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shortly after I return September 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, The Two-Year-Old.
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I was clearing out my e-mail today and found this inexplicable memo from the Two-Year-Old:

I will be at our corporate office Monday through Wednesday. I am attending meetings with all other executives in our branch to learn about CorporateSpeak’s new program which some of you have heard of, called Mercury. They want me to take this information and share it with all of you shortly after I return. So we’ll be meeting in the main conference room room Tuesday, July 28th at 10:00am.

Baroo? (Originally seen on Cute Overload)

Baroo? (Originally seen on Cute Overload)

This was sent on Friday July 10, which means she returned on Thursday July 16. I don’t know if 12 calendar days (8 business days) is corporate’s definition of “shortly”, but it certainly isn’t mine. To me, “shortly” indicates that we should have had this meeting on Monday the 20th.

This e-mail highlights a problem I’ve been seeing more and more of in both my own company and companies my friends and e-mailers tell me about: the fear of moving quickly. Companies are petrified of doing something wrong, of taking a chance that might not pan out, so they refuse to commit the kind of resources they need to really do something right, whether it’s right or wrong. If you don’t take bold steps, you won’t succeed, not in this economic climate.

Mercury, as it turns out, is completely useless to our branch. We never use it, and we never will. Of course, the corporate office will continue to send out e-mails about how we should be using Mercury, and people here will hem and haw about it, and then someone intelligent (usually me) will say “ah, but we don’t use Mercury, and we never will, because we never will receive the software package”, and everyone will ctfd and go back to their lives.

Oh, and by the way, we still had that meeting, and the Two-Year-Old still explained Mercury to us, and you wouldn’t believe* the amount of questions she received… and then, as she said “well, we’re not going to use that aspect of Mercury” to each of them, the crowd became more and more restless and distressed until finally one of our Old Guard — a photographer who’s been here for about 20 years — said, “so what you’re saying is we’re not going to use Mercury at all?”

Naturally she couldn’t give us a good answer to that either. So, you know, an all-around success.

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* Yes you would.


nobody poop! July 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Free Food!, Inexplicable Memos From Above, Wasting Time.
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In my e-mail yesterday morning:

In order to repair a leak in our main water line we will be shutting the water to the building off, we’ll get it back on as soon as possible.

In other words, someone needs to get on the paging system and say: “NOBODY POOP!”

Anyway, about five minutes later I got this e-mail:

After further review the plumber has determined that the leak is in a different line, so the building water supply will be restored in the next few minutes.

That was 10:30. When I went into the kitchen at 12:30 to grab my lunch, the water was still off. At 5 p.m., half an hour before quitting time, the water was still off. I was really tempted to work from home today, but the water, thankfully, was back on.

Photo by Jacky Jazzowl

Photo by Jacky Jazzowl

Boy, am I glad I didn’t have to poop.

When your building is having water issues, it can be a real pain, and not just in the ass. Not only can you not use the toilets, but you can’t wash your hands, you can’t fill your water bottles, you can’t add water to your oatmeal or condensed soup, and you can’t wash out your coffee mug.

Speaking of coffee mugs, you also can’t make coffee if there’s no water. And coffee is undoubtedly the lifeblood of offices, more so now that fewer people are smoking — which was the social event of the 50s and 60s, or so I’m told by people who were in the workforce then. Coffee provides a nice little window of time which incorporates the selection, the cleaning of the pot and filter system, the brewing, the pouring, the adding of the milk and sugar, and the blowing of the steam. Add to that all the time you spend talking as people come in and out of the break room, and the slow, patient Hot Coffee Walk back to your desk (during which you pause to talk to everyone you possibly can) and you’ve killed between 15 and 30 minutes.

No other activity at work wastes more time with more imagined legitimacy than a coffee break, and without water, there’s no coffee. And without coffee, you have to do actual work.

Perish the thought.

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PLEASE READ — IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!! July 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Technology Trouble.
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I get hundreds of e-mails each day. Some people get fewer; others get more — perhaps one thousand or more. And a lot of e-mails get deleted; I can name at least five reports or updates I get each day that I burn without reading. But I also read extremely quickly, both for pleasure and for business. I could actually skim each e-mail I get if I really wanted to.

E-mail overload isn’t a joke; it’s a serious thing, and a serious pain in the ass. There are dozens of articles on managing it; here’s one that’s not too bad. The problem is that the non-tech-savvy workers at your office or business refuse to manage their e-mail flow. Instead, they glance at subject lines and, if the subject lines aren’t compelling enough, delete the messages.

