Friday, June 17, 2005

Those Wacky Executives...

I want to begin today by asking you all a question.

Ok, close your eyes (not literally, or you won’t be able to read any more of this) and imagine that you work in a bank. You’re a bank teller to be exact. It’s the beginning of the day, and one of your first customers approaches the counter.

“Good Morning.” He says in a distinctive foreign accent. “I need to get a couple of American Express travelers checks cashed please.” He then hands you a foreign driver’s license and a foreign passport for identification.

Here’s my question:

What is the first thing you ask him? Think about this for a minute, before you read any further.

I bet the first thing that popped into your head wasn’t:

“Do you have an account with us?”

Which is exactly what I have been asked every single time I asked to cash a check.

My usual answer was simply “No.” When to be honest, my answer should have been:

“No, genius, I’m in America, trying to cash a travelers check, using my British passport and British drivers license for identification. What do you think the chances of me having an account here actually are?”

Bear in mind that this wasn’t just one bank, this was every single bank I’ve been to in my first year in the USA.

This got me thinking.

There is no possible way that that number of people could all be that stupid. Working in a bank is not exactly rocket science, but it’s not a super easy job either. I mean, if you have to be good at math, use a computer, and understand things like percentages and taxes, you’re not all that likely to be able to completely miss the obvious.

Ah… it’s those wacky executives at work again.

This is becoming more and more common. Rather than assuming that the people working for them are human beings, and are therefore capable of independent thought, abstract thinking and initiative, the execs think they have a bunch of machines working for them.

What do machines need to function? Exactly specified protocols and rules.

I mean, God forbid a bank teller show a flash of personality during their interactions with customers. God forbid they be allowed to actually think and come up with an easy solution to a problem.

No, if you come into contact with the public, you’re given a script. When I worked for the British government, we were actually given a flowchart for each customer enquiry. For every question, there was an official, authorized answer. Deviation from the script was a sacking offence.

Oh, and in case the caller had the sheer audacity to ask a question that wasn’t on the list, or if the line of questioning led to dead end, you know what the little box said?

“Get phone number, and refer to supervisor for call back.”

It didn’t matter if you actually knew the answer yourself. It didn’t matter if you could look up the answer in 15 seconds. The customer had to wait, maybe for days, for a call back from someone else.

Everyone hates automated answer services. ‘..if the service you require is not on the list, you’re SOL, bang your head on your phone keypad now.’ Yet the execs are doing their damndest to make real people who work for them as machine-like as possible.

As an aside, if you’ve ever tried to use an American automated answering system that uses voice recognition, and have a British Accent, you might as well be trying to communicate with someone who can only speak some 500 year old variant of Vietnamese pigeon Flemish.

Oh, those wacky executives and their meetings.

When I finally complete my DeathStar (and just shoot the hero Jedi, rather than try to trap him with an overly complicated plan) and become the supreme ruler of the universe, I’m going to make even the suggestion of an Executive Meeting an offense punishable by the most painful death possible.

Every time an executive meeting was announced in a memo at my old job, I felt a chill run down my spine. It made me want to just scream, laugh manically, and jump headfirst through a window and just keep running until my legs gave way and my chest exploded. As regular readers of my blog will know, I believe that executives have the following purposes in life:

1) To be completely detached from any semblance of reality.
2) Come up with grand sounding ideas that are totally impractical and have as much chance of working in real life as Hitler has of being awarded the Nobel peace Prize.
3) Implement new things that makes something a company already does 50 times more difficult, and 1000 times more time consuming and expensive.
4) To blame others and fire a whole bunch of people when their schemes inevitably fail.
5) Lie through their teeth at every opportunity.

Let me give you an example.

When I first started working at my old job, when we answered the phone, we had to say one thing:

“Social Security.”

Simple and to the point. It announces who we are, and lets the customer know they’ve got the right number.

Then the execs had a meeting. Apparently, our phone greeting was too sterile and unfriendly. It was changed to:

“Good morning! Social Security.”

A little longer, not too bad yet…except for the totally condescending memo, informing us that the greeting ‘Good Morning’ was only to be used in the actual morning. In the afternoon, we had to say “Good Afternoon.” Glad they told me. I’d never have worked that out on my own.

This however, only lasted for about a week before it was changed to.

“Good Morning, Social Security, Paulius speaking.”

Oh, still not friendly enough. Two weeks later:

“Good morning, Social Security, this is Paulius speaking, how can I help you?”

I would like to point out, that I actually got called to see my section manager for not using the correct greeting. My crime? Saying “How can I help?” instead of “how can I help you?”

Get this, I actually had to go to extra training. That’s right, an hour of my life, given up to training to answer a phone properly. I even arrived back on the section to find the correct greeting taped to the top of my phone.

Ever heard of burning down the building to get rid of a bug problem?

One word off, and it’s a ‘go see your manager thing.’

It doesn’t end there. After a few more revisions, Social security was put under the same umbrella as ‘Jobcentre Plus’. In order not to confuse our obviously stupid customers, as well as adding ‘Jobcentre Plus’ to the greeting, we still had to keep the ‘social security’ part.

(Apparently, not saying ‘Social Security’ will confuse the customers. Changing the greeting about 8 times in two months is perfectly reasonable and not at all confusing).

Oh, and despite the fact that our office dealt with London, it was deemed necessary to inform our customers where the office was, despite the fact all mail was sent in pre-printed envelopes, and we didn’t deal directly with the public. Oh, and we had to give our section name as well.

