Archive for February, 2008

An Encore Posting of my Rant about Outsourcing…er, sorry!…Co-sourcing

February 27, 2008

Carrie, the host of Carrie’s Nation got me thinking about several themes I ranted about in my last two posts. To complete the trifecta, I’m going to rerun my post from back on June 9, 2007. It’s filed under the Never to Amaze. I believe the theme is as relevant now as it was was then. Please enjoy!

Read this discourse! There’s no recourse. We must co-source with no remorse. Understand? Of course!

Like the alliteration? I thought about using the title of this post as lyrics to be sung to the theme music from the old Mr. Ed TV show. Unfortunately, this is serious matter and there will be ample cynicism and great dose of sarcasm included in this multi-pronged rant. Prepare for a tirade!

The sterile and cleverly worded memo just came out. Headquarters has decided to “co-source” many of the back office functions. Thirty to forty positions are about to be cut and the work sent overseas. I guess these are just more jobs that Americans don’t want to do! Hmmm!

The propensity of corporations and consultants to create new words is absolutely amazing! Perhaps you’ve already seen or heard of this one. I must admit that “co-source” is new one on me. Not that I haven’t already seen the English language bastardized over the years by the corporate jargonistas.

I can almost forgive turning nouns into verbs and vice versa. Ever notice? You used to perform a “task” but now you’re “tasked” to perform. You used to “go get” something but now that something has become a “go get.” These are only minor irritations and relatively benign. It’s the use or creation of words to obfuscate or to suit some ulterior motive that really gets my goat.

In the old days, you’d get “volunteered” (we’d call it “stuck”) to work on a special project or take on a new duty. Today, you “champion” it. This, of course, is meant to make you feel as if it’s an honor and you have been chosen because of your Herculean strengths and abilities. When the project is completed (no matter what it takes on your part) you are to feel as though a laurel wreath has been placed on your head. Conversely, in the old days, if you balked at being volunteered because you had neither the time nor the resources to complete the project, you were told to “suck it up and just get it done”. Today, you’re admonished for being a “victim” or having a “victim mentality.” How about those loaded words for making you feel bad about yourself if you even think about voicing any dissent? In any event, old days or today, you’ll still get stuck with the project or duty and your reward will be getting stuck with more. This clever use of words is meant to somehow make you feel differently about it.

So “co-sourcing” has replaced “outsourcing” as “rightsizing” has replaced “downsizing” as “downsizing” has replaced “force reduction.” Feel better now?

Back to the memo. So now we enter into a discussion of how the firm needs to remain competitive, blah, blah, blah. Of course this is meant to “educate” the affected employees on the “big picture” and the “global economy.” Mind you it’s NOT that the company is losing money or has experienced some major set back. NO, it’s just a new program dreamt up by some corporate level whiz-bang who will be receiving a big bonus payout for cutting costs. Knowing the minds of these headquarters types as I do, I imagine that this education is being offered to obtain the reader’s “buy-in” to the program. “Buy-in” is another term that has been overused and twisted to suit the needs of these self-serving bureacrats.

When I was growing up, one’s “buy-in” meant agreement because one had been CONVINCED about something. Many of today’s so-called business leaders believe that simply providing information is the same as CONVINCING one of the merit of something. It’s quite a leap of logic but not beyond their arrogance. After all, they have provided the information. How could one NOT be convinced of its merit?

In the final sentence of the memo, the author thanks the employees for their continued support. Yes, now that you understand, just keep working hard until you’re gone. It’s the right thing to do after all. Don’t you agree?

I asked a few colleagues their opinions about the tone of the memo. There was general agreement that it was not solely intended to communicate the program or even the make affected employees feel better about having their jobs eliminated. It was also meant to in someway make the author feel better about having to publish the bad news. Poor fellow! I guess that the word “co-source” makes him feel more kindly about the whole thing.

The deed will be done and the people will hit the streets.

At least the author could have the guts to shoot straight with the employees. Oh! Here’s more alliteration to add to the title – OUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE!

PS There’s more to come on this story. The project is now being implemented but not without major problems. Seems that the brainiacs who concocted it forgot a few important details.

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Beware of Those Corporate Patriots!

February 19, 2008

Get ready! This post is sure to stir up a lot of controversy!

