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Sunday Morning Book Thread - 10-23-2022 ["Perfessor" Squirrel] | Main | First World Problems...
October 23, 2022

First Hand Experiences With Awful Workplace Management / Motivation Gimmicks

Let’s have a little fun today with some first-hand experiences dealing with awful workplace motivation and management fads. I’ve been in the workforce full time for about 30 years, mainly working for large corporations, but also for one hip startup, and these stupid gimmicks have been the bane of my work life. Executives love these gimmicks and fads like little girls love ponies. And neither understands just how much excrement is involved in their passions.

Here are a few classic memories:

*****

UNLIMITED VACATION: This may be the most diabolical of all business fads. It sounds so generous, yet it is so cruel. In theory, the employee is free to take as much vacation as he wants, as often as he wants, so long as his work gets done.

But it didn’t take employees long to realize that since they were never completely caught up at work, they weren’t sure if they could take vacation at all. And if a person stayed caught up to the extent that he could frequently be taking time off, then it became legitimate to ask if there was even enough work to justify his job.

So, employees started trying to determine what was really tolerated, observing how much vacation other employees were taking, and making sure they didn’t put themselves at the too-much-vacation end of the bell curve. The effect was that people started taking less vacation and felt afraid to take more than two weeks. Even then, they often felt they were betraying the spirit of the policy, because others still had to cover them in their absence.

And then there were the employees that were not part of the laptop-class. How is the receptionist or the billing clerk ever supposed to feel it’s OK to take time off since their positions cannot go untended and the work regenerates every day? How does s/he determine how much time to take?

*****

GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE: If an individual wants to challenge himself to get out of his own “comfort zone,” that’s great. For instance, I recently saw live music and there wasn’t even an upright bass in the band! Inspirational, huh?

But when an executive determines that he is going to help his employees “grow” by challenging them to get out of their comfort zones, cruelty will soon follow.

I was in an office where a manager (who was challenged by senior executives to get his employees out of their comfort zones) got sick pleasure out of making shy people perform embarrassing acts, and making them the center of unwanted attention. Among the cruel acts they had to perform were engaging in a primal scream (allegedly to release tension); race-walking across the office holding a pencil between their legs; and being forced to participate in a singalong while waving a boa.

The more uncomfortable an employee was, the more pleasure the manager got. And worst of all, this sadistic bully genuinely believed he was doing something good for the employees he tormented.

*****

PEER COACHING: This might be my all-time favorite example of just how badly a gimmick backfired in a workplace. After my employer embraced the “Peer Coaching” fad, it quickly become a debacle that hurt careers, damaged the chain of command, and resulted in anger and bitter recriminations.


The way this gimmick worked was that in Meeting #1 several employees were chosen to identify a coaching need in which they could benefit from a co-worker’s knowledge, and then they each chose a “peer” to coach them. The coaching was to occur over the next two weeks. After two weeks the team met again to report on how the peer coaching had helped the coached employees. Supervisors and management were present at both meetings.

The meetings quickly turned ugly, with the following sentiments expressed by management:

• Why are employees deficient in this area for which they sought coaching?
• Why didn’t employees issue a “cry for help” if they had these deficiencies?
• Who is to blame – employees or their supervisors - that management only learned of these deficiencies when they rolled out Peer Coaching?
• Why didn’t supervisors observe and report on these employee deficiencies?
• What have the consequence been of employees having these deficiencies until now?
• Why are employees having to turn to a peer for coaching when they should have long since approached their supervisors?

Of course, the employees caught up in this gotcha-trap were good employees who were confident in their job performances. They were required to come up with a subject on which to be peer coached and were simply playing along with this stupid gimmick.

*****

MY FRAUDULENT SIX SIGMA GREEN BELT: When asked in professional settings of what workplace accomplishment I am most proud of, I would dearly love to be able to tell this story. I am extremely proud of how I bailed my team out of trouble when we assertively and deliberately didn’t participate in our required Six Sigma “Green Belt” certification process.

This was about 20 years ago, when I worked for a well-known corporation. Following GE’s lead, our company was gung-ho about Six-Sigma, with everyone required to participate. My division wasn’t even involved in manufacturing, so the whole thing was just incredibly silly.

About the time we were supposed to start Six Sigma, a major client of ours went bankrupt and into liquidation, requiring an all-hands-on-deck crisis response. And then, tragically, one of our critical employees died unexpectedly. Meanwhile, we still had to service other customers and keep operations going. Our Region Manager advised us that we could forego our Six Sigma meetings, ignore the requests from home office for updates on it, and stay solely focused on our current crisis. He promised to take the heat.

Back then, the Six Sigma status reports were not done online. Instead, there was an electronic form that an employee would type the update on, and then submit it to the company’s Six Sigma Grand Poobah.

As we were getting past the worst of our crisis, the Region Manager was starting to get a lot of heat for the past due Six Sigma status reports. He assured the Poobah that we were working hard on the project, and having our meetings on time just like we were supposed to, but we were just a little behind on the actual reporting. He stressed the amazing work the team was doing with the bankruptcy crisis, especially with a key employee now deceased, but he was told in response that there are zero excuses, because there was no higher priority in this company than Six Sigma. In short, careers and employment status were at risk if this Six Sigma project was not completed on time.

This is when I had the idea to find some local process improvement that we had already implemented (but without all the time-wasting formality of Six Sigma) and then retroactively create all the “problem identification,” brainstorming, stupid graphs, etc.

It had already become a joke in the non-manufacturing operations of our company that the typical Six Sigma project simply resulted in the creation of a new Excel spreadsheet. So, I chose one of our local office’s already existing homemade spreadsheets, specifically, one that we had created to track the workflow of certain documents. I then spent about a day typing up minutes of imaginary meetings, documenting brainstorming that never happened, creating phony graphs and charts, and summarizing how the implementation of our “new” spreadsheet had reduced errors and increased efficiency.

We were awarded our Green Belts. More importantly, no one on my team faced any consequences for how we ignored our required participation in Six Sigma.

Suffice it to say, I have never put “Six Sigma Green Belt” on my resume. Being a Green Belt would be a badge of shame for me under any other circumstance, if not for the knowledge of how I “earned” it for me and my co-workers.

*****

How about y’all?

Do you have any fun stories about workplace motivation / management gimmicks you’ve had to endure? Or how about any examples of how you resisted or quietly subverted them?

(buck.throckmorton at protonmail dot com)

digg this
posted by Buck Throckmorton at 11:58 AM

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