Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Supervisor of Lies

I told a lie today. I told a lie and put in writing and signed my initials after it. Not for love or money, not even for thrills. I did it with the collusion of my supervisor, who wanted me to do it so that he wouldn't get hassled. You see, we have standard operating procedures where I work. Whenever someone violates a standard operating procedure, even a supervisor, they're called up by the managers and interrogated about it. For those who don't know, I manufacture plastic sheeting for the printing industry (You've probably seen my work. Next time you go to WalMart, look at the name tags that the associates are wearing. Those are printed on my product. Stuff I've made shows up all over the U.S. in tens of thousands of places and uses.)

Today, the standard operating procedure called for us to use about $500 worth of one kind plastic to run a job. I was using a different, more expensive kind, and if I continued using it, I'd use about $700 worth for that job. The $200 difference is nothing to sneeze at, but to change my material, and change back again, if everything worked perfectly, would cost at least $300 and 20 minutes of machine time (valued at $300/hour). Thus I'd be losing $200 to save $400. To save the company $200 I told a lie. I said I had used the material they wanted me to when I hadn't. Referring to the post before this, my company has tried to reform by making ever more precise rules and enforcing them with greater severity. These reforms have achieved exactly the opposite result. Not only are the rules not effective, but management is receiving only the semblance of compliance, thus undermining their control.

From the perspective of administrative law, when authority is delegated, and the delegator doesn't approve of a decision made by the delegatee, the delegator should never question the decision itself, but rather the process by which the decision was made. If the delegatee made a valid decision in terms of process, then the decision-making process needs to be changed. If one questions the decisions, rather than the process, one may as well have not delegated authority. One of the departments at work, which has ten employees spread over seven shifts, has essentially only one employee: the supervisor. None of the underlings will make any sort of decision at all. They'll put it on hold for the supervisor to evaluate. Why? At one time, early in their careers, all of them made a decision that the supervisor disapproved of. They were then "coached" and written up. After a few such occurrences they lost all ability to decide.

A similar thing is happening with my department. The supervisors have been delegated authority by management. The supervisors cannot use their delegated authority without getting hassled. Some have just given up and no longer make decisions. Some use the crystal ball technique (trying to predict the future) to make decisions that they think will please management. And some, such as mine, make the best decisions they can and then cover their tracks. That's why I lied.


Anonymous Philosopher Poet said...

Your job is begining to share some of the Roundy's traits. Maybe we should get together and run our own warehouse. We could call it:

The Wonderful Warehouse of Logic!
Or something like that...

9:11 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

I like this post. I like the opening, I like the way you talk about our occupation as though it actually had some importance, probably an interview tactic. You identify a characteristic of management that I didn't even think was anything special, the second-guessing that kills all initiative -- I don't really know if it is special, I thought it was normal except for the kind of workplaces that install gyms and free coffee bars at work. Anyway, I tried the crystal ball technique for a while and failed, and have moved on to giving up. It makes some sense of what you said before about managing through learned helplessness. I kind of like helplessness, though, responsibility brings stress.

Anyway my main reason for posting this is to link you to this Crooked Timber thread. Make sure to catch comments #2 and #9.

12:31 PM  

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