Saturday, May 26, 2007

Communication Breakdown

I was sitting in yet another mindless meeting humming in my head 'jimmy crack corn and I don't care", when suddenly one of the geniuses I work with uttered "I think we have a communication issue." Whoa! In usual fashion one of the big shot bosses agreed that there IS a communication issue at my company. Whoa! I almost couldn't believe it. "We actually may be getting somewhere!" I thought.

My hopes were immediately dashed as yet another committee was formed to solve the "communication issues". I have seen committee after committee formed at my company with zero results. Usually the people assigned to the committee realize that our leaders are incompetent and have a few meeting to make it look good. The committee never really solve any problems and our big shot leaders never ask for summaries or solutions to hold the committees accountable.

The communication committee began fittingly with a communication problem. The committee lead determined that he and his team needed to understand what causes communication issues. He asked everyone to provide him with ways in which they communicate. As usual, no one asked any questions to fully understand the request (communication issue #1). People started to submit the ways they communicate, while others just tried to ignore it rather than ask questions. When the leader of the committee began to receive responses the information he was receiving was not want he wanted. Since he hadn't really clarified his request with the folks he was asking (communication issue #2), the people submitted whatever they thought was right, rather than what the leader wanted. In addition, less than half the people responded, which made the communications committee leader irritated. The problem is that he should be irritated at himself for not setting a deadline for response and making it clear with reminders to folks that their responses were necessary (communication issue #3).

So in summary, the committee to solve communication issue at my company failed as the committee couldn't communicate the project clearly enough for people to understand what was expected. They failed at the issue they were trying to solve. As usual the committee fizzled into the void with zero results or follow through. Communication takes time, effort, and hard work. These concepts are just far to complicated for the peanut brains at my company. We'll just continue to suffer communication breakdown after communication breakdown. YIPEE!!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Identity Crisis

In talking with a manager from another department I heard this classic for the incompetence hall of fame.

Our manufacturing department was in the midst of a 30 day review of a union worker. At the end of the 30 day review the manufacturing supervision (management - non union) decided to terminate the union worker in question. The union worker went on FMLA towards the end of the 30 day review period, which left the supervision in a quandary. They had to terminate the employee within 10 days or they would have to conduct another 30 day review. The supervisor decided to call the employee and terminate him over the phone.

The supervisor printed off a phone list of employees so he could call the union worker he would be terminating. The supervisor made the call, but the employee didn't answer. He decided to leave a message on the employee's answering machine explaining the termination. The employee promptly called back and questioned why he was being terminated. The supervisor began to go through the information from the 30 day review and started to provide a full explanation of the reasons for termination. The union worker then began to argue that he was never on a 30 day review and hadn't done any of the things listed as part of the termination. The supervisor then said "Ron, I'm sorry, there's nothing more for me to say." The union employee responded "Ron? This isn't Ron, it's Steve!"

The supervisor then realized he had called the employee that was one line above the employee he actually wanted to terminate. Nice move and yet another classic example of incompetence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Out Of The Frying Pan, Into the Fire

Three years ago I was commuting 70 miles (one way) on a busy and somewhat dangerous Pennsylvania Turnpike to my job. I had worked at my previous job for almost 2 years and the daily commute to work along with the daily incompetence of my management at work were getting the best of me. I decided a change was needed so I began my job search, hopeful to find a more fulfilling position that was closer to home.

Shortly after beginning a search a higher level job popped up. Better yet, the job was with a company that was located only 10 minutes from where I live. I applied for the job and that same week received a call from the HR department wanting to conduct a phone interview. I was elated and aced the phone interview and went on to ace the live interviews. I was offered the position and readily accepted. In doing so I had ignored some warning signs and flaws during the process. The thought of escaping one bad situation blinded me and in fact led me to another bad situation. The thought of eliminating my lengthy commute completely overruled the alarms that were going off in my head about the culture and management of the company I would be going to. Unfortunately I had jumped out of the frying pan, into the fire by ignoring all of the below issues with my company up front:

  • The Human Resources department was completely un-organized during the hiring process. They could not provide me with a complete job description (I still don’t have one) as an example. When I asked for the benefits information so that I could take into account total compensation (salary + benefits), they acted insulted and took their time with getting it to me. This is because they didn’t have a pre-printed summary of benefits pack.

  • The interview process was also completely un-organized as my boss didn’t have interview questions prepared. There were many uncomfortable pauses as he tried to think of questions to ask me. I also interviewed with other executives and the same held true with those folks. The one executive talked about himself and what he has done for the company during the interview, instead of asking me questions or allowing me to ask him questions.

