Saturday, August 23, 2008

Act Two: This Workforce Stuff Really Blows

My American Life: a tragedy in three acts

After so much derision, after so much two-faced double speak, after so much belittling and false accusation, the only logical or sane response is to just not care anymore. As much as I want to, I cannot care anymore. If I did, I'd go crazy. The bar is set too high, the demands too unreasonable, the resources too insufficient.

In an ideal world I'd be managing a delicate balance of training, employee relations, quality control, safety compliance, annual certification reviews, production reporting, as well as all the other little things that are necessary to make an operation run smoothly.

But it's not an ideal world. Nor am I a perfect person. Which simply means that all of the above still applies. Except for the balance part. Or maybe just the delicate, because it is all still due every day. But there's not a whole lot of delicate. More like frantic or crazed.

When I first made the promotion I had two goals only. My first commitment was to myself and not a requirement. Even though I wasn't sure of the circumstances the future would hold, I was determined to hold the position for one whole year before moving on; partly for my resume, and partly for personal satisfaction, and partly for the learning experience.

It has now been 15 and a half months.

My second goal was clearly stated, and quite brief, but nowhere near as simple to implement. The workgroup I inherited from my predecessor had a reputation. And not a good one. It was hands down the worst group in the building, even the district. It was at the very bottom. And I said then, "If I can so much as get this group off the very bottom rung of the ladder, I don't even care if we make it to any sort of a remarkable ranking, but just off of the very bottom of the pile, if I can do that one thing, then I will have succeeded."

I worked my butt off. And in the first three months, we shed the reputation.

Granted, it's been off and on since then. The group has seen a fair amount of turnover like the rest of the operation and with new people, we've bounced around, competing with others to not be in that dead last position. But as any of the previous managers of this particular workgroup will tell you, "there's something different about Metro 4. It's not like the others, it's got different challenges, and different problems, and it's not in the same league."

So, why, if I achieved those goals am I so pissed off with the whole production?

Apparently I've accomplished another feat as well. This one was certainly not a goal, but it has been completed nonetheless.

I have tried. I have succeeded at times; and I have failed at others. But never have I wallowed in defeat. I figure, if I leave in the middle of failure, I leave behind a final defeat. But if I wait till I'm a success and I've beaten those challenges and gotten ahead, why leave then, if things are all so peachy?

I say all this, though, to say: I'm no quitter. I will press on. And I'm not one to run from a challenge.

But motivating these folks to work hard is like motivating a sloth to run; or better, motivating a slug to jump. The faster and better they work, the easier it will be on them. At least that's what I've convinced myself of and what I've been convinced to tell them. It's partially true, I think. But I'm not even sure of my own level of indoctrination anymore. I'm already enough of a cynic, I don't need to pursue it any more. Which is what it would take to separate fact from fiction around here. The reality that I do know, though, is that the faster they work, the less they get paid.

It's easier on me when they do, but that's not much of a motivation for the average worker. Sure they like me, and they are glad I'm around, but they don't love me. By crossing the management divide I became part of the system where every boss is hated to a certain degree just by virtue of the position. And try as one might, the divide defies crossing.

But too much challenge, too little reward, too much demand, too little resources, too much shitty leadership from above, and too much expectation of superhuman leadership from me, and I am what I was warned to not be. I am a hardened cynic. I am a complaining, whining company bitch. And I do not care.

Worse yet? That last goal I accomplished... What I've become has worked in others the same that was worked in me. I've seen it twice now, and I saw it begin again this week. My workers, embarking on the same pattern of recognizing futile effort, hardening as a cynic, and lapsing into total defeat and nonchalance. They don't care either.

When I see myself reproducing that model which I so despise and which I personally swore never to perpetuate...that's my glowing exit sign, hanging over the door, signaling my time to go.

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