Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mad Man's Fall Provides Real-Life Lessons

None other than Don Draper, the iconic ad man of television’s Mad Men, and the creative force behind the fictional Sterling Cooper and Partners agency, has been placed on a performance improvement plan. They didn’t call it that. Perhaps they hadn’t come up with that euphemism yet. But there’s no mistaking it.

Draper has been given
 Don Draper
conditions to improve his performance or hit the bricks. I’ve known several people who were placed on performance improvement plans, but only one who returned to a fully functioning position. In my mind, such a plan is generally more about documenting a firing than improving performance.

Some of the conditions in Draper’s plan are recognizable today, such as running every move by management. Others are uniquely Mad Men, such as not drinking in the office, unless, of course, he’s entertaining clients.

There are other sure signs that Draper’s tenure is coming to an end, many of which apply to real life, including the following:

Being isolated. Being shunned by colleagues is never a good sign. When Draper shows up at the office after a leave of absence, people are uncomfortable in his presence. Even long-time coworkers, including people Draper certainly considers friends, are reluctant to engage him, leaving him alone in the conference room.

Secret meetings in secret places. Anyone who has been in an office setting recognizes the drill. Top executives gather and leave the floor quietly, possibly with a human resources rep. in tow. Chances are they aren’t discussing increasing the bonus. In Draper’s case, the partners convene in an upstairs conference room to discuss his fate.

Losing compensation. Speaking of bonuses, anyone who isn’t getting their fair share ought to be concerned. Draper is threatened with losing his partnership shares.

Piling on. When someone is wounded, people feel free to take their shots like never before. In Draper’s case, an emboldened Peggy, who Draper rescued from the secretarial pool, drops by only to tell him he hasn’t been missed.

Excluded from meetings or projects. This is a sure red flag. Draper can’t access files he needs and his creative team assembles without him.

Downgraded digs. Draper is assigned the office where another executive previously committed suicide. Talk about bad mojo. Real-life isn’t usually this poetic, although the message is the same, whether it’s a window or chair being taken away.

Draper probably figured he was safe from such indignities, having been the driver of the agency’s prosperity. But safety is an illusion. There comes a point when even high performers can be considered a liability. In the end, Draper does what most dutiful associates do. He accepts the conditions of his performance improvement plan in good faith, hoping his position can be salvaged. If real life is a barometer, it won’t. He should’ve taken the competitor’s offer and moved on. Perhaps that’s Mad Men’s final chapter.