Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Las Plagas and Allpour Goop, Inc.

Note: people and organizations have been rendered as anagrams.

Las Plagas
("The Plagues" in Spanish) are a breed of parasitic organisms from the Resident Evil 4 survival horror video game. They are currently masquerading as CEO, CIO, directors, managers, usability experts and web designers at Allpour Goop, Inc.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As a shareholder (and as a former employee of more than six years), I find myself incapable of not commenting on the ripple effect of novice CEO Bairn Mullere's black/white “coaching style” of thought, and what it brought to those of us working down in the trenches (or, down on the hardwood, to use a metaphor he might understand).

I should clarify that there were once two distinct IT shops, each serving a different company. One served Allpour Goop, Inc. (the parent company of Phono Fixe University) and the other served the Phono Fixe University's spin-off Phono Fixe University Online (a separate company). It should also be noted that eventually PFU and PFU Online recombined and became the same company once more, which meant that the two IT shops were merged as well; the fact remained, however, that the division between these two IT shops was palpable. Their methods differed dramatically. In early 2006, the original Allpour IT shop was destroyed in a hostile takeover by the Online IT department, with the support of Bairn Mullere. Everyone in Allpour IT, from the CIO on down to the management layer, was removed and replaced; just prior to this reorganization, a barrage of promotions took place in Online IT. After the takeover, those of us who remained in the wreckage of Allpour IT were forced to align ourselves with new masters, many of whom had been our distant subordinates or peers only hours before.

The unethical specifics beyond this point are not truly important. What I would like to consider, therefore, is how the differences between these two IT groups first defined, and then redefined (for me, at least), the notion of "career" at Allpour Goop, Inc..

As a Web designer for Allpour Goop, Inc., I have two very distinct experiences of the management methods used in the two IT groups. I can summarize these experiences by using a single question, but rephrasing it to match the dominant outlook of each organization.

So imagine you're a dedicated employee; you've completed all manner of projects, received awards from various business units, and you're confident that there is room to grow within the company. Imagine that you actually care about your projects.

In the former Allpour IT (where I spent four years), the question asked of me during a performance evaluation was simple: "What have you done for us this past year?" And while it didn't always sound this way, or use these particular words, the question itself flows from the emphasis that Allpour IT placed on professional development for its employees. It placed the positive before the negative, and was aimed squarely at retention.

Post-takeover, in the new Allpour IT, the question became “What have you done for me lately?” This revised question flows from an emphasis on the negative, and is rooted in the concept of the performance-based work environment (e.g., a single negative trumps any and all positives). It's right off the sports page, and has nothing to do with careers or retention.

Notice how the language has changed, rooted in the carefree arrogance and self-obsession of the Incompetent ("what have you done for me"); this approach to the individual employee flows, to some degree, from Bairn Mullere's sports-centric view of the company as some sort of gigantic basketball game.

In my own experience, the “me” in the question was the inept manager or director (or in sporting terms, the team captain). In turn, managers and directors were asked the very same question by their superior, the puppet CIO (the assistant coach), who was then similarly queried by the CEO (the head coach).

Since I hate basketball, I'll use hockey (a far more interesting sport) to summarize what this means: as a player, I may have scored 2 goals and had three assists the game before last, but since I’m judged to only be as good as my last game, wherein I happened to have been held off