I guess it's a natural phenomenon brought on by fear, but when the threat of layoff looms, many employees scramble to impress the boss.
As I've mentioned before, I worked alongside several other middle managers at a former company. We were generally cooperative with each other, armed with the knowledge that we all had the same goal — to make the company successful.
And we were successful. About five years into my tenure, we were purchased by a big company who kept everyone on staff, including the executives who were instrumental in making sure our culture stayed the same. Three years after that, we were not so lucky. Our founder moved on to other things, and we were purchased by a company whose ultimate goal, unbeknownst to us, was to move our headquarters from a nice little city in the South to a dismal, decaying frozen tundra up North (but I'm not bitter or anything).
All 155 employees were offered jobs in the new location; only three people accepted. The company was forced to scramble to fill all those positions — underestimating our expertise — and then to quickly train the new folks. The once-vibrant company died a quiet death about nine months later. The guy behind the relocation plans fared better, landing gently elsewhere with the help of his golden parachute.
Before the sale, we'd truly been a happy, though not-so-little family, run by a company president who was like a father figure. After the second sale (but before we knew about the planned change in location), and with our boss pursuing other interests, we underwent a transition. This happened because our old owner knew all of us pretty well, our strengths and weaknesses both individually and collectively. The new owners didn't. So when they flew in for meetings, my former colleagues became like first-graders desperately competing for the attention of the teacher; so in need of "validation" by the new powers that it was, frankly, nauseating.
Our meetings went from fertile idea-sharing times to "Hey, look at me! Look what I've done!" Gone was the cooperation between teams. It was replaced by a race between groups for who could come up with the innovation that would catch the attention of the new bosses, and whose lips could reach the posterior region of the bosses the fastest. It was enough to embarrass Eddie Haskell. And, sadly, hardly anyone was concerned with actually "minding the store." The irony, of course, was that all that grandstanding was ultimately wasted.
Because of that experience, I hate workplace grandstanding and all the jockeying for position that goes with it. I know that career experts tell you that it's necessary to toot your own horn now and then, but I don't think that means indulging in obvious bootlicking. I think it's unseemly and immature, and it sacrifices the teamwork that makes truly great companies work. But that's just my opinion. What's yours?