A Scanner Darkly

June 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM | Posted in The Corporate World | Leave a comment
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First came the mass email reminder to turn in our timesheets.
Then came the angst over filling out the time sheet.
The next day came the email reminder to our whole department from Bunny that timesheets need to be filled out accurately.  That was at 10:27.
At 10:28 I got an email that no one else got, also from Bunny:
“Please see me in my office at 10:30 about your timesheet.”
That’s essentially…right now.

She was waiting in her office, and so was Melissa, my immediate manager.  I’ve written about her before, but I’m not sure it was entirely accurate.  But then, I’ve never worked for her before.
Originally, I thought she reminded me of my ex, The Storm.  But that’s not her.  The Storm is an F-5.  Melissa is an F-2, tops.  But I don’t fuck her, so I can’t be sure.
But here’s what I do know, in all honesty:  I can read people.  Some people I can’t read well, while others wear it on the outside.  Her aura says “BITCH” in a  shiny, glittery, script font.
The thing is, she’s never done anything to me, but I can tell.  Among all the other little things, she has a…fake little laugh–this tittering that she does, a forced laugh to show that she’s easy-going.  Hell, maybe she’s in a 12-step program to overcome being a bitch for all I know.  And she just has the look on her face like she is disgusted all the time.  She has potential; I suppose she could go either way.
So I come in, and Bunny is professionally friendly, beckoning me to come in and sit.  I guess I paused–and she caught it.  Damn it, she can read me.  On to the meeting.
Melissa was mostly quiet.  I’ve been in these before; when I was written up, Erica had Carrie sit in on the meeting as a witness.  So I’m in trouble.
Bunny asks about the timesheet.  She’s not pointing to this week, she’s pointing to last week.  *This* week we had Memorial Day, and others my group reasoned that going “overtime” would be okay because it wasn’t overtime pay–we had only four days.  I had 8 holiday hours, but instead of 32 regular hours I had 36.
But she was pointing at last week, where I dutifully (I really don’t know how else to describe it–is “stupidly” a synonym for that?) wrote in 40 hours.  I arrive at 8am, take a half hour lunch, and leave at 430.  Eight hours a day, 40 for the week.
“Melissa said she knows that on more than one occasion last week, you were here at least until 515.  Were you just hanging around, doing some personal things–”
I can see she was trying to give me an out.  I didn’t want it.
“–Or were you working?”
Time for honesty.  Finally.  What had been brewing in me for weeks, I could finally express.  “Oh, I was working.”
I really don’t remember how she phrased the question, and the writer in me is struggling to create with fiction what she said in reality.  The gist of her question had to do with *why*?  Why was I doing this?  Why was I working for free when we just had a meeting expressly about this topic?  Why was I fudging my time?
The question was phrased perfectly so that this was the perfect answer:
“Because I–we–all of us in Shipping are scared to death that we’re going to lose our fucking jobs.”
I hope I kept my voice and tone under control.  I said it as calmly as I could manage.  Christ, I was close to crying, from the sheer emotional release because I could finally tell her.
She looked shocked, but not as shocked as she should have been if she didn’t know anything at all.  Bunny’s a smart girl.  She can put things together.  I continued, controlling the cracking in my voice.  “We are scared to death that if we don’t do everything that you want–all of this that you pushed on us–that you’ll fire us and replace us.”
She said a few soothing things, but I don’t remember what order they were in.  Things like:
She reminded me that she told us that it was going to be hell for us in shipping as they made these changes, and that eventually it would get easier.  I’m not buying that, but that comes later.
She also said that they–she–wasn’t looking to get rid of anyone in shipping.  She added that last as a caveat…was she looking to get rid of people elsewhere?  I guess they always were…
Also, doing this was not making it better.  If it took longer than they anticipated (which to me means they had pie in the sky dreams about this stuff being completely automatic and could be done in seconds but now the reality is starting to come home) then she needs to know to adjust her projections and expectations.  They need to know accurately how much can be done.
Melissa spoke up at this point, saying something about, oh, not being able to get the work done is not as serious as fudging your timesheet.  Well, okay.  In the cage match of the lesser of two evils, I bet on the wrong pony.
