version

  3. Harlan Ellison described another variation in "Watching" where a studio lets a project crash and burn because the executive who would have gotten credit had left or had fallen out of power (the miniseries Dreamkeeper might be an example).