In the end, every time we answered the phone, we had to say, word for word, (because if you didn’t, you got extra training and a talking to from your manager):

“Good morning, Social Security, Jobcentre Plus, Makerfield. This is Paulius speaking on London Review Three, How can I help you?”

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but imagine rattling that off a few hundred times per day, to a person who has already been kept waiting on hold for about 45 minutes.

I think only, maybe, one time out of 15, the customer waited for me to finish the greeting.

These same execs were the people who decided, that after a spate of Admin officers being attacked in Jobcentres, the answer was not more security.

No. They actually took all the safety screens down, and started firing the security guards.

Their thinking?

“Bullet proof glass, cameras and security send the wrong message and put customers in an aggressive mood. By removing all security, we will make the place more welcoming, making people calmer and less disposed to violence. We want to generate an atmosphere that you would find in a bank, rather than an unemployment office” – Exact quote from an inter-office memo.

Apparently, the reason these people were on edge wasn’t because they had no job and had a family to feed. It wasn’t even because they were sick of the overly-long and complicated claims process and had spent about 3 hours queuing.

It was because the Jobcentres didn’t have the right ‘atmosphere’.

I’m not exaggerating here, that’s the stone-cold truth. If you don’t believe me, do a google search. We actually went on strike over it.

Oh, and the best thing? Just before I left to come to America, we began to strike over pay, as the pay rise we received was actually 3% less than inflation, making our pay rise actually more of a pay cut.

Their answer? Our main boss who earns almost 900,000GBP a year, sent the entire service an email, explaining that we actually got paid an awful lot, and the pay rise was really generous.

But do you know what? For some reason, people working a highly skilled job (basic training took nearly a year), who were only earning 11,600GBP a year, weren’t happy with someone earning nearly a million a year telling them to stop complaining. They also had an ability that no one in management thought they had…the ability to do simple mathematics.

Like someone putting a dollar bill in your hand, and telling you it’s a hundred…and expecting you to believe them.

That’s just a perfect executive answer. If your employees complain about their low pay, simply tell them that their pay is great. If they complain because their raise is equal to about 3 cents per hour, when by law it should be at least a dollar, tell them that their raise is actually very generous…and to stop being ungrateful,

I actually earned about a million de-merit points from my boss on the day we had a meeting about motivation and maximizing our output. After listening to the terrible plight that our customers face for about 3 hours, she asked the question “What would motivate you?”

I answered: “Pay me more money.”

You just wouldn’t believe the look and the dressing down I got for not thinking about the ‘greater good’.

I was pissed off, and retaliated.

Her face turned to thunder when I pointed out that a lot of the poor souls she was using as examples to show who we were helping, actually got more in their unemployment checks, than I got in my paycheck.

She hastily changed the subject…I didn’t even bother drawing anyone’s attention to the fact she drove a Porsche Boxter to work every day.

That was true. Believe it or not, a lot of the unemployment checks I was sending out were bigger than my paycheck. I worked out that if I was married and had two kids, I would get more on unemployment than I would working for Social Security.

However, like the man said, our wages were great, and our pay cut…sorry, pay raise, was really generous, and we were very lucky.

Well the greater good can just kiss my hairy British ass. Especially considering the fact that I went through a year long selection process, followed by about 9 months training to earn less than your average McDonalds employee.

To me it’s simple. If you want me to work hard, you’ve got to pay me in direct proportion to the effort involved. I don’t work for a sense of well-being and the satisfaction of a job well done.

I work so I can eat and have a place to live.

Apparently, that’s the one thing that Executives never think of when trying to motivate their staff. Money. Moolah. Greenbacks. For some reason, earning vast sums of cash is not considered a motivating factor in making an employee work hard and want to keep their jobs. I was honestly at the point in my old job where I didn’t give a shit if I was fired or not. I didn’t give a damn if I met the ridiculously unreasonable targets. Maybe if I’d been earning more than 11,600 a year for a 40 hour week, I would have cared slightly more.

Now I’ve got to tell you a story. This is true.

In a meeting to discuss motivation, one exec suggested writing things like “Good Job” and “Well done” on different colored note cards. The thinking was the workers would start competing with each other, and start trying to collect all the different cards.

A new exec (the rot hadn’t set it yet), pointed out that if he told his office about the new system, and expected them to work harder to collect colored note cards…they would laugh in his face.

Another exec looked him in the eye, and said:

“You’re right. Maybe we should consider using bigger cards. Letter size perhaps.”

These are the people in charge, folks.

I’m going to end today’s rant with a joke that sums up my opinion of Executives entirely:

The British rowing team was in a race with the Japanese. After the race, it was determined that they lost by 10 boat lengths.

A team of consultants was called in at a cost of $10,000 per hour. After 5 years they came up with the following billion dollar answer:

‘The Japanese had 10 people rowing, and one person steering, while the British team had 8 people rowing and three people steering.”

In order to improve their chances of winning, the British team reorganized their boat. They had 1 overall steering manager, 2 steering liason managers, 2 steering floor managers, 4 area steering managers and one person rowing, motivated with a performance bonus package of an extra 2 cents per boat length they win by.

The following year, they lost by over a 1000 boat lengths. The single rower was fired for poor work performance; while the managers were each give a massive bonus for at least finding where the problem was.

This is the world we live in.

Stop the Universe, I want to get off.

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