After that we talked about specifics.
Bunny admitted that she’s never really worked in shipping–but she’s done all the other jobs that lead to it.  She does know that Shipping has gotten shit on in the past, because anything the other departments couldn’t do or wouldn’t do correctly had to be fixed in shipping.  She wants to change that.
Starting with this stacking order project of hers.  How to gently burst this bubble?  We had 2 dozen stacking orders, one for each investor, because that’s how we did it five years ago.  Requirements have changed, and even the investors don’t necessarily need it that way.  So we were going to switch to a single stacking order that would start with the LOA, and stay with the file all the way through the process and everyone would be responsible for keeping it in that order so we wouldn’t have to stack the files any more.  It seems ridiculous to tear the file apart completely and put it back together–
Nonetheless, that’s what we do in shipping.  However, I had to tell her this point about three times before she heard me:
“Stacking the file is not the problem.  Stacking doesn’t take that much time.  Stacking is not the issue.”
“Huh?”
“Most files we can stack in less than ten minutes.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is all the other things that keep getting thrown onto us and added on to our work.  It turns a 15-minute project into a 35-minute ordeal.”
“Like what?”
Exactly.  She didn’t know.  “Everything else we have to do to the file, some of which is investor-specific, but it doesn’t matter.  We have to fill out forms, look things up, check numbers, and now fill out the insurance letter as well.  We have to make sure we have our lock and our appraisal early, so we have time to track them down.  We have to update Avista with the information.  Everything we do, in fact.”
I felt like I was pleading our case.  “Even after the file is stacked, it’s not the end of our day.  We have two hours or more of work *after* they are stacked.  They have to be scanned–it takes time, even if we’re doing something else, then it slows down the other things we are doing.  After it is scanned, they have to be imported–and these big files take time.  And then we have to convert them to PDF–and that takes time–much more time.  Just, please–understand–all of these things take time to do.  They really do.  We have been busting our ass over there–to please you.  All for you.  We have come up with every shortcut we can think of to make it quicker for us.  Every day we are fighting the clock.  Every day.”
Bunny had new information.  I could see she was processing it.  So now, the problem was out in the open.  Let’s talk solutions.  And we did, a variety of them.  I finally got out my idea about the tax sheet, which is brilliant and so I won’t get credit for it.  But it also led to the insurance letter discussion as well.  The bottom line is, these are both things we have to fill out manually but we have the software capability to have them generated and populated automatically, saving time and aggravation.
Judy, who is Bunny’s boss, poked her head in, apologized, and had to take Kim away for two minutes.  In the corporate world that is anywhere from 7 minutes to three weeks, but Bunny was back in ten.
While she was gone, Melissa and I shared some awkward silence.  Finally I had to tell her something that I couldn’t tell Bunny.  “You know, it wasn’t you, but when you were out for a few days and we had to go to Bunny to sign off on our files–”
“Sign off on them” is our office lingo for when they give us 12 gallons of shit to stuff into 2 5-gallon buckets and we know we can’t get it all done, but we give it our level best and then later in the day we return some of the unpacked shit so that it can be initialed and okayed by the manager to push off for the next day–they sign off on them.
“–she gave us all kinds of grief about it, not accepting any excuses for not getting the impossible done.  After that, it’s just been hard to bring them back because we don’t want to catch hell for it.”
We discussed that briefly.  Melissa conceded that as long as it was reasonable, go ahead and bring them back.  For instance, if you have 12 and can only do 10, that’s fine.  However, if you have ten and then only get 4 of them done, you have some explaining to do.  That’s logical, in theory.
I did ask for an allowance to make sure Serena and I can take care of the ordering, and she agreed.  Cool.
After Bunny came back, we discussed some particulars, and she said that they have been neglecting shipping, and now they need to get in there pay attention to it.  I’m honestly not sure if I want that.
But I feel better.  I feel I was finally able to tell her our side.  I went to bat for my team, and told her all of our concerns, and she listened, and even agreed to be reasonable.
Catharsis, like happiness, is relative.

