The Corporatorium: Happy, Happy, Happy (Episode 14)

The Global Director of HR’s webcast was scheduled for 9 AM EST which meant I actually needed to be in the office on time.  I arrived in the office, with two minutes to spare, to witness Ivy skipping down the hall and trilling, “I’m happy, happy, happy!”  TWO and the other two Cerberus stared after her in dismay.

“Look,” Ivy called over her shoulder, “I’m exhibiting brand behavior!”

“Do you suppose she’s gone off her meds?” Barbara the first asked with concern.

“Either that or she’s taken an overdose,” Diana answered.

It was a widely held supposition within our department that Ivy was on some sort of prescription mood altering drug.  The supposition was held despite an overwhelming absence of hard evidence.  Still, we clung to our collective belief much as one clings to the supposition that one’s overweight coworker must eat ravenously despite the fact that one has never seen her or him consume more calories than those contained in the occasional sip of conspicuously diet coke.

Learning that TWO had decided we would each dial in separately from our individual workstations, I went to my cell pretending not to see the Cerberus, led by the still skipping Ivy, filing into her office and closing her door.


As promised, the call was hosted by our Director of Global Human Resources.  It was a mystery how he—a man so remote, so lacking in basic human warmth, that one wit was prompted to declare, “He has all the warmth of Formica!”—could become the director of human resources.  Then again if you regarded people, employees, fellow human beings, as “resources,” scarcely more or less important than coal or gas, which, once mined, refined and manipulated to satisfy some human need, was easily replaced when depleted or forgotten when no longer necessary.

“In the global HR transformation space, winning organizations are rethinking their talent management and rewards programs,” he began.  “We’re no different.  It is our intent to become a destination for top performers.

“As you know, we have formed a decentralized Center of Excellence model for our business processes and client engagements around thought leadership, best practices and innovation in strategic talent management and new economy leadership.  Our Excellence model follows a multi-pronged strategy focused on maximizing the effectiveness of our top performers. Redefining our performance model, leveraging technology, innovative sourcing and reorganizing processes and roles will be the keys to our success.” 

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
Translation, please.

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan
We’re screwing you to make money.  Again.

“Already the Center of Excellence model is contributing directly to shareholder value,” he continued.

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan
Translation: executive bonuses.

“As our CEO informed you yesterday, it is our intent to build a culture where every team member exceeds expectations every time in every encounter.”

Now this was, of course, impossible since if everyone always exceeded expectations in every action, it would be a clear indication to leadership that expectations were set too low and would have to be calibrated higher.

“To do this successfully, to encode excellence into our DNA, requires us to change our performance model and rewards program to ensure we inspire our team members to exceed expectations, every time and in every endeavor—and reward that behavior.  Thus, we are making some changes.  Effective immediately, increases in pay will no longer be tied to cost of living or length of service or even overall company performance but will be pinned exclusively to individual performance.  Any team member scoring ‘meets expectations’ or below in any given year will be ineligible to receive an increase in that year.  You must score ‘exceeds expectations’ at least 4 quarters in a row to receive an increase.  To be eligible for promotion you must score at least an ‘exceeds expectations’ 8 quarters in a row.”

TWO gasped audibly.  “That’s four reviews a year!”Clearly she was still having problems with her mute button. 

TWO could barely get through annual performance evaluations.  Besides being conflict-averse, she was also too disinterested in us to know what we did or how well we did it so, most often, under the guise of ‘self-evaluation’ we were required to write our own performance evaluations.  If you were smart, you approached your self-evaluation as if it were an essay entitled “Here’s Why You Should Not Only Not Fire Me But Give Me A Raise.”

I knew further that TWO would be enormously displeased by this new insistence that everyone should be an “exceeds expectations” because this was at odds with her stubbornly held and oft-voiced opinion that “No one is a five (the numerical rating associated with the ‘exceeds expectation’ rating).  No one is perfect.”

I couldn’t tell if this new performance appraisal model was better or worse than the current Forced Ranking Appraisal system, aka the infamous and much hated Bell Curve popularized by GE’s own Devil, Jack Welch.  Under the system managers ranked their direct reports from best to worst using a 5-digit scoring code, 1 being the worst, 5 being the best, and applied the rankings to a bell curve which would be used to determine pay as well as who would be fired.

But, I did know that everyone would see this as another cost-cutting measure.  The Corporation would save money since obviously under the exceed expectations model no one would qualify for a raise.  Ever.  Lizzie Borden was big on cutting costs—from laying off employees to cutting back on paper consumption. One of her first executive decisions had involved the suspension of the distribution of paper pay stubs or even paper paychecks.  If you expected to be paid, you had to sign up for direct deposit.

If you wanted hard-copy of your pay stub you could bloody print well it out yourself.  Preferably from home.  Using your own ink and paper.  Thus, the employee pay site was only accessible from outside the Corporation, i.e. from home.  When questioned about this IT cited the dreaded but irrefutable “irreconcilable firewall issues.”  This move had reportedly saved the corporation $300,000 annually. 

Lizzie Borden had proven once that you could, indeed, get blood from a stone and clearly she was hell-bent on proving it again.

“Furthermore—and this is great news for everyone on this call—we are launching a new reward program designed to reward you for excelling in your role.  Called the Best in Show program it singles out and rewards the highest performers—”

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
For what?  Random acts of violence launched by disgruntled under-performers?

Brooklyn Sudano @Brooklyn NY
Best in Show?  Are we dogs now?

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan

“We are so pleased with this reward program that our Talent Acquisition and Management Group is looking to package it and market it to our clients,” he added triumphantly.  He paused fully five minutes to let this news sink in. 

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
Houston, we have a problem!

Brooklyn Sudano @Brooklyn NY
The thinking behind this problem is so $@#% up that I doubt the problem can be solved.

Nigel, quoting Abbey Hoffman of the Chicago Seven, brought the conversation to an unexpected close.

Nigel Gale @MannequinManThere is no problem so big, nor so complex, that it can't be solved with a suitable application of strategically-placed high explosives.

This is the final episode of Season One.

Missed Episode 13, We Are Happy? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook


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