The Project: What’s In a Name?

All about me

This is the first in a set of articles detailing some of the management behaviors that took place while a certain department was working on a very labor-intensive project.  This won’t be detailing the project specifically, but how management handled the stresses on the department resulting from the project.

The department was several weeks into the work on the project, and the strain was showing on everyone.  People were working insane hours trying to get their project work done while getting their regular jobs done as well. People putting in 50 to 80 hours a week was becoming typical, and there was no end in sight.  Nights, weekends, and holidays were being taken up by project work, as were the notes from supervisors as to why a certain regular work task wasn’t done.  The silent reaction to that kind of demand was usually, “You are kidding, right?”

Many looked to the office of Sarah.  Claiming she was ‘swamped’, she had not volunteered to take any burden off of anyone regarding the project, though she had hired a temp or two for some of the tasks.  While the staff was appreciative of the temps work, they also looked skeptically as Sarah’s claim, as they were all swamped with work even before the project.  Now they were simply overloaded.

In the midst of this, Sarah had decided what her major area of focus was going to be.  She needed a new title.  Claiming her present title didn’t sufficiently convey the importance of her role, she had gone on a campaign of trying to change her title to something more appropriate.  As the machinery of this involved some of the systems that she was in charge of, she would appropriate some of the time of the people of the department to make this happen.  It didn’t seem to matter to her that her people were already beyond their capacity.  This was important to Sarah, as it would give her the title she so well deserved.

So, it came as no real surprise when a member of her department, involved in getting testing done before the deadline later that day, opened her mailbox to see a note from Sarah designated as high priority.  Opening it, they saw all the approvals necessary for the title change had come through and that Sarah had to have it officially put into the system right away, or, in Sarah speak, by end of day.

Dutifully, the employee of the department closed the testing they were doing, opened up another system, and entered the information to officially change Sarah’s title.  After saving that information, the employee looked at the clock and saw that, with the time used for that ‘high priority’ task, they would now have to stay late, again, to finish the testing for the day.  Otherwise, they risked a note from their supervisor or from Sarah herself scolding them for not getting this done, causing someone to call her and ask why the testing wasn’t done, and suggesting they really needed to manage their time better.

“Yep”, the employee thought to them self, “I now feel so much more respect for Sarah now that she has this new title.”  The employee looked to Sarah’s office.  She had decided to leave for the day, probably claiming that she deserved the time off for all the work she had done that day.

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The Balanced Budget Strategem

termination

The conversation was light and joyful.  One time co-workers who had not seen each other in some time happy conversed about old times, old jokes, and some people they had in common.   Wayne, the organizer of the event, looked over the sea of faces at the table and smiled.  This was just what he needed.

He told a few people at the table his reason for this get together was because, when he walked down the halls of their once common workplace, he didn’t recognize anyone anymore.  There were so many new faces at the workplace that he felt a bit alone.  It was jarring for him, as the workplace had always been known as the place where people never wanted to leave.  Now, it seemed, people were beating a path for the doors.  Why were all his old co-workers leaving so rapidly?

“I have a few thoughts on that”, Mitch said.  With that, several heads turned.  Mitch had been content enough just listening to others during the gathering, making the occasional reply or comment, but generally keeping to himself.  So, when he made that pronouncement, people tended to listen.  They urged him to go on.

“Now, before I say anything, all this is speculation.  The facts I have fit the scenario, and the suppositions I make aren’t outrageous, as I think you will agree.  We all have to understand this before I go on.”, he said.  More heads turned.

Mitch started. “You recall when the CFO began making the same speech to whomever would listen?”  A few heads nodded, which Mitch expected.  The CFO was not the most dynamic speaker, so even if he was invited to speak at a gathering, he didn’t rivet the audience’s attention to him.  For those who didn’t remember, Mitch summed up what the CFO of the company had said.  Simply put, the company was spending more money than it was taking in.

This fact in itself didn’t surprise many people.  They knew from their days at the company that almost every major project had cost overruns, simply because the stakeholders had to have their ideas incorporated into it, and the executives in charge of the projects didn’t have the fortitude to tell them ‘no’.  It was easier to go along with the stakeholders and worry about where the money would come later.  Add in the vanity projects that each of the executives needed to have to highlight themselves, and you had a mess of a financial situation.