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Jacob’s Ladder

March 20, 2011 at 11:19 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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April 2009

It was like some kind of horrible Vietnam flashback—
But I didn’t have to go.  I had immunity.  I had…a day job.
Still, I felt compelled to attend this “mandatory” manager’s meeting, for three reasons.  I’ll start with number two if that’s okay with you.
2.  Curiosity.  It had been a while since I had been to one, and never had I been to one with this company.  I wanted to see if they were everything I remembered.
1.  The bosses knew I had a day job and I was excused—and I was the only assistant with this affliction.  They didn’t like it; they wanted me to have “both feet in or both feet out.”  Logical, from their vantage point:  how can they control me and inflict harm and punishment upon me if I can just bow out, like the second string at a gangbang?  How could they squeeze all of my hopes and dreams and aspirations from me?
Too bad I had none left at this point.  Sucks to be them, doesn’t it?  Still, I didn’t want to throw it in their faces.  Absence may be the better part of valor, but it would actually be easier for me to be invisible if I showed up.  That’s irony right there, I don’t care who you are.
3.  I had loyalty to my team—the management at the specific store I worked at.  It would be a show of solidarity as well as—perversely—a bit of spying on the enemy.  And by enemy I meant upper management.  If you don’t understand that calculating mindset or the skewed reality behind it, you’ve never been in management.
At my day job, I made arrangements to be off for the meeting.  Actually, all I did was take some time out of my day, as for a doctor’s appointment.  The meeting was at 9am, so I went to work at my usual 7, left about 830, and got back around 11 because it was over at 1030—everyone had to get to their stores to open them.
Subdued surprise that I showed up—
Shaved, clean, dressed well, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  For most of them, this was too early in the morning, and on average they had been awake for 43 minutes.  I had been up almost three hours and had had two cups of coffee by this time.
There in the big conference room of the home office, the tables were set at the perimeter and we took seats like it was a UN function.  Coffee and donuts were had, and handouts and booklets were passed out.  In the middle of the room, center stage, Supervisor Tom and Director of Operations John tag-teamed us on the important items.  That is, they read the pamphlet to us.
It wasn’t a meeting in the sense that you might think there is a give-and-take and an even exchange of ideas and balance.  No, this was more of the Moses-hands-down-the-new-commandments-of-pizza-making type of meeting.
I wanted to remain low-key; I am not always the seeker of attention that many of you may believe.  However, once the floor was open, if someone among our ranks spoke and I had something to add, I would.  Overall, I was fairly quiet.
Except for this one time that makes me sound like an arrogant ass.  In other words, I showed my true colors.
Tom was speaking, and talking about product quality and consistency.  I sat with Dina and Stan, my people.  Tom said something about the irregular pie quality he has seen in the stores.  “I should be able to look at a pizza and not be able to tell the difference.  I should not be able to tell who made it.  Everyone should be making pizzas the exact same way.”
I snorted quietly to myself, and whispered something to Stan.  He let out a chuckle.  Tom heard.  “What?  What is it?  Is there something you’d like to share?”  Seriously, what was this, sixth grade?
“Well?”  I guess it was sixth grade.
Stan was still laughing.  “Tell him.”
I said to the whole group, “I’m not going to lower my standards.”
There was a mixed reaction from the crowd.  Some laughed, some oohed and aahed at the perceived challenge.  Who was this guy, anyway?  They didn’t know me.  They had no idea that I had made more pizzas than probably all two dozen of them combined, or that I had been doing this for as long as the average age in the room.
Tom said, “Really?”
I shrugged.  “You’ve seen my pies.  I’m just sayin.”
So much for invisibility.

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