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the febreze strategy February 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Management.
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I’m sure you’ve seen a Febreze commercial (or even used the stuff yourself). Basically, what they’re saying is “instead of doing actual cleaning, you can just spray this stuff and it’ll smell clean and get marginally less dirty”.*

Well, the Febreze strategy is also used by management whenever something unpleasant happens and it’s management’s job to put a brave face** on it and make it seem like it’s actually a good thing.

Witness this e-mail that showed up a few weeks ago, shortly after my department’s staff number was cut by 50%. (The 50% no longer in the department were not downsized; they were transferred to another department. They still have jobs, just not working for my boss, even though they’re still paid out of my department’s budget. Funny how that works.)

The changeover is complete. From this point forward, your primary scheduling contact will be Adrianna. I’d still like to know if you’re not going to be here since we’re all still working on the products together, if you don’t mind. Brianna has asked that I continue working directly with you as we all grow our products.

And on a personal note, it has been my honor to serve as your leader for the past few years and I hope you enjoyed working on our team just as much as I did. I look forward to continue working with you in this new direction and I wish you both the greatest success.

Let’s address this, paragraph by paragraph.

The Technical Details: Since my boss is still technically paying these employees, he wants to maintain some sort of oversight over what they do. Actually, for the most part, they’re still doing the same thing, just for a new boss. One person, though, is actually rolling out two new products for the new department, one of which has tested extremely well in focus groups. So good for him.

The Brave Face: Perhaps my boss didn’t want to write what he was really thinking…

  • And on a personal note — see this shovel in my hand? And that big pile of BS? Make some room on your desk, because it’s heading your way.
  • it has been my honor to serve as your leader for the past few years — you stuck around when a bunch of other people quit, and continued to take on more and more responsibilities with less time to do them in, especially in an industry that’s kind of falling apart at the moment. I appreciate you doing that so I could have something good to talk about on occasion when I talk to the Big Boss.
  • I hope you enjoyed working on our team just as much as I did — because at some point I’m going to use you as a reference, and I don’t want to burn any bridges***.
  • I look forward to continue working with you in this new direction — I’m sure I’ll have to help you on a project at some point, because your department (actually, every department) trumps mine. Might as well make it seem like I have some spare time for you.
  • I wish you the greatest success — I think this one is genuine. My department is (okay, was, now that it’s been halved) a pretty tight-knit group. No one wants anyone in it to fail, or to lose their jobs. Plus, if these new endeavors work out, they’ll certainly help the company. It’s just frustrating to lose 50% of your staff and not be allowed to replace said staff because you’re paying them while they work for someone else.

That e-mail was sent to the entire department, to the now-gone people’s new boss, and to the Big Boss.

It’s kind of like Color War in summer camp — you’re competing against your peers and friends, but at the end of the day, you still have to hang out together even though one group kicked the crap out of the other. So you make sure to moderate your cheers of “U-G-L-Y, YOU AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI” with large doses of “2-4-6-8, WHO DO WE APPRECIATE”. As upset as my boss was at finding out that half the department was out of his hands, he still wants the company to succeed and he still wants those people to succeed. The Febreze strategy is passive-aggressiveness at its very best, and I commend my boss for pulling it off perfectly.

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* I in no way intend to besmirch the good name of Febreze, or its parent company. So don’t sue me. I don’t have any money anyway.

** “put on a brave face” was my alternate title for this post.

*** Take it from someone who’s been a manager: don’t burn your bridges, no matter how much you want to. I burned one once and now I can never use that highly-placed corporate executive as a reference ever again.

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