What Mitch followed this up with was more of a surprise.  He had found out from a reputable source, verified by an executive of the company, that the CFO, seeing nobody really listening to his plea to save money, had imposed a 1% cap on departmental budget increase requests.  This posed a problem.

The biggest part of any budget is the staff of the department.  Those staff will expect raises.  In a poor economy, you can defer those raises as many will not leave simply to have a job.  In a good economy, they would leave in droves to the competition.  Since the company was not known for its generous salaries in the first place, this could really be an issue.  How could you give raises of 2% to 3% when you could only have an increase of 1%?  Nobody wanted to lay off any staff, as they had fought too hard to grow the department and their influence.

Mitch let this settle with the group for a minute while preparing the next piece of evidence.

“How many of you who have left the company were there more than 5 years?”  Several hands raised. “10?”  Several hands raised.  “15 or more?” Several hands raised.  “How many of you know employees there who have been at the company as long, or longer than you?”  Many hands raised. “Are they the majority of those people you knew at the company?”  Many nodded.

He continued. “The company we worked at and some of you still work at”, he said with a nod to Wayne, “used to boast that it had a long tenured workforce.  It was a recruiting tool.  ‘Look how happy our people are…they never leave!'”  Nobody contradicted him.

“Now, the longer you are with the company…”, Mitch started, and Wayne finished for him. “…the higher your salary is.”  Mitch smiled at the flicker of awareness that was dawning upon the faces of those assembled.  To those whose face still registered, ‘I don’t get it’, Mitch continued.

“You don’t want to get the reputation or the lawsuits that mass firing will do.  You need to keep your budget increase at 1%.  You are in self-preservation mode.  What do you do?”  Mitch paused.

Several people jumbled together an answer, “You target the longer term employees.  Some you fire.  Some you make their lives so miserable that they quit.  You then bring in younger employees or people who will work for less money, and your budget problems are solved.  The work gets done and, aside from a possible flicker of conscience of the executive of the department, the fallout is minimal.”

“Fits what you have heard from others who have left the company, doesn’t it?”, asked Mitch.  Each person at that table had a story of them personally being harassed by their superiors or knowing of those who were harassed until they no longer could stand it and left the company.

“The defense rests”, said Mitch, to laughter. Wayne was a bit shaken up by this, but quickly recovered, at least for the sake of the gathering.  He would worry about Mitch’s suppositions and what it might mean for him later.  For now, it was time for friends.

He raised his glass.  “To friends, no matter where they are, or how they got there”.

The Unexpected Response

Popeye-the-sailor-man

Arnold was in a panic.  Things weren’t going the way he had planned them, and he wasn’t happy about it in the least.  If all had gone as he had manipulated, he would have had Vince exactly where he needed him, things going just as he wanted, and the near future looking good.  Unfortunately, Vince had thrown his plans into such disarray that he didn’t know what do to next.

Arnold used to be Vince’s department head.  Since taking the job, Arnold had relied upon Vince and his colleagues to look good to the client.  Arnold’s clients would ask for a solution, which Vince or one of his colleague would work hard to provide.  They were then mandated to hand it in to Arnold, who would take it to the client, take credit for it, and then reap all the praise for the great work.

In Vince’s case, Arnold added a bit extra to that formula.  On a regular basis, Arnold would criticize Vince for one thing or another, demeaning his knowledge, running down his experience, and basically making Vince feel like he was lucky Arnold didn’t fire him and that Vince was fortunate to still have a job.  This was Arnold’s way of ensuring that Vince stayed worked for him, and not seeking a better job or asking for a raise or promotion.

The whole system began to unravel when the company they worked for underwent massive downsizing and restructuring.  Within a two year span, thousands of the employees were either downsized or their business unit sold to another company.  It was a bloodbath, in no uncertain terms, and caused Arnold’s self-preservation instincts to jump into high gear.

The latest ‘restructuring’ was being announced, and though Vince no longer worked directly for Arnold, his work was integral to Arnold’s sterling reputation with his clients.  As the rest of Vince’s colleagues had already been laid off, Arnold relied upon Vince more than ever.

