Tuesday, November 23, 2004

War is Hell? You Should Work For Me

You may have figured out that I am posting a section at a time on the ME as I research it and read a few hundred pages and try to break it down into some static time table and reference. While I hope it has been as enlightening for some of my readers as it has been for me, I must admit that reading it and writing it is largely for my own pleasure and education. I've always found that writing notes on something helps me remember things better.

The last two days I haven't had a lot of time to read, so I'm a little behind on the subject. Hope you don't mind if you have been following along with me. I hear it is going to snow the next few days so don't worry, I'll be house bound with nothing better to do, so we'll get back to reading and writing.

If you want to read my little, "why do people make you act like an asshole?" rant, please go on to the inner sanctum.

Warning! Mild adult language, but no nudity, sexual content or scenes of violence.

Today, I spent most of my time reviewing profit and loss statements and revising reports and sending messages out to generally piss off the branch managers who absolutely hate when I point out something obvious on their reports and say, "This number is too high. What is wrong? How are you going to fix it?" Then they send me back little messages that are polite, but sometimes prickly, "I know this is not good. I sent you an email 10 mins before you sent me yours and told you that it was bad and how I thought it would be fixed...yadda, yadda, yadda."

Okay, I knew when I sent my email that I already had an email from that person with their comment about the whole thing and, frankly, I knew what his response was going to be. I know. It sounds like I was being a ball breaker and I am pretty sure that's exactly how the guy took it, too. Of course, some folks, even manager folks, tend to forget certain basic tenets of managerial success. "Inspect what you expect." That was one of my old boss's sayings, and it is very true. If you just trust what someone is telling you and don't ask them to show you the actual outcomes, then you are bound to get a nasty surprise.

So, my return comment was:

"Thank you very much for your original comments regarding your P&L. They were helpful in explaining the situation. The purpose of my email was to remind you that I am concerned about this continuing rise in over time and want to make sure that it stays on the fore front of your issues to address and reduce."

Ok, maybe a little background here. This facility was already a small facility when it lost one of it's major contracts last year and could not recover the revenue. Ipso facto, after a year of operating in the red, they were instructed to "re-organize" or "RIF". He now only has three people in his front office (from the original 4), though he still has his clinical staff and a warehouse manager, an inventory purchaser (don't ask me why he needs both of those people), and four out of his original 5 drivers. He leap frogs profitability, one month red, one month black, etc, until, so far this year, he is netting about a 6% profit margin, well below the 20% best demonstrated practices (BDP) for our facilities. He thinks he's fooling people, but, I used to work in his office so I am well aware of his numbers game. He will hold invoices and such until the next month in an attempt to improve the current month's numbers and then, when it hits the next month and his numbers suck, he gives that old explanation, "two invoices came in at the same time". Did I tell you that I worked in his office before moving up the ladder? Seriously, I want to ask him sometimes who he thinks he is fooling.

Further more, I know that two of the three front end people he kept have worked for him for a long time and are very skilled customer service representatives, well worth their money. However, in an effort to please these two ladies, he arranged for them both to work 4 ten hour days a week, which means on two days of the week he only has two people in the office. Three people are just right. Two people is a little tight. So, on days when he only has two people (particularly, on weeks when he only has two because one of them is on vacation), he gets hit with some major overtime. Of course, the days that he only has two people are Mondays and Fridays, our two statistically busiest days of the week.

Now, I understand why he gave these ladies choice hours. You just don't get long term and highly trained people walking around on the street. On the other hand, his coverage issues cannot result in me having to report continually increasing overtime. Which I was trying to explain to him that, explanations were not what I wanted. A fix is what I wanted.

Ok, what I really wanted to write to him was:

"Look, jackass. Sorry you didn't understand my polite message to you that your first lame ass excuse and alleged action plan wasn't good enough. How long have you been a manager anyway? I can read the "year to date" balances on your P&L as well as the month over month performance. Who do you think you're fooling? You think all mid level executives get a lobotomy and have their eyes poked out at the same time they sign that no compete package?

You're in the hole here. We haven't even calculated your year end inventory write off or bad debt accrual for next year. Your 6% profit margin is going in the toilet as soon as we do it and you will be lucky to break even for the second year in a row. I know you like to get those big ass personal evaluations with a big chunk o' change for a raise, but I guarantee you that the new guy here is not going to be giving you enough money to buy that shiny new Cadillac you want when you can't manage your way out of a paper bag.

When I tell you that you have a problem and you need to fix it, I don't want to hear any bullshit about your coverage issues when I know you brought them on yourself. I don't really give a shit how good these two ladies are, if you can't cover the entire week and you are sucking me dry with your overtime, you're fucked and you need to fix it. That means, up to and including, you getting your ass out of your office and covering the front desk for part of the time you're down a person. And don't give me that "They don't like me up there because I make mistakes and they have to work behind me" crap either. You're the g-ddamn manager. Learn how to do the job right, you putz. That's just some lame ass excuse so you don't have to do it.

