In ice hockey, there is an unofficial role called an enforcer. Whenever the opposing team indulges in an overly violent or a dangerous play, the enforcer’s job is to respond to such a situation by taking the offending player from the opposing team head on. In other words, the enforcer is expected to challenge and take the fight to the player of the opposing team.
In the corporate world, too, enforcers or hit men exist, although they are never called that officially or unofficially. The roles and responsibilities of an enforcer or a hit man in the corporate world are different from that of the enforcers in ice hockey.
In the corporate world, an enforcer’s role is to implement some difficult to digest or unpalatable business decisions, even at the expense of hurting the employees via layoffs, job cuts or retrenchments. Those business decisions always have the blessings of the C-Suite executives. However, they don’t want to get their ‘hands dirty’, lest they spoil their carefully crafted image and come across as employee-unfriendly.
Let me introduce you to a Sid I knew from my days in the corporate world. Sid, the enforcer, was a highly qualified individual. Master of Engineering, MBA, the whole shebang.
Although none of the foot soldiers, I mean regular employees, liked Sid, he was still at the top of the totem pole. And the management always called upon Sid for the most difficult of undertakings.
And Sid used to always deliver, even at the expense of driving out good employees. I used to always wonder, why is Sid so popular with the management even though the employees hated him. He was always in all the meeting with the head honchos, ever ready to head to the ‘battlefield’ to execute the most difficult of tasks, with a smile on his face.
Sid was not worried about what the foot soldiers thought of him. He was a trusted lieutenant to the generals in charge. He took no prisoners. Summary justice was delivered in the ‘battlefield’.
Furthermore, nobody retreated when the lieutenant had ordered them to charge forward. You retreat or even think of retreating, you are taken out by the trusted lieutenant. That was his modus operandi and the generals, I mean the management, loved him for it. They used to shower him with accolades, awards, promotions and a hefty year-end bonus.
Good cop, bad cop
However, one day, I learned the truth about Sid, during one of the lunch meetings I was having with a C-Suite executive.
We were at a restaurant for lunch. Sid walks in and walks over to our table to say ‘Hi’. We exchange pleasantries and off goes Sid to his own table.
After a moment of silence, the C-Suite executive says something along the lines, “I hate that guy, but we need him.“
I asked, “Why?“
“He is our enforcer. Whenever we need someone to shake the tree of any department or division, we send Sid, and he gets the job done.”
“But people hate him.”
“Yes, we know.“
“They might have just had enough of Sid.” said I.
“One day, we will, too. And, then he will be gone. He will be our fall guy.” the boss said.
“Does he know about this?” I asked.
“Of course, not... does not have a clue. We don’t want to telegraph that message, too. Furthermore, he is an egotist. He thinks the company cannot run without him, but he is so wrong.” said the boss.
“We can run just fine, alright. However, for ‘enforcement’ activities, we need Sid. He is able to shake things up and he doesn’t care if it pisses off people. He is able to bell the cat. Sid is the bad cop to our good cop. He is our hitman.“
Enforcers for hire
Management enforcers such as Sid work in almost every organization. Or they jump from organizations to organizations, as their utility runs out. Or they are hired for the short term and then let go.
The Sids of the world do the dirty work for the management while they, the management, put on a smiling face for you. They are the managements’ executioners—the ones who does the dirty jobs and are paid well for it.
The Sids of the world have no conscience, no guilt, no empathy. They are empty on the inside. However, they do one job and one job every well—shaking the tree or rocking the boat or uprooting the tree. And that’s their USP. And the management loves them until they don’t.
Consequently, always be careful when a Sid walks in. He will be presented to you as the next best thing since sliced bread.
He will be introduced as “an innovative leader with a finger on the pulse of the organization, who will help us achieve strategic and much needed transformational change.”
In addition, you might hear them say “a master strategist with intricate knowledge on building team synergies and revolutionizing our operations holistically.”
Or “a future-oriented, employee-centric, client-focused leader, with a keen sense of purpose to achieve organizational goals and objectives.”
Furthermore, you may also hear them say, “the company has been doing extremely well lately, but we are constantly looking at opportunities to take us to the next level of growth. The market is undergoing a paradigm shift and great synergies between various division/BU are required to future proof the company.“
Basically, all you will hear will be management speak or management gobbledygook.
When Sid arrives at your workplace, he is there to have people fired or laid-off. So, get out if you can get a head start on him, else you might just get run over.
How to identify Sids
- Sids are mostly brought in when a company/division/business center is in trouble and needs to be ‘rebooted’.
- Sids are claimed to have the power to walk on water.
- They always give up a very important and strategic assignment to take up this responsibility.
- Your jobs are never in jeopardy; nothing will be outsourced. Everything will be as before. Normal. No merging of or dissolution of teams. Until one day everything changes.
- Management will arrange for a break-the-ice session, where they will wax eloquent about what a tremendous job you have done thus far, “but more needs to be done.” Always, more needs to be done. ‘More’ could mean the less of you in the organization.
- Initially, the message will be that no leadership changes will take place. You’ll be told that Sid will work closely with the current leadership team to streamline processes, identify gaps, properly align leadership goals with team development, enhance team dynamics, and provide an out-of-box perspective.
However, eventually, the current leadership team will be relegated to the sidelines or shown the door, and Sid will be your boss to enforce the top executives’ directives.
So, learn to recognize a Sid.
Or, are you a ‘Sid, the enforcer‘ yourself? 🤭