Or, worse, when they get back from vacation and have 3000 e-mails, they clear-cut their e-mail boxes regardless of what’s in there.

Some people would put these on their e-mails if they could.

Some people would put these on their e-mails if they could.

So managers have begun appending attention-getting comments to their subject lines — or, in some cases, making the subject line the entire message. Here are some examples:

  • Meeting Thursday at 3pm — IMPORTANT
  • Do you drink coffee in the breakroom? PLEASE READ!
  • There is cake in the upstairs conference room. Please help yourself.
  • it’s girl scout cookie time! please support my daughters! IMPORTANT!!!!!

You get the idea.

The problem with tagging all your subject lines as “important” is that eventually the importance becomes background noise. One of my old jobs was with a help desk ticketing outsourcer — we took the calls and put them in our CMS, which then sent them out to the companies that actually did the helping. Well, our biggest client kept saying “we can never see tickets because you keep ranking them at ‘3’ — can you make them ‘2’ or ‘1’ so we can see them?”

My face fell when the inevitable e-mail from my boss showed up two days later. See, in that system, “3” is the generic importance code — where “4” was “when you get around to it, I have a question I’d like answered”, “3” was “please help me with this problem”, “2” was “please help me with this important problem”, and “1” was “our system has taken a critical hit; please fix it right now”. At first, everything became a “2” and “2” became “1”. But we couldn’t go any higher than “1”, so critical problems and important problems got mixed together because someone at this one client decided it was vitally important that everything be important*.

Same thing’s happening with e-mail. Everything is important, so nothing is important. Except the things that say “PLEASE READ — IMPORTANT”… at least, for now.

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* Redundancy used intentionally.

can you guys get these on the web site July 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Stunning Example of Synergy, Inexplicable Memos From Above, Technology Trouble.
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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

As you probably know by now, Michael Jackson died last month. One of the PR agencies our national office works with put out some special Michael Jackson commemorative merchandise. Setting aside the whole “profiting off the death of a famous person” thing, the key phrase here is “our national office”.

So instead of going into our servers and setting all this up for the 150 offices of CorporateSpeak across the country and in Canada and Europe, the account executive sent an e-mail to his boss asking everyone to run banner ads for this offer — because the client paid for it to run on a lot of our websites — and his boss went to his boss, and so on, all the way up the ladder and across to my division of the company, where the head of the division e-mailed the Big Bosses for each office, and the Big Bosses e-mailed the department heads, and the department heads e-mailed the web monkeys with a message something like this:

Can you guys get these on the web site

No punctuation, either.

No further information — nothing about how long they need to run, how much inventory they should get, any of that. Just “can you guys get these on the web site”.

Of course I can. I’ll put it on a page no one looks at, at the very bottom, until you give me enough information that I can do the job the right way. Not that you want that; you just want it now, and you don’t care how right it is.

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1. Happy Bastille Day.

2. This post was originally titled trickle-down drudgery.

it really means “find ways to penalize them” March 9, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Inexplicable Memos From Above, Overheard.
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The following e-mail, minus some redacted elements, made its way to my inbox. It is from a company that CorporateSpeak works with, but is not affiliated with us.

Just a little think piece for you. Tom and I were talking about ways to audit the marketing representatives, a.k.a. check and measure their performance. Tom really only has the logs and the e-mail traffic to go on. He says that, since everyone is using the proper codes and since you can’t really tell if the log is wrong, everyone has been scoring 100% on the audit. Any suggestions for better evaluating their performance?

What the sender is basically saying is, “find ways we can penalize people because everyone’s doing too well at their jobs and we can’t fire people who consistently score 100% on their audits”.

This sort of thing is happening more and more often as companies are being forced to downsize, or at least cut salaries. At CorporateSpeak, raises have been suspended for 2009, and when I had my 2008 review (six months late, but I had it), my boss said that we’ve made our employee review standards tougher in hopes that fewer people would even be eligible for raises. That’s the company’s prerogative, as long as they apply it across the board (which, to my knowledge, they have), but in order to pull it off, they have to find new ways to penalize employees who have traditionally done a really good job.

The e-mail I received from that other company just reinforces the concept.

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the febreze strategy February 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Management.

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.

a requirement of your job February 6, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above.
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This is word-for-word, except for [redacted] elements.

Hey have you watched the [group creation] meeting? Please do so below ..and then make sure to tell me what functions you are interested in. I am off next week – so you need to get to me before tomorrow – or e-mail me next week. Before you sign up – you must watch the link below. This is a requirement of your job.