Please refer back to last week’s post (now categorized under The Corporate Cynic’s Manifesto). One of its themes was the manipulation of employees’ personal values and motivations by corporations in order to garner some “outcome” that is good for the company but not necessarily good for the worker. I want to continue on that theme but also focus on the disingenuous practice of simultaneously attempting and claiming to have obtained employees’ “buy-in” to new programs or directives by simply sharing some information with them. “Buy in” is another hijacked and bastardized term used by corporations to rationalize the, “Now that you comprehend the ‘big picture’, you understand why we must eliminate your job” or “Don’t you agree with us that cutting your wages and benefits is the right thing to?” subtexts cleverly hidden in their communiqués. The really sinister side of this gimmickry is that the corporate propagandists actually believe that it works. Over the years, I’ve worked with some of these characters and have seen how their twisted minds rationalize these gimmicks. If not to somehow convince the workforce of the brilliance of executive decisions, it’s to assuage their own guilt (if they have any left) about destroying peoples’ lives and futures (except their own). I’ve covered this and other insidious “feel good” trickery used by corporate elites in a myriad of other posts and various chapters from “The Double Secret Handbook for bad Executives.” Please read them.

This brings me to a rant about one of the latest manipulations of those values that I’ve been gleaning from the “Idiot-cracy” in the executive suites as well as their business media marionettes for use in squeezing the life out of the American workforce – the patriotic angle.

What could I possibly mean by this? Over the last year or two, I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs in the business sections of newspapers and in the online headlines and banners in the business articles section of my Internet provider’s homepage about American workers. The themes of the headlines and stories go something like this:

Americans work fewer hours than their global counterparts,
American workers earn more than their global brethren,
Americans can’t compete in global manufacturing,
American workers fall behind in productivity.

These headlines are always followed by a short story and some statistics. My personal reaction to each of these banners is simply, “Americans have worked hard to raise our standard of living. We do our part. Where are all of the innovations from the corporate brain trusts to keep us competitive and ahead of the curve? Simply lowering wages and cutting costs is an easy, cowardly, lazy and intellectually dishonest cop out. Just what are these clowns being paid the big bucks and huge bonuses for?” I am not so sure that’s the reaction the writers’ of these articles intended. I believe that the subtle implication here is rather, “American workers have it too good and can do more for less. We should feel guilty about our good fortune and work harder. We the workers need to make sacrifices to keep jobs in America. We should understand why we must lower our standard of living. It’s our duty to give up more and more for the good of the country.”

This new call to patriotism also bellows from the executive suites. I’ve heard a recent speech or two and they sound similar to this:
“The Chinese can’t claim to be more productive! They can throw lots of people at task after task. Hell, people are one of their natural resources. But we’re Americans and we can do it with even less. We’ll just have fewer people work longer and harder. See how much more productive we Americans are! We’ll teach them all about productivity. It’s our duty. Makes you feel good to give it your all for Uncle Sam, doesn’t it? Won’t you help show them up?”

George M. Cohan would be proud! Who can argue with it? It’s like trying to argue about the benefits of working safely. I personally find it repugnant that anyone would try appealing to patriotism in this manner. When I see this call to patriotism juxtaposed against the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries, the importing of foreign technical workers who’ll accept lower wages, the cutbacks in salaries and benefits and the tales about jobs that Americans just don’t want to do, I become irate – particularly when it’s wrapped in the Stars and Stripes. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has plenty to do with some executives trying to line their own pockets with bonuses for cutting costs – and coercing American workers to play along.

Am I a flaming conspiracy theorist or just another Internet windbag? I‘ve been accused of both. Listen up! I am not going to debate geo-politics or global economics with anyone. I am not qualified and admit it. I just don’t like to be manipulated and I do not believe that others like it either. This has indeed been quite a rant.

God Bless America!

“Never Volunteer!” Words of Wisdom from a real Veteran

February 12, 2008

Eddie Thompson came to my office last Thursday about 5PM. Eddie’s a manager in charge of small accounting group that seems to be getting smaller and smaller. He was really frazzled and upset. I believe that Eddie was more upset with himself than anything else. You see Eddie had committed the latest blunder in modern corporate America. He had “volunteered” and would now pay the price. Eddie had allowed the “powers” to get their foot in the crack of the door. Before Eddie even realized what had happened, the door had blown wide open. Eddie’s heart was in the right place. He just wanted to help out a fellow manager whose staff was cut. Eddie got sucked in by the pleas of his boss and now he was stuck. Eddie and his team would have to take on a myriad of additional tasks. Additional resources? None except one – their time. Eddie had to explain to his department that they now had to start coming in on weekends to get everything done. Of course Eddie and his team are conveniently exempt from overtime pay.

