Saturday, August 06, 2011

Class struggle

It was likely very early in our history, possibly in our pre-history, that someone noticed that having all the warriors charging at each other on both sides was always inferior to having some sort of arrangement and timing. In chess, I always read: a strategy no matter how feeble is better than no strategy at all. Ambushes, surges, tactical retreats and ceasefires all came into the reckoning and all leaders knew their worth. Soon as an opponent sees the strategy it is a bother to him and he has to think of a counter. And China has never been a cold ground for conflict or war. Its culture was there earliest to codify war and study it. It produced the The Art of War and The Thirty-Six Stratagems.
Of course, modern wars often make a mockery of strategy with one-sided thrashings, descending into guerilla action where it finally begins again. In the business world this remains. And so when we had three resignations in two days out of the blue, it was at first a surprise and then a realization. Our opponent had struck a blow. One adorable thing about Romance of the Three Kingdoms is that the protagonists all knew each other. Cao Cao had shared drinks with Liu Bei. Zhuge Liang's brother was a strategist for the Kingdom of Wu. In the shower the other day, I was reminded of Liu Bei actually, and for the benefit of those who haven't read the book (most readers I presume) let me describe in my own words:
As Cao Cao had effectively usurped the Han throne – holding the emperor as a puppet, Wu (near Shanghai) was already an established kingdom… Liu Bei, however, was the model of loyalty and considered Uncle to the Emperor, and only late realized that the Han could not be restored and fled south, pursued all the way by Cao Cao and the soon to be Kingdom of Wei. Eventually, and it took time, Liu Bei arrived in Chengdu and set up his own kingdom, the Kingdom of Shu. Through charm, negotiation and battle, many strong generals eventually came under Liu Bei's flag and fought strongly to almost take down Cao Cao's evil empire. (It is worth knowing that the original is biased treating one side, Liu Bei's Shu, as the good guys and Cao Cao as the ingenious baddy; history may differ.)
The Liu Bei in my time would have to be my former boss, who from prominence as the Director of Studies at my school, fought battle after battle till he was beaten from his position and was sent lurking on the outside, looking for another position to ascend. This we have all known. And we knew he was about to get what he wanted. Then three resignations came within 24 hours, all with exactly the same text in the letter, almost tempting one to think that the strategy was going to be personalized. There was scrambling in the office as my current boss met with all to see who was leaving or staying. Thoughts went toward whether this was specifically timed: we have a new centre opening shortly, now it is unstaffable; it'd be a great revenge wouldn't it to deliver a blow to the company. And it is in the timing that such resignations become a strategy. It was bidden-time. It was a co-ordinated strike. It was the Twin Towers, albeit on a comparatively much less destructive scale.
Tied into this drama are loyalties. Several days prior to this flare up, there was a big meet up between my former boss and many company employees from many different branches. He announced that he had taken a regional manager position and will start from September 3. Resignations started coming in on August 3. I wasn't invited to this event. In fact, I only found out about it after the resignations started rolling in. (My fellow senior teaching buddy was invited, but couldn't to; now she wishes she had gone to find out this plan ahead.) I've never even implicitly been headhunted or lured. That despite the fact my former boss and I had a very good relationship… good enough for the higher-ups to suspect me of being the inside person. However, I wouldn't have left my job in his school under his leadership. Maybe he knew that.
My school chain could easily be spoken as being an evil empire. It is riven by power struggles. There is a degree of corruption and bureaucratic meddling. But this is not the only company with these issues, especially in China. Will the grass be any greener for the leavers? My senior teacher buddy still believes that this strike was not done by our former boss with spite; these were after all people he built great trust with, whose abilities he is sure of; any addition nuisance he caused to his old employers would be just a bonus. I'm a little less certain. And my current boss and his new boss hate him with a vengeance. I'm not in Wei dreaming of Shu. I'm where I am and I think this is still very much the place for me.

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