  • The facilities were out of date. As I was touring the company I noticed artwork that looked like it was from the 1970’s. The cubicles and rugs also were dingy and worn. I also noticed the PCs and monitors looked old and beat up, almost like they were refurbished models. The kicker was the use of wood paneling in many of the executive offices. Real Nice!

  • The people were out of date. Much like the artwork, many of the people I interviewed with seemed stuck in the 70’s or 80’s. Bad ties, bad haircuts and a not up to date on latest trends in management. One executive when looking at my resume asked me what Six Sigma was, while another executive wrongly explained Six Sigma to me, trying to act like he knew what he was talking about (see Regurgitator)

  • The terms of the offer of employment were not negotiable or flexible. I tried to negotiate for slightly higher pay. NO! I asked for a few more vacation days. NO! I asked if a bonus was included based on performance. NO! I asked if training dollars could be allotted for my development. NO!
Although I had removed the long commute, there were far more negatives involved in joining my new company, than positives. It has been 3 years since that decision and in those 3 years I have pretty much encountered all the things that were obvious warning signs during the hiring process. The culture is stagnant, the executives are clueless, the departments are disorganized, there is zero teamwork, and innovation is non-existent. I had eliminated my commute frustration but by ignoring obvious warning signs I had increased my work frustration.

Advice from the Turtle:

If you are stuck in a bad situation and are looking for another job, make sure you take inventory of what you want in a company and your career. Do research and try to figure out what the company is about and determine if you and the company are a good match. During the interview process be observant and ask questions on things that are important to you like work environment, training, or management style of your future boss. If you fail to do these things you’ll be stuck in a situation like me and become a Turtle at Work.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Don't Feed the Animals!

Today a big meeting was taking place at my company. As I entered the building this morning I saw an above normal amount of suit wearing fat guys (board members) entering the building. My boss and the other executives were also decked out in their suits. However the tell tale sign of a big meeting is the catered lunch. My company is cheap in every way, except when it comes to our executives and the board members. The spread of food is fit for kings with various dishes, salads, and desserts. The executives and board members number around 20 people, but the spread looks like it could feed three times as many.

After all the executives and board members have gorged themselves, the department assistants of the executives converge like vultures, feasting on the luncheon leftovers. After they are finished stuffing their guts, the President’s secretary walks through the departments announcing that there is food available in the executive lunch room. By the time all the executives, board members, and department assistants have gotten done feasting on the luncheon food there are only a few scraps left, plus the food has been sitting out for almost 2 hours. Wow, how lucky are we?

As unappetizing as the luncheon leftovers are, the company luncheon is even more disgusting. My company about once a year decides to offer a company luncheon for all employees. It usually occurs in the summer and is significantly less appetizing than the big shot luncheons. Instead of filet mignon and tiramisu that is served at the executive luncheon we get generic brand boiled hot dogs, generic brand soda along with dry sheet cakes for dessert. Don’t you wish you were so lucky? I begin to salivate just thinking of the pale boiled hot dogs.

The catered executive luncheon compared to the employee luncheon is another example of how the highly compensated get all the perks, while the rest of the lowly office personnel get cheated and mistreated. All of our big shot leaders get paid six figure salaries and take all expense paid business trips (with their wives). Does our company really have to pamper them more with high priced catered luncheons? Maybe at the next big shot luncheon I’ll post a “Don’t feed the animals” sign outside my cubicle, since executives at my company must think we are animals only worthy of feeding on their scraps.

Culture Change Update: "It Is What It Is"

In my post on 4/17/07 titled "Culture Change?" I discussed a couple memos on culture and expectations that the top executives at my company sent out to the workforce. In that post I commented on the memo from our Prez:

“the memo details out the expectations our president has for the leaders of our company. “Lead by Example”, “Be a Team Player” and “Challenge the Status Quo” are all key statements made by the head honcho is his groundbreaking document. He ends the memo with the snappy phrase “fail to plan and plan to fail” referencing the fact that the leaders need to better layout their goals, objectives and expectations.”

In order to keep myself amused at work, I try and test how bad the incompetence is at my company. I waited a few days after the memo came out and then sent an email to my boss asking him about the President’s memo. In particular I asked “will there be follow-up to this memo in terms of meetings, management training, or workshops to help successfully instill this mindset at our company.” No response to my email.

I then waited a few more days and approached my boss asking him if he read my email (I know he did because my return receipt came back that he opened it). I referenced my email and asked him about the follow-up to the President’s memo. My boss abruptly responds, “what exactly is there to follow up on, it’s all there in writing on what he expects.” He was in the middle of a game of computer solitaire and I guess I pissed him off my interrupting his game time with a real business question. Now I could have pushed him further on it but his response was the only answer I really needed. I also realized the importance of solitaire time to my boss and didn’t want to anger the beast further.