I’m seeing it more and more. Jonesy’s a sharp financial analyst. She volunteered to “help out” and just run some preliminary numbers for a new acquisition. The financial analyst who worked for the acquired company had just resigned. They told Jonesy that it was nothing special and just a broad-brush look at the bottom line, “It shouldn’t take that long and it’s just an overview. C’mon Jonesy! We know you’re busy but just this once.” So Jonesy put her other work on hold and ran some prelims. True to form, they didn’t like the results and demanded a “deep dive” into the details. A week later, Jonesy’s still plowing through the data. Of course she’s now being screamed at to deliver all of the other tasks she put on hold. So much for your scheduled week of vacation Jonesy. PS She bought the whole enchilada on this one. Since she’s now the “expert” with the data, all of the future reporting is hers as well. Just think of the savings here! There’s no longer a need to hire a replacement financial analyst for the acquired company.

Hey, I’ve caught myself doing it as well. You know “giving one for the team” and all that. I did it a lot more when I was younger and more idealistic. I still put in over 60 hours a week at the office. Old habits are hard to break. I’ll even help out when necessary but am very cautious now about getting the staff and myself in a jam (as well as keeping others’ feet out of the door jamb). We’re supposed to work to live and not live to work.

Volunteering and helping others in one’s private life is a great thing to do. There are too many altruistic values and motivations for such behavior to mention here. The rewards for such volunteering are personal and spirtual. When it comes to the workplace, however, those same altruistic values and motivations are oftentimes manipulated to prey on the goodness of people in order to obtain some other desired “outcome” for the corporation. I’ve written gobs about the psychological gimmicks, threats and guilt trips thrown at employees who come to work really wanting to do a good job. It’s always in that ever-changing definition of what constitutes a “good job” where the manipulation comes in to play. Aiding a fellow employee through a hard task or helping out a department in a pinch is also a great thing to do but it is NOT the same as adding hours to a workweek, foregoing vacation, or working on a holiday or weekend to meet some arbitrary deadline, please a superior or save on cost. There’s no personal or spiritual reward here.

When I was a young man, I remember my Dad giving me some good advice that I, of course, ignored at the time and for many years to come. His two-word admonition came when I had returned from my first ROTC field exercise and proudly began the tale of one my “exploits.” Dad’s words came out both sharp and stern. It was as if something I had said triggered an automatic response. I must have mentioned some magic word because he never even let me finish my story before snapping, “NEVER VOLUNTEER!” That was that. I never got to finish my story.

“Never volunteer!” How strange? Those words coming from a decorated WWII veteran. Dad was an Army platoon sergeant who had spent three years in combat overseas in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. It was not until many years later and after a lot of research that I realized how never volunteering was one of the main reasons he had survived the war at all. My Dad was very proud of his service. He also had the wisdom of harsh experience.

Now that I’m a lot older, I’ve gained that same type of wisdom myself. There are no medals awarded for valor in the lower levels of corporations and there is no glory. A “Make it Happen” certificate (suitable for framing) won’t compensate you for the loss of valuable time with your family or your health. There are only obscene bonuses and rewards for the corporate generals. Killing yourself for a company gets you only one reward – death.

I remember reading a survey a few years ago. The survey asked if people would be willing to “volunteer” to work an 80 hour workweek with no time off for three straight years if at the end of that period they would be guaranteed that the rest of their working lives would revert to a normal 40 hours per week schedule. If I recall the results of the survey, most respondants answered NO. I believe that these negative replies came from people like me. People who now know that there are no such guarantees and that once one commits to such a regimen, it never stops.

If this rant seems rather jaded, it’s meant to be. You’re visiting with The Corporate Cynic. I know that many young starry-eyed up-and-comers and corporate big shot wannabees will revile at this notion. So be it! You’ll learn.

At the end of my career, I want to be able to say the same thing that my Dad would say when asked about what he did during WWII, “I survived and served proudly.”

