The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

July 10, 2013

Motivational office music from Groupon founder? Hardly

I’ve been saying for some time that what’s missing from rock music are hip workplace references such as “shareholder value,“ “culture of transparency“ and “metrics.“

Well, thank God somebody finally listened.

Andrew Mason, who founded Groupon Inc. and then managed it so well that he was fired, has released “a seven-song album of motivational business music targeted at people newly entering the workforce.“

As America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist, I felt duty-bound to listen to this album from start to finish, acting as a human shield for the ears of my readers. I assure you, my sacrifice will one day be greatly appreciated.

To say the album “Hardly Workin’ “ is bad is an unconscionable insult to things that are bad. It is slickly produced, musically sound and lyrically nauseating.

Here’s a taste: “If you’re seeking business wisdom/ You don’t need no MBA/ Look no further than the beauty/ That surrounds us every day.“

Here’s another: “Don’t make the mistake of believing/ That management is the only road/ To the top of the company/ Great individual contributors/ Are every bit as valuable.“

The album sounds like Journey was hired to pep up a large insurance company’s human resources department - and failed miserably.

I’ll halt the criticism momentarily to acknowledge the very real possibility that this musical effort is a joke and that Mason fancies himself a modern-day Andy Kaufman.

On his blog - a prerequisite for every tech-savvy egotist - Mason claims the album is legit, writing: “Executives, mid-level management and front-line employees are all sure to find valuable takeaways. I’ve probably listened to the album over a dozen times now, and with each spin I feel like I learn something.“

From all accounts - written and otherwise - people who have dealt with Mason suspect it’s a goof.

The problem is, it doesn’t matter whether “Hardly Workin’ “ is a sincere attempt to motivate workers or an elaborate and esoteric mockery of corporate motivation. It bombs on both counts.

I’ll be the first to stand up and applaud anyone who highlights the absurdity of canned motivational tactics. Companies waste scads of money bringing in speakers, hiring spinmeisters to massage corporate mission statements and hanging posters with slogans guaranteed to keep us pepped up and productive.

It’s 99 percent nonsense, but it has an audience, as evidenced by workers who gobble up books providing zippy aphorisms and “10 easy steps to workplace success!“

Messaging, in my humble opinion, is not the key to motivating people. What it takes is a job that challenges employees and sends them home feeling satisfied, combined with a work environment that’s open and collegial. The issue of workplace motivation is a huge distraction in the pursuit of workplace success.

That’s why I bothered to write about Mason’s ridiculous album. To remind people to focus on the work and not on cutesy ways to inspire workers. If you’re listening to your employees, matching skill sets with job tasks, trusting your workers to do their jobs and communicating with them honestly and directly, that’s all the motivation anybody’s going to need.

A company that focuses its managerial energy on creating good jobs for its workers will have workers who say: “I like my job. Yay! I’m going to go do it!“ It’s really that simple.

If Mason is serious in his songwriting, he’s adding to the trash heap of motivational tripe. If he’s joking around, he’s obfuscating in a way that serves no purpose other than to nurture his own ego. He’s the Kanye West of workplace balladeers.

I reached out to Mason via email and asked him to provide some context. He never responded. On his blog, he claims he wrote the album as someone “who believes that messages mean different things depending on the time and place they’re delivered.“

Damn right they do, Mr. Mason. So why are you using your money and your considerable talents - the ones that created a new model for Internet commerce - to dispense music with such clouded intentions? Is it solely to draw attention to yourself?

One of Mason’s seven songs is called “K.I.S.S.“, the acronym for Keep it Simple, Stupid. He drawls: “Don’t make me cut/ Through no thistles/ You can keep all your/ Fancy bells and whistles/ And shove them/ Where the sun don’t shine.“

Would that Mason had taken his own advice - either clearing out the thistles surrounding his intent, or shoving the whole idea back from whence it came.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at rhuppketribune.com or on Twitter RexWorksHere.

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