It has been almost a month since the memo came out and it is already forgotten. Heck, as I posted in my original blog entry on this, the memo was immediately ignored as one of my fellow managers was bashed by a VP the day after the memo on leadership came out. Real culture change and expectations are laid out through interaction and involvement by top leaders. If the top leaders believe that memos or other propaganda are going to make real change they are sorely mistaken. The top leaders at my company always stop way short of what is needed to jump start the workforce and create a real culture of performance and innovation. That’s why the phrase “it is what it is” is used so frequently by employees at my company!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

As I was flipping through the channels recently I came across the movie Forrest Gump. Now, I’ve seen this movie quite a few times, but this time something dawns on me, “Gump isn’t very smart, yet he is incredibly successful.” I then start to think about how incredibly incompetent the executives at my company are, yet they are all highly compensated and successful. I deduce that not being very smart = success, high pay, high position.

The problem is that I am not dumb or incompetent. Well, like Gump would say “Stupid is as stupid does” and I have plenty of teachers around me to pattern stupidity from. In order to dumb down and thus be successful at my company I must pattern the idiots above me. I’ve come up with these top 5 idiotic behaviors that will lead to my success.

  1. Use Cliché’s. My boss as well as all the other big shots at my company are masters of using cliché’s. As I’ve written about in prior posts, they’ll rattle off the classics like “eat the elephant one bite at a time” or “sometimes you can’t see the forest through the trees”. I have done extensive googling to find my own repertoire of cliché’s that I will use. I’ve come up with:

    Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it
    Let’s focus on picking off the low hanging fruit
    The balls in your court
    That’s thinking outside the box
    I think we can agree to disagree

    When they use a cliché I will follow up their cliché with my own cliché and see what happens. I hoping that they will see my skill at clicheing and take me as one of their own.

  2. Develop a Behavior Tick. One of the executives winks after he thinks he’s made a point. Another executive has a humming type laugh after he responds to a comment. I’m thinking about using an eyebrow raise or possibly doing a rhythmic table tap following comments I make.

  3. Sidestep Details. In the past I would walk through issues step by step to try and figure out exactly what the problem is. My new approach will be to come to broad and general conclusions to issues presented to me without investigating them at all. If employees try to give me specifics I can use behavior #1 and throw out a cliché to deflect their efforts to explain the issue.

  4. Avoid Planning. I will not put plans in place in anticipation of potential problems. I will instead wait for a major problem to occur, and then scramble to figure out what to do. Why bother with trying to plan for retirements, possible system issues, or even a disaster? Fly by the seat of my pants, I say! (Note the use of cliché, nice right?)

  5. Be Consistently, Inconsistent. I will take every opportunity to confuse my employees by constantly changing the objectives and strategy of my department. In addition I will make vague requests of my employees, and then wait till they complete the request to change my mind on what I actually want. Some days I will be happy and friendly, while others I will be completely nasty and harsh. Gotta keep them on their toes.

Hell, the formula of dumb = success worked for Forrest Gump, and it certainly works in real life as I’m surrounded by idiot executives at my company. If I can’t beat them, then I might as well join them (note: another cliché used). Wow, being dumb really isn’t that hard, now I’ll just sit back and wait for my promotion.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Bizarro Human Resources

As a kid I read comic books, and became a huge Superman fan. One of Superman’s foes was a character called Bizarro. Bizarro was a flawed doppelganger of Superman that possessed an odd if not twisted logic. Bizarro would basically do the complete opposite of whatever Superman would do. So you would have Superman representing the “right way” versus Bizarro completely conflicting with him representing the “wrong way”. Well, in a case of fiction becomes reality, I have encountered a department within my company that does the complete opposite of what they should do. I try to figure this department out, but unfortunately there’s no figuring out our Bizarro Human Resources department. The case of Bizarro HR includes:

Bizarro Head of HR. She should be professional and knowledgeable and hold a bevy of various HR certifications. Instead she is schizophrenically moody some days choosing to acknowledge you, other times looking right through you without a comment. She plays favorites in her department and has even pinched the cheek (face) of a male employee in the department commenting on "how cute he is." She also has a foul mouth and goes on cursing rampages in front of her employees and other employees in the company. She also will talk about other people's performance information and make fun of some of our under performers. When I asked her about PHR or SPHR certifications, she asked me what those letter meant. And this is the head of HR? Yikes.