Old Joe P. Checks in from the “Incredible Shrinking Company”

February 5, 2008

Post publication note from The Corporate Cynic: I’ve decided to categorize this post under “Real Leadership”. Joe P. really showed a lot of gumption by sticking up for himself and his operation. Instead of cowtowing to the elites and letting them steal the show, he came prepared for battle. Joe always impressed me as a good honest man. It’s time that Joe and others of his ilk get the recognition that they deserve.

Well, well, well! Joe P. gave me a call last week. Here’s a voice from the past. You’ll remember Joe from the post Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Company! (July 20, 2007, categorized under Never fail to Amaze). You’ll also recall that Joe is still a plant manager for a pretty poorly run corporation where we once worked together a few years ago. Joe may not be highly educated or a smooth corporate type but he’s a standup guy, a damn fine manager and an expert at working with what he’s handed to get the job done. So what’s new at the zoo?

Well it seems that the majority bloc of investors has appointed a new “overseer” to keep on an eye on the CEO. The CEO, in turn, hired a new Chief Financial Officer. Joe reports that this new finance guy is another perfect “fit” for the executive culture at that company. You know the type – a cocky know-it-all and mile-a-minute talker. A young slicked back hair accountant wearing small eyeglasses that refuses to listen to anyone other than the CEO and can’t ever seem to get his head out of his laptop. Boy, I’m glad that I’m not there any longer!

Joe reports that the new “overseer” decided to hold meetings last month at each of the remaining plants to get acquainted with the local management and get a bird’s eye view of what was going on and why. Those present for the meeting at Joe’s operation were the characters mentioned above. Joe, of course, was immediately put on the hot seat.

At first the CEO did all of the talking taking full credit for anything good that had ever occurred there. Then the CFO chimed in. Neither seemed to want to let Joe to get in a word edgewise. But when the CFO began rattling off a litany of poor efficiency and productivity metrics for the plant, Joe decided to defend his operation. Now Joe is most definitely not the most political character one would ever meet. He can be exceedingly blunt, especially when attacked. Joe has a refreshingly honest concept of what’s right and wrong. In this case, he told me that had been prepared for such a crucifixion and brought along a stack of reports that contradicted many of the metrics that the CFO was spouting. He dared to interrupt and take issue with several of the statistics being cited by this new wunderkind. According to Joe, the new CFO reddened with anger and looked to the CEO for support. Sensing a major confrontation on the horizon, the “overseer” decided that a ten-minute break was in order. Joe left to check on the plant. When he returned the meeting reconvened but the subject had changed.

It was now time to discuss opportunities for improvement. The CEO began to read from a list of all the improvements that Joe was now being assigned. Joe interrupted again and this time read from copies of memo’s he had also brought with him to the meeting. A majority of Joe’s new assignments were actually HIS suggestions that he had written in the form of memos to the CEO weeks and months prior to the meeting. Since he’d never received replies, Joe thought it odd that HIS ideas were now being treated as assignments without any credit being given for their original suggestion. As new storm clouds began to form over the proceedings, the “overseer” called for another ten-minute break. When the meeting reconvened, there was no further mention of the subject.

The meeting’s agenda progressed to the subject of capital improvements for the plant and Joe was assigned the task of preparing various requests for capital funds to replace and upgrade worn out machinery and equipment. Joe was prepared again. This time he produced copies of formal requests for the very same items that he had prepared and submitted over the last five or six years (some I had even helped prepare years ago). The CEO had previously rejected all of them. The only comment from the new wunderkind was that Joe’s previous requests had been written on “the old forms”. Joe told me that he was not going to let the “overseer” believe that he was a complete dunderhead. It was time for another break.

According to Joe, the rest of the meeting was rather cordial and mundane. Near the end, as the conversation between the new three amigos turned to college sports and high-end restaurants, Joe, feeling like the “odd man out”, skulked back to the plant to keep things going as best as he could.

Should Joe be worried about losing his job because he lost his cool and put the honchos on the spot? I think not. Joe knows that they know as I know (and as the “overseer” will soon know) that they’ll never find anyone else willing to try and run that goofy operation and put up with their guff. They’ve tried before and failed miserably.

The more things change….

Here’s to sticking up for yourself. Hang in there Joe!