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the brick wall April 13, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Staff.
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businessman-banging-his-head-against-the-wall-ispc026073The Brick Wall. You’ll probably have noticed, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that I’m usually pretty mean to the staff members I profile. And for the most part, they deserve it; they somehow make your workday more difficult than it needs to be, or they put unnecessary roadblocks in your path, or they force you to see them as sexual objects when you’re in meetings with them (I’m looking at you, Facebook Babe). But sometimes there’s a person at work that, when you complain about him, you can’t help but feel bad about yourself afterward.

That person is the Brick Wall.

Let me give you an example that best exemplifies the Brick Wall: we have this guy, Jim, who works in one of our departments. Jim makes things that then go on the web. In this maze of downsizing and doing-more-with-fewer-people, Jim has had to take on additional responsibilities. Initially he was hired to produce layouts* for our clients. He had lots of experience doing this. He’s not the fastest or the best, but he knows how to put together a layout the way a client wants it done.

Now Jim also has to put the layouts up on various websites. Now Jim has to copy-edit his own proofs. Now Jim has to make about 25% more layouts a day. Now Jim is using software he doesn’t really understand, despite three separate training sessions. (Yes, really three separate training sessions.)

Jim can’t spell. Jim doesn’t really know the rules of grammar and punctuation beyond the basics. Jim isn’t very skilled at web apps and software. And Jim ends up working late every day because he’s not fast enough to complete all his work. Our employees know this, and they’ve started bringing their raw materials to people other than Jim or bemoaning their general situation when Jim is assigned to them.

And it sucks, because not only is Jim a really nice person but because Jim also really makes an effort to understand how to do everything. On several occasions, Jim has come to me and asked me for help, or for retraining, or for tips and tricks he can use to make his workflow more efficient. I never mind helping Jim out, because, unlike many other employees here at CorporateSpeak, Jim actually tries to improve himself. I hate to discourage that, and I hate when his co-workers complain about working with him. Many of them don’t even try to learn new things or do more than their assigned share of work. All of them complain more than Jim.

The problem is that Jim just doesn’t get it. No matter how many times you explain it to Jim, he just doesn’t understand how to use our BirdsNest web app. He just can’t keep track of how to get faster when he pastes things up in Photoshop or Quark. He’s a pretty slow typist, and he still can’t spell the names of two of our companies. And because there’s no editor between Jim’s work and our clients’ websites, Jim’s errors often appear on said sites. Where it becomes my problem, because I’m one of the web guys.

Yesterday morning alone I spent 90 minutes fixing mistakes made by people in Jim’s department. No one but Jim, his direct supervisor, and his co-worker Ray said anything about the memo I sent afterward — a few people in Jim’s department only use CServer and don’t bother checking their POP3 e-mail so I guarantee they’ll never see it. Jim came to me and we spent ten minutes talking about how Jim could avoid future problems like the ones I fixed yesterday. Jim’s boss thanked me for sending the memo, but cautioned me not to be “the angry schoolmaster”**. Ray, who like me hates it when work is done poorly, sent me a message thanking me for sending the memo. I’m sure Beatrice, another member of that department, will be appreciative as well.

No one, though, was more appreciative than Jim because Jim really wanted to get it right the next time.

Thing is, I’ve sent memos like this in the past when working with other apps that Jim and his co-workers had to learn how to use. Jim never, ever gets it. I just keep banging my head on the brick wall that is Jim’s comprehension quotient.

In Jim’s first month on the job, I sat at a table with him and his family during a company event. They’re all very nice. I hate it that Jim can’t wrap his head around this stuff, and someday it’s going to bite him in the ass because he simply can’t learn the new procedures. I had a guy like him at my old company, but unlike Jim, Gil eventually got it. It just took him longer (like, six months where the average person took six weeks). Gil is now the most valued employee at my old office, and I’m proud of him for it (I hired him when he was still in college, so I can say things like that).

I feel bad for Jim. He’s going to get left behind, he’s going to get downsized, and his family’s going to suffer. But there’s a Brick Wall like him at every office. It’s just my bad luck that I like ours.

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* Obviously I’m making up what the real Jim has to do, because I really do feel bad when the real Jim doesn’t get it.

** I have to be the angry schoolmaster these days. No one in Jim’s department responds when I’m a nice guy except Ray and Beatrice. Only they and Jim actually care about the work; Tom, Mark, and Andy don’t give a damn about anything other than getting it done and getting the hell out of the office.



1. That Guy - April 14, 2009

Interestingly enough, Jim did an excellent job last night when we had a tough job to complete. Totally rose to the challenge. Go figure. Maybe I finally got through to him.

2. the shoe is on the other foot « corporatespeak - May 29, 2009

[…] I’ve got a whole entry about Jim over here. Jim is actually getting much better, and I’ve reinforced him with e-mails thanking him for […]

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