Bizarro HR Workers. Our benefits HR person never has time to answer your questions and when she does, the answers are incorrect. The payroll HR people are setting a consistency record for screwing up paychecks each week, mostly because they've never been trained properly by the payroll supervisor. This is probably because the payroll supervisor spends her day managing her own payroll by balancing her checkbook, paying bills, making calls about mortgages for a house she wants to buy, etc.

Bizarro HR Practices. They conduct exit surveys for employees resigning, but never follow-up on those surveys. They may want to look at their own exit surveys as HR has one of the highest turnover rates in our company (what does that tell you?). They complain about performance reviews not being written properly loudly in their department, but never think to hold training or clarification sessions. The end of year tax information is always a treat as this year they incorrectly issued our tax information and only realized it after employees started to complain. There is also no formal interview process, which leads to even more turnover as many managers hire people they like, not people that are qualified.

I guess I can't expect much, because pretty much every department at my company is Bizarro. People generally coast along in their own Bizarro worlds. I'm in my own Turtle world, moving slow and steady, trying to lay low and avoid my Bizarro work environment. I tried being Superman when I started at my company, but too many Bizarros are just to much for one Superman.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Recently there have been a few cross departmental issues and certain members of our team have gotten a little crazy with sending nasty emails to other departments. We also had a problem in a meeting in which one of the managers in our department became really sarcastic towards another manager over an issue. In our most recent monthly staff meeting my boss conveyed to the management staff how he expects everyone to work on being more professional and respectful in response to some of these issues.

My boss is right in bringing this up, but he is a classic example of do as I say, not as I do leadership. Later that day I walk by my boss, who is talking to our department assistant about a report one of my fellow managers submitted. My boss made the following comment to our DA as I walked by:

“I guess dipshit forgot to add that to the report.”

Better yet, the manager he was referring to as “dipshit” was sitting a few cubicles behind our DA and my boss didn’t know that. Guess my boss forgot his own words about “being professional and respectful”.

As usual, my boss can’t connect the dots and realize the example he sets daily by making rude and disrespectful comments sets the tone for the team. People tend to take on the positive or negative attributes of the people they are led by. The newer managers, with less experience see his behavior and have started to mimic it (sarcastic comment, nasty emails, etc). As an experienced manager, I see it and cringe, realizing that he is not only rude and disrespectful, but a;so hurtful to his own staff. Luckily as a Turtle at Work I use my shell to deflect his crap, but at times it is difficult. As for the manager he recently insulted, he has been officially initiated as a Turtle at Work. Being called a “dipshit” by your boss tends to lead you down the path to becoming a Work Turtle.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Buddy System

About two years ago, our President announced the hiring of a new Executive Vice President. The position of Executive Vice President (EVP) was a new position that was being filled by an external candidate. The new EVP, Bruce, was touted as a guru, who would help bring our company up to date with the latest trends in our industry. The hoopla of his hiring continued in various industry publications as Bruce was celebrated as an industry expert, who would challenge the status quo and shake things up at our company. Bruce has indeed shaken up the organization by clearing out existing employees so that he can hire his buddies. Many dedicated employees at my company have fallen victim of Bruce’s buddy system.

Bruce started his buddy system onslaught with scare tactics on the existing employees in his organization. In order for him to hire his buddies he had to clear the way. He started his scare campaign by bullying employees if they disagreed with his thought process. If an employee questioned him, he would grind them down and embarrass them in front of his group. Several employees left due to these tactics. As positions opened up, Bruce was able to circumvent our HR policy that requires jobs to be posted internally with internal candidates being interviewed prior to any external postings. Somehow, the stringent HR policy was ignored and new people began popping up to fill the positions Bruce had cleared. Much like with Bruce, propaganda began to flow as his buddies were showcased as quality individuals Bruce worked with in the past. The buddies would then spew more propaganda about Bruce and his business smarts and accomplishments. Everyone in the buddy system was happy, it was a love fest. The employees not part of Bruce’s buddy system, including myself, would sit through the bruce-a-palooza love fests in disgust.

Well, it’s be two years and Bruce’s efforts have resulted in sales decreases, the loss of one of our biggest customers, and massive increases in the number of product errors. Bruce’s biggest accomplishment has been helping his buddies out by hiring them into our organization at high profile, high paying positions. Bruce has been able to operate the buddy system and in doing so created animosity, distrust, and morale issues for those outside his inner circle. Bruce has created a lot of Work Turtles in his career as many employees like me realize that being a buddy is more important than being a high performer. I don’t want to be a buddy, and why perform for nothing. I choose to just blend in and lay low. I’m a Turtle at Work.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home