So, in order to keep this good thing going, Arnold announced to Vince that he was going to ‘save’ him from the latest round of layoffs.  The latest restructuring gave Arnold two employees, and he was going to make sure that Vince received one of those slots.  Vince greeted this with less enthusiasm than Arnold expected, but he accepted the offer.

A week later, after the application deadline for all the ‘restructured’ spots was over, Arnold came to Vince and told him he could no longer consider him for that position.  He used the old excuse of, ‘you don’t have the skills necessary’, though offered no explanation why he didn’t know this a week and a half ago.  In reality, Arnold had been told in no uncertain terms that, if Vince took the position, he could no longer do the work for Arnold that had made him look so good.  As this was the only reason why Arnold wanted Vince in the position, he quickly reversed course.

Realizing where this placed his gravy train, Arnold approached Vince and told him that he was going to fight to have Vince placed on a new team.  What Vince replied with threw Arnold into a tailspin.  Vince’s reply? “No, you won’t.”

If this had been a Hollywood film, Vince would have had a wonderful speech about how Arnold had finally gone too far with his lies, deceptions, manipulations, and other acts.  Instead, he simply said, “You didn’t want me the first time.  I don’t want to be part of yours or any other team in the company any longer.”  He further admonished Arnold not to try to get him on any other team.

Arnold was dumbfounded.  He had worked so long manipulating those around him to his own advantage.  He thought he had Vince convinced that he was so worthless that only Arnold’s kindness and largess was saving him. Apparently, he had underestimated Vince’s resilience, as well as his tolerance for the nearly inhuman way he and his colleagues had been treated by Arnold’s peers.

A few days later, Arnold came back to Vince to offer him another ‘solution’.  Vince could come back as a contractor!  Vince looked at Arnold and asked, “If I don’t want to be part of this place as an employee, why would I want to be part of it as a contractor?”

In the end, Vince was laid off from the company, and Arnold didn’t even wish him well on his way out. He found a position soon after, but kept in touch with some of his former colleagues.  From them he learned that, within six months, Arnold’s reputation with his clients was in tatters.  He was no longer working miracles, and his clients weren’t happy about that.  The two people he had hired for the spots under him, one of them his good friend, weren’t working out, and his life was miserable.  Vince, still healing from the abuses heaped upon him at the company, reacted with muted recognition, and got back to work at his new job.

The picture above is from an old cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor.  One of Popeye’s famous lines was, when he had enough, “That’s all I can stand; I can’t stand no more”. If your way of keeping your good people is to threaten, manipulate, criticize, and make them feel altogether lucky to have a job, be prepared to be surprised.  Each employee, like Vince, will have their Popeye moment and decide that living with the abuse is no longer the way they want to exist.  They will then do something surprising that you never expected, because your own ego won’t allow you to believe anyone but you is pulling the strings.

And, when that employee leaves, and you are left scrambling to have to fill some very big shoes, remember Popeye.  Remember as well that, if you simply treated your employees with respect and courtesy, everyone succeeds.  If you don’t, only your employees will emerge stronger at the finish.

We’re Baaaack!

carol ann tv

After 12 years on the air, Carol Burnett signed off her variety television show with a tearful farewell.  So, it was quite the surprise when, a year later, she was headlining another variety series.  Burnett, always the realist, started the first episode with an almost news like ticker showing how she had signed off from her show saying she could never really go back to the variety format.  The camera then panned to Burnett in her current show, where she simply said, “So, I lied”.   She explained a while later in an article for a magazine that she kept seeing things on the news and was saying, “Hey, that would be great to satirize…if we still had a show”.

We at the Good Management Blog wanted to stay away.  A lot of good words had been written and many good points made about the case studies we wrote.  However, new stories kept coming to us and we said, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to…”.   So, like Burnett, we decided to make a return.

We may not post as frequently as before, as our circumstances have changed, but when we see something good, we’ll post it. You may also see a bit more snark in our posts, which is fully deliberate!  As we said, things have changed.

Hope you enjoy!

