Memo to Management

This was going to be a letter to management at the place where I work, but while I was writing it, they announced my layoff. So I won’t bother sending this to anyone there, but it’s applicable everyplace I’ve ever worked. 

This company has a valuable asset that it almost never uses, and probably thinks of as an expense, or a liability. It’s me, and the other employees. We have functional minds and occasional good ideas, and here’s something that might surprise you — we know the intricacies of our jobs, better than our bosses do, and far better than the executives do.

Managers and executives might know the big picture, but workers know the details.

That’s not an insult, it’s just common sense, and it’s true in almost any workplace. Ask the boss to do the work instead of manage the work, and he/she will have lots of questions about the work — questions only the employees can answer.

Take it from a working stiff who always gets good performance reviews: We see the day-to-day stumbling blocks and inefficiencies. We can tell you which aspects of the job take more time than they're worth. We know the software glitches, and we know the workarounds. Any one of us can tell you half a dozen things that would make our work more productive and less frustrating.

But nobody asks. If we speak up, nobody listens. Speaking from 40+ years of experience as a worker, most bosses don’t want to hear employees' ideas. We’re expected to listen and work, not think — and that’s stupid.

When management decides there’s a problem, the very last thing on the agenda is talking to the workers about it. What happens instead is, my boss, and my boss’s boss, and sometimes my boss’s boss’s boss will have a meeting, and come up with a solution, and they'll announce it to the workers. They’ve decided on this solution, though, without input from the people doing the work, so guess what? That solution usually doesn’t quite fit in the real world.

You tell us to move this widget to that pile as step 3 of 7, but you don’t understand that carrying widgets around while they're being built takes longer than sorting through the widgets after they’re assembled.

You tell us to doublecheck quality only on high-value orders from repeat customers, but you don’t understand that it takes longer for us to determine whether an order is high-value from a repeat customer, than it would take to quality-check every order.

You measure our individual productivity by how many documents each of us processes, but your algorithm doesn’t factor in reality: Mike keys his docs wrong 22% of the time, while Phyllis’s orders are 99% accurate. And all the most complicated orders are routed to Jennifer — that’s why her numbers suck.

Right now, my teammates and I are making every effort to enact three different 'management solutions', each of which would’ve been more effective with workers’ input. Sure, we’ll do our best, and we’ll make it work, probably — but it’ll never work as well as it would’ve worked if you’d asked us what would work, and listened.

If anyone in management is still reading this, you’re most likely taking it as criticism of my boss. It’s not. She’s a boss like any boss, and she’s exactly the boss management wants.

Or you'll assume I'm a disgruntled employee. I'm not. You steer the ship, and I row the oars, and I'm OK with that. But I know all about working in the galley — every knothole, every splinter — and you've never been there.

It isn't even a criticism of this company, because we’re no better and no worse at listening to the workers than any other place I’ve worked.

That means there’s a competitive advantage available to the company that asks for, and honestly listens to, employees’ ideas and feedback. This isn’t that company. We'd be more profitable if we tried to be that company.


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  1. I would show this to my boss but he wouldn't read it.

  2. Perfectly worded, and I’ll leave it at that. Otherwise I’d be glomming on each point all night.

    1. Thanks. I'd submit it for publication — something I haven't done for decades — if there was a 'management' publication that wouldn't shred it.


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