29 August, 2011

"Work cheaper, not smarter."

Times are tough, and senior management responded in the time-honoured tradition by calling a two-day workshop for all senior management and team leaders in my division, so they could discuss yet again how to wring blood from a stone. All well and good, and nothing out of the ordinary ... until they also declared that everyone at my level also had to attend, and offer up a PowerPoint presentation on things we could do to make things better.

I stopped laughing at this point but, in the end, the whole thing didn't turn out too badly.

Firstly there was the amusement factor involved in holding a workshop about productivity and seeking to do more with less at a golf resort 50 miles away from where most of the attendees live and work, forcing the majority to spend an extra hour traveling each way just to get there. On top of that, no-one was really that keen to use their own cars, so everyone booked out work vehicles for the entire day and ran up extra fuel costs across our division.

My inner cynic was already feeling revitalised.

Then someone else "borrowed" the car I was supposed to travel down in, forcing a hasty scramble for alternative transport and ensuring we arrived fashionably late. The individual who'd stolen the car was already there, so when the facilitator decreed we should introduce ourselves with name, team, and an interesting fact about ourselves, one of my colleagues decided his interesting fact would be "and I'm late because some bastard took the car I'd already booked." But he's almost due for long-service leave, and doesn't care who he offends anymore.

Two presentations later and we were already behind schedule because senior management keep forgetting that (generally speaking) your average support tech doesn't know how to write or pace presentations, and will prepare lots of content and then simply read it out. Suddenly everyone's presentation timeslots were slashed to get things back on schedule.

Gimli and Marvin (his counterpart, responsible for managing a team that does similar things to Gimli's) used their joint presentation to engage in a territorial dispute disguised as a discussion on the importance of communication and cooperation, presumably under the orders of their manager in an attempt to make them play nicely with each other. Marvin opened with a recitation of the many ways in which Gimli's teams failed at communicating anything. Gimli countered by relentlessly quoting from past policy statements to show that the fault really lay with Marvin's teams' - and therefore Marvin himself. Then we were all told it's now a hanging offense to travel to any of our sites without informing the team leader at that location, presumably so he can follow the interloper around and freshly mark his territory all over again.

Sometimes it's more obvious than others that IT remains a male-dominated industry.

At the end of the day, our Director arrived to give a presentation on the opportunities for productivity awaiting us all. He opened with several slides of statistics explaining that our organisation is, essentially, doomed. The high Australian dollar means revenue is dropping because we can't compete with the international market. But that's okay, because we're charging the remaining ones more to compensate - how can we go wrong with that? Our domestic clients are leaving us for our local competitors, so we're not retaining any of the local market, either. A visible cloud of impending doom descended over the room.

Then Gimli asked the Director where he saw us being in five years' time. "This is a visionary question," he declared.

"It's funny you should ask that, because I was going to address that in my presentation tomorrow."

He was genuinely surprised when he was told two-thirds of his audience wouldn't be there in the morning and he'd only be talking to team leaders and management, so clearly that communication thing is working well for us.

"Ah, okay. Well, I have a slide showing the range of services we support now, and I have one showing what we'll be supporting in 2025. And there's a big red 'X' through everything you guys do."

Silence. Deathly silence. At-least-he-went-out-with-a-bang-Mrs-Cobain silence.

A team leader pipes up, trying to dispel some of the Mordor-like cloud of despair enveloping the room: "Would that be a good 'big red X' or a bad 'big red X'?"

The Director seems to realise that, just maybe, he could have phrased things better* and tries to salvage the situation.

"Now I'm not saying you won't still have jobs," he begins ... and while I can't remember what his exact words were, it translated as something like "but we don't know what they're going to be, and we're pretty sure they won't be here."

Surprisingly this neither lifts the mood nor reinvigorates discussion of the many "opportunities" awaiting us. But that doesn't really matter, because the driver of my car has had enough and wants to leave now (see previous about long-service leave and not giving a damn) and I get to escape before sitting through any more presentations. It means I miss seeing how The Invertebrate goes with his, but it also means I avoid having my cynicism buffers overloaded by another manager's spiel on his virtualisation project, which I suspect will boil down to something like this:
Step 1: Virtualise!
Step 3:
Rainbows & unicorns for everybody!
which is what every presentation I've seen about virtual desktops in my sector comes down to in the end.

So as far as productivity goes, it was every bit the tragic and inevitable waste I expected, but it wasn't without its unintended highlights.

And there was hazelnut gelatto at lunch. I'll put up with a lot for that.

*Although he still has a long way to go before he reaches the standard set by his predecessor, who famously described us all as "bottom-feeders" at the annual staff recognition and rewards ceremony and then wondered why people took offense.

No comments: