Of love, hate and management blogs

Caution, rather unstructured rant ahead

So, our internal company strategy is now mainly focussed on quality management, which, sadly is a topic long overdue. Not enough people, not enough time, to many fucking jobs in a day, the usual. Plus, an in-house communication which seems to come straight from the deepest depths in Hell. One of the more capable managers was promoted vice CEO earlier this year, and our CEO tagged him with the honorable job of straightening out the internal processes – communications, inter-department processes, everything.

Two weeks ago we had a rather lengthy staff meeting about it where they were presenting the new ideas and everything. The new guy is actually a nice guy, works for our company for a couple of years by now and knows his trades. Good for him. They’ve announced that they want to flatten the hierarchies, to strengthen the overall quality of our work etc. etc. No layoffs, tho, in the long run we will probably hire a number of new people. And they want to do it with us, not against us and not from above. Because they want it to take off, and they can’t do that without the staff. So the premise is: whatever we do, we’re trying to discuss it with you. And this time,we actually mean it. (Actually, the whole quality management idea is one or two years late. People are tired, but hey, it’s a just fight anyways.)

Well, good then. I applauded the overall notion.

(By now, they even hired an consultant who was interviewing people and assembling his findings in a report for everyone. “This is the mood, these are the problems, here are possible solutions, YMMV." Was a good report, by the way.)

Pondering about how it can be done, I came to two conclusions. 1 - You can’t email everyone everytime you want an opinion. 2 - You can’t schedule a meeting everytime you want an opinion. So I went ahead and told them about management blogs. In great detail, actually. “See, this is a weblog, this is the idea behind it, you’d post and give those who want to discuss it the ability to do it”. The vice CEO was amazed and thanked me for the idea, and to be honest, I still think he meant it. He asked me to set up a blog for him and his team (the heads of our departments) so they can post whenever they feel like, i.e. they want/need to live that new communication thang. (In the past, decisions were made and noone was informed, which led to confusion, anger and overall pissyness. You know the score, I guess.) He knew that if he wants to break the “nothing good has ever come from the top” mood at the watercooler, he’d have to fight for it.

So I did just that. After I’ve explained the interface to them I told them four things.

  1. You have to post yourselves. It won’t work if you let your secretaries do it. If you want it to work, you have to do it. If you don’t plan to do that, we can stop right now.
  2. You have to post regularily. Doesn’t have to be long posts, just let them know whenever there is something going on, important or not. If you don’t plan to do that, we can stop right now.
  3. You have to explain people what you’re trying to accomplish. Only if they understand it, they won’t oppose and/or ignore it.
  4. Try to be clear and to the point.

Number 3 is the hardest thing. We had about a dozen applications that were rolled out in the past, and noone told the staff why. “Here’s a bugtracking system.” - “What for? … Hello?" Couple of months later: “Here’s a time tracking system.” - “Why are we doing this? … Hello?" It’s pretty bad, really. They count on us to figure it out ourselves. I’m really not sure why they won’t talk about it, but apparently in their minds the delivery is the goal. “It’s delivered? Job’s done." Yeah. Except not. It’s really really bad.

So, the new quality management idea is to communicate to avoid and solve problems. Great idea. The vice decided the new management blog is the way to go, the best tool for the job. Yes! Everything’s gonna be peachy now!

Yeah. Except not.

Yesterday the vice CEO mailed the consultant’s report to everyone. He mentioned the blog and that it’ll be rolled out next week. My boys and I talked about it and concluded that spreading the report meant a raised need to discuss things, because that’s what they said, the report is topic to discussion. It also meant that this day was the best day to officially start the management blog. You already have your first topic, so roll with it to promote the new tool you have. There’d actually be a reason to check the blog – you could discuss the different topics right there. So I’ve told the Vice just that, and he agreed. This morning, one of his staff made the first post. “Hello, this is a discussion board, here’s the report, discuss please." Then he mailed the URL to everyone, and that was it. When he wrote it he came to me asking which categories he should pick for the post. He was frightened and insecure about it. Well, you have to crawl before you learn to walk, right? This was a new shore for him, the whole concept was/is rather alien to him and his pals. I figured they will become more secure as they use it.

When I talked about it with my co-workers at lunch, I was greeted by shrugs. “I don’t get it.” - “I don’t understand that, what is it, a new tool we’re supposed to use?” - “Do I have to post there now? ME?" Apparently they had no idea what to do with it. The concept was alien to them as well. And it made sense they were confused – because noone explained the idea to them in the first place.

And that was the point where I felt like banging my head against something very, very hard.

A couple of problems here.

  1. They read the report by the consultant, apparently they talked about it in one or two meetings, but the line “You, the management, aren’t vocal enough about your actions and you should fucking change that if you want your employees to fucking trust you again (fuck)" didn’t go through. (I’ve paraphrased a bit.) The post and the mail by our head of department was clearly too cryptic and vague again. Old style. No change there. (I didn’t notice right away because I knew what the idea behind the blog is.) Violation of rule #4.

  2. The Vice didn’t hand the job to his secretary but one of his staffers. At least for the introductory post I’d have wished for a post by him. It’s about examples, about setting a certain standard, by giving your employees a feeling of “I’m trying hard not to repeat the mistakes of the past, this time we really want to do it”. Alas, he was to busy to spend 15 minutes posting the first entry. Disappointing. Violation of rule #1… in a way.

  3. One post, one mail, everyone but a handful of people was confused. Great job. Violation of rule #3. Excellent work, Smithers.

Summary: It’s not about the tool, it’s about how you communicate, it’s about content. It’s a long way ahead, I think, but at this very moment I feel we’re doomed once again. Why? Because the management still have no real clue. If they had, if they would’ve understood the (probably hysterically expensive) findings report, they would’ve tried to change something right away. They would’ve tried to be clear and trustworthy and convincingly trying. sigh We might have upgraded our tools to be tools of the 21st century, but in the end it probably just means we’ll poke our eye out with a state-of-the-art laser- guided pickaxe.

So, what next? They’ve scheduled a staff meeting for tomorrow where they tell everyone what they want to accomplish. (I won’t be around to attend because my baby sister is getting married and we’re on our merry way to their place.) I really hope they won’t fuck that up as well.

And I really hope that when I come back on Monday, there’ll be one or two more posts in the blog and a couple of comments to go along with.

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Carlo Zottmann @czottmann