Monday, October 12, 2009

Turning a corner

Mark the middle manager strode into the meeting room and said, "We've turned a corner." What in tarnation was he talking about? Our biggest fall releases -- the ones we'd spent so much time obsessing over, if not really doing anything for -- were performing dismally in the marketplace. It was clear that we would have no chance of making this year's budget. Which would lead to all kinds of recriminations, further cost-cutting, no bonuses -- again! -- and even lower morale. Dammit! Wasn't morale the glue that held the place together?

"I know what you're thinking. It looks grim out there and our books aren't selling all that well and so on. That's all true. But that's not the corner I'm referring to. I'm talking about another corner: the departmental restructuring we're all responsible for. I was looking at the org chart today and I realized that we had made a lot of progress. I was able to fit everyone onto six 11 x 17 pages. That's down from nine pages just one year ago. Now that's what I call turning a corner."

Peggy Kaiser raised her hand. "I hate to tell you this but I think we've gone past the tipping point. My department is down five people. We can't possibly do the work that's asked of us. I spend all my time in triage, deciding which projects to ignore. Everybody is totally stressed out. I think we've ripped the guts out of the organization. How can you stand there and talk about those three missing pages as if they were just pieces of paper?"

Mark looked genuinely surprised. He took a couple of deep breaths and shot back, "Why are you dumping on me, Peggy? I'm just a middle manager -- I don't set the agenda or make decisions. I just attend meetings and organize data. Produce spreadsheets and slideshows. All I'm saying is that we're hitting our departmental staffing targets."

Peggy turned red. "Who gives a shite about hitting our departmental staffing targets if we can't hit any of our sales targets? What the hell are we in business for? We're imploding and all you care about is your lousy org chart."

Mark stared emptily into space -- he did this quite well -- and tried to remember exactly what the word "implode" meant. Wasn't it the same thing as "explode" except it took place in the opposite direction? Hmm. "I'm confused, Peggy. I thought you and the others would've been happy -- after all, you guys hit your targets. You reduced the workforce to a sustainable level. It proves
something, doesn't it?"

Sustainable? Peggy was fuming but knew enough to hold her tongue. If she said anything more, Mark would go upstairs and tell the boss what she'd said. She remembered Lucy Doe's comment, "Mark may be a baboon but the boss likes him. Watch yourself when he's around."

Everyone was quiet for a moment. Then Mark spoke up again, "I went ahead and made hard copies for everyone. Didn't want them circulating on e-mail. Please don't share them with your people -- there may still be a few more changes in store. When I showed them to the boss, he told me to tell everyone to keep up the good work. He was really impressed."

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