In case you haven't figured it out, bozo, we're coming out of bankruptcy in about 30 days. And, unlike the last 4 years while we were in stasis waiting for a decision, you won't be carried. The new owners are not going to be all hippy happy about carrying some sucking wound facility or division for that matter. You don't perform, you will be gone, the branch will be gone and this division may be gone. We only have eight damn branches in our division in the first place, shit head. Do the math. Anyone that doesn't perform is killing the rest of them. If your facility is gone, that means 25 people without a job and XXXX left in revenue across the division to absorb "corporate costs" which includes me, peanut brain. And I happen to like paying my mortgage and car payments and credit cards. I'm funny that way. Getting laid off because you're a putz is not in my plans.

So, in case you haven't figured it out, my email is to let you know that I don't want any bullshit whine about how you were forced to economize when you lost half your revenue. I want to know how you are going to keep your costs down compared to current revenue and how the hell you are going to get a new contract and MORE revenue.

Don't bother to send a reply to this email that doesn't include a detail plan of how you will manage your OT and proof that your plan is working. Because, if you do, I will fly down to your branch and arrange a private meeting with you, your direct boss and your expense reports. I know how much you look forward to seeing me face to face.

Ok. Maybe I have a bit of a passive aggressive problem. LOL

Obviously, I didn't send that email, but stuck with the short, "Thank you. This is to remind you that it is important and needs to be fixed."

That's the thing about mid level jobs where you are responsible for something, but don't have authority. I think it teaches people how to be passive/aggressive. Although, my last personality test said I was aggressive/aggressive. Maybe this is good for me? I also had a boss that said, "I don't like to be an asshole, but people make you act like an asshole sometimes." That and, "inspect what you expect" have to be the two best things a boss ever taught me.

My boss tells me I derive my power through him (he who is over everyone), that is why he has me do the reviews and send out requests and do the P&L reviews, and CC him. And that is good in some parts. I speak, they listen, his name is on the paper with me. I am the right hand of g-d.

Certainly, he has to deal with their angst directly and do their evaluations. Unfortunately and possibly unknown to the branch managers, I actually do their personnel reviews as well and he just proof reads them, adds comments and signs them. I keep reminding myself that this is me training for the big boss position. I am learning to get what I want without braining people or lashing them mercilessly.

Lord, it's hard sometimes.


MichaelH121 said...

I see a lot of businesses I know will not make it. There are a lot of people who are MAKING money at home doing whatever. Someone gives them the bright idea to take it on the road so to speak.

They open a storefront with no capital or not enough. And they will not draw the customers they need. Boom 3 months or less later they crash and burn.

To be a leader is like being an effective adult, you must never forget you were a child. It is the old rule of never forgetting where you came from. But you also need to make those under your "rule" aware of discipline. You must listen when there may be a better idea and consider you are not always right. But not let yourself get taken in by a slick talker who performs well towards the bottom line.

The ends does not justify the means.

I was told once in the Army after a convincing argument I could get my grandmother to sign her house to me then pay me what it is worth on top.

Logic works best. When I sell something the person knows I can kind of care less if they buy it. I point out the good and the flaws but I do not push. I inform them and they make the decision. At least they think it is all them. :o)

David said...

Do these people have any kind of significant bonus or other incentive that is linked to their P&L? From the description of the guy's behavior, it doesn't sound like it. Maybe what needs to happen is a rethinking of the incentive system.


Kat said...


We are in bankruptcy and just getting ready to come out of it. We have no incentive plans. Those went out the door 4 years ago when we went bust. The new incentive plan is to stay employed after we become "privately" held. There's this thing in most businesses with a multiplicity of specialties, when they become privately own or get bought, there is a tendency to look around for the fat and "bye-bye" or to at least streamline the operations to reduce expenditures. That's why I am a little frustrated with some folks.

That, and I'm a little touchy about it as I have the usual debt of a middle class person and don't feel like going into bankruptcy myself because we didn't perform.

That's just my issue you know.

Mike..I think part of the problem is how the guy sees our roles and how I see them. He has just started understanding this year (I've been doing it for two years) that he does have to do things I ask and that they aren't just friendly suggestions from a same level manager. When I was on his level, we butted heads quite a bit (I was new and hadn't learned how to get certain things through the power of persuasion yet).

Generally, an ok guy, but he is also a bit "protectionist" about his facility(which is good) but has difficulty moving away from that to insure he maintains the "management" aspect of the job.

We'll see how he goes on. I think he's one of those types that is just happy to go on as he is as long as no one bugs him.

Jason Rubenstein said...

Not that you asked, however I'm going to chime in anyway! As far as looking like as asshole goes, I've found that if I'm clear and precise about my expectations, repeat them twice in email, and if I word the note professionally and as emotion-neutral as possible, then any perception of assholery is purely on the part of the (guilty-minded?) recipient.

This also makes sure that my expetations are so clear as to be undeniable, and if it makes someone unhappy, oh well. I'm not being a jerk, I'm doing my job as professionally as I can, and in the interests of good communication, as clear as I can be to the point pain for the end-reader.

It is a pain in the ass, and I do get the occassional "What, do you think I'm stupid?" densive comment. In my case, (I.T.) when someone has promised a 3-month programming project in a 1-month time schedule and turns the whole thing into a "Friday-job", I can only question their decision and relay my exact concerns and expectations. Stupidity has nothing to do with it, but deliverables do.

Smacking someone with a clue-bat is necessary, and I think you can say what you WANT to say to this guy in terms that would make even Don Rumsfeld proud!! (Hey, he did turn Monsanto around!!).

Not that you asked, of course. :)