I have no words. Not really. The people who this person manages:

  • Don’t have time to spend an hour watching a meeting on their computers.
  • Don’t have computers with Windows Media Player (or, really, any media player).
  • Don’t want to sign up for these jobs.
  • Won’t do the jobs they sign up for.
  • Will complain about the wording of this message.
  • Will be given a 100% pass on not watching the video (which can’t be proven anyway) and not signing up for these functions.

That’s really the most annoying thing. This VP has gotten the entire building in on this project, but only her staff will be given a pass if they don’t do what they’re told. That really, really upsets everyone else, but what can anyone else do? This VP apparently rules the roost.

There’s always one.

“a few of us that may be here” January 8, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above.
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We’ve complained heartily about the weak training we received last month from [Sales Metrics Vendor].

The master trainer was moved to NYC but will be here the week after Christmas and could come in a do a training with a few of us that may be here.

Who is here on Monday Dec 29th that would be interested in participating in a training session with her?

This e-mail was mistakenly sent to everyone in the building, instead of just the sales team. It was sent by someone known for being straightforward — hence the “weak training” and “few of us that may be here”. That amused me greatly.

But the best part is that the last line is reproduced here on the blog exactly as the person sent it to me. Boldface, italics, larger font, the works.

I guarantee no one except this person and one of our sales managers attends. Seriously, we should be given an additional week of training on this program at no charge because of the ridiculousness of how this all went down.

But we won’t.

“no employee should ever post any comment” January 7, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Technology Trouble.
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As we invite more and more of our customers to be part of [our public sites] and to comment on [things we post], no employee should ever post any comment on any chat. If something needs to be addressed please contact your department head, a manager or the Web Master and they will respond as the administrator. Under no circumstances may an employee post any comments on our chats identified as themselves or anyone else. We must respect the fact that that is a place for our customers to comment and we can not truthfully say that we are not involved in these comments if our employees are posting on them. If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.*

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user joelogon.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user joelogon.

Wow. Just… wow. Everyone in the online department, as well as the content management and creation departments, had a collective jaw-drop when our local Big Boss sent that out. Versions of it were sent out all over the company (I was on the conference call** that set out these rules).

I understand the liability issue, but seriously… if you can’t converse with people reading your blog or your created works, then you’re completely missing out on the two-way street (sometimes called a “return path”*** in corporate parlance) that is today’s interaction with content consumers.

Apparently we are allowed to write a follow-up article or blog entry to respond to things said in comment threads (mistakenly called “chats” because our bigger properties mistakenly call them that), but that’s it. Completely defeats the purpose.

Welcome to Corporate America, two-way communication. We’re sorry you’re here.

* Yes, all e-mails from our Big Boss come down as one huge paragraph. Depressing. And he has a secretary whose job it is to send these out; you’d think she’d know.

** Though not really paying attention.

*** The true definition of “return path” is a bounce e-mail address. But that’s not how corporate people use it these days. I have a post planned on how it’s used.

if you can do this, that would be great December 18, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Sales Floor Stories.
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Just to follow up..one of our suggestions is that if you have any [company-wide] campaigns running the same time as this campaign, it would free up some space on your site if you go into [the server] and uncheck [the financial section]. If you can do this, that would be great! Please confirm!

Okay, so here’s the background: a company bought advertising on our network. Our national ad people took care of everything. But then they e-mailed all the branch offices who run the individual sites subnetworks and sent us that message. Basically, here’s what it means:

  1. The clients paid us a lot of money.
  2. After we cashed the check, they said “by the way, we want way more than what’s on the contract.
  3. Rather than give back the check, our national ad people said “sure, you can have whatever you want because you gave us a lot of money. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
  4. Our national ad people couldn’t find a way to make it work.
  5. They contacted the individual offices and subnetworks and said “hey, everyone, if you have any paid advertisers running across your entire subnetworks, go ahead and take them out of the financial group so we can deliver this thing we overpromised on.”

My group chose not to comply, pretty much because our local ad manager knows that we’re already overpromising with our local clients. But in order to comply with the request in that e-mail, a local ad manager or trafficker has to:

  1. Pull a report of every ad running across the entire network.
  2. Go into each one of those advertiser categories in the server and find the flights that involve the financial group.
  3. Remove the financial group from the flight.
  4. Save and uncache.
  5. Repeat until all entire-network flights are out of the financial group.
  6. When this big client finishes its run — and we don’t know what date that is because no one’s been told — go put back everything you just took out.

If you can do this, that would be great.