Fish and Houseguests

End of the RoadThere’s an old saying that fish and house guests get stinky after about 3 days.  I’m not sure what the statistic is for a blog, but everything has an end.

This will be the 225th post in this blog.   We began this with a specific purpose, and now that purpose has been satisfied.  Like the picture above, we’ve come to the end of the road.  We’ll keep the blog up for a while, but there probably won’t be any more posts.  There are new mountains to conquer, and new roads to travel.

We can’t leave without some recognition.  Thank you to all of you who have become fans of the site, read about all our characters, and identified with the situations we wrote about.  It is your encouragement that kept us going for 225 blogs, and some great times relating our stories.

Remember, you always have the power to make your work situation better if you just give it your best effort.  That’s what we’ve done here, given our best effort, and what a ride it was.

It’s time to find another road…

Let the Healing Begin

Rejoicing in life

It was a great evening.  Good friends.  Good food.  Many laughs.  Larry, whose story you can read here, was having dinner with Sam to get his ideas on getting back into the workforce.  Larry had retired from his job at the mutual workplace that he and Sam had worked, but in truth, he was forced to retire by a management intent on wearing him down so he would leave.  That was over six months ago, so Sam was happy that Larry wanted to talk.

Over dinner, the conversation naturally drifted towards their prior, shared workplace, with stories being swapped, and gaps filled in from different points of view.  Larry was ready to jump back into the workforce, but hadn’t prepared a resume for many years.  That was where Sam came in.  He had gained a reputation among his former co-workers as a good resume doctor, so Larry sought him out.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to jump back in the job hunt”, Larry admitted.  It was over six months ago that he retired, and he was not the type of guy who would just want to sit and take it easy for the rest of his life.  Sam smiled.  He knew exactly why Larry had taken so long.  He needed to heal.

If we are fortunate in our work lives, we have workplaces that we cannot wait to get to each morning.  They nurture us, uplift us, and give us the ability to grow as a person and in a community.  Those places have low turnover and are the places where you have to ‘know someone’ to get hired into.

If we are less fortunate in our work lives, we go to workplaces that are simply workplaces.  You put in your time each day, do your work, and clock out.  They are not very uplifting, but they are also not damaging.  They are simply places you spend eight hours or more doing your work so you can get to the people and things you enjoy.

If we are unfortunate in our work lives, we work for those places which are designed to damage our hearts and souls.  We have managers who believe only by degrading you can they raise themselves up.  They believe that the only way they can show that they are truly in power is to make your life miserable.  An insult or slight is always on their lips, and the only words they know about your performance is ‘never good enough’.

They seem to enjoy inflicting pain and look for new ways to do it.  They are always the victim, and you are always the aggressor, though the truth is just the opposite.  Nobody is happy under them, yet in too many cases they stay in power.

When you finally escape that workplace, you think you can just go on with you life.  Sadly, you have to, but you can’t just walk away like nothing happened.  Those workplaces affect both your heart and soul.  They leave scars and injuries.  Those scars take time to heal.  You may not want to admit it, give into it, or think it is silly to think that way, but that doesn’t change what has happened to you.  It also doesn’t change that you need to heal.  Hopefully where you have gone to upon fleeing that workplace is one which allows you to heal and see the true worth that you have.

Larry took this all in and had to agree with Sam, though he did have one question.  How did Sam know this?  Easy, Sam replied, he left the organization later than Larry did.  Guess who was still in the process of healing?

 

The Good Management Blog is in Print!

New BookWe have very exciting news here at the Good Management Blog.  Our first book is out!  We’ve taken some of the very best from the past four years, added some new, never before seen content, and published a book called Engineered to Fail.  If you’ve enjoyed the head shakingly bad management and leadership of Sarah, Maxine, and the whole cast of characters, we think you’ll enjoy this book, too!

Since we have never done things the traditional way, we’ve partnered with Smashwords, an e-book publisher, to host the book, and offered the book for an incredibly inexpensive $2.99 (US).  We invite you to visit the link to the books page here — Engineered to Fail — and read the first 15% of the book for free.  If you like what you read, we invite you to download the book in Kindle, Nook, Sony, and PDF formats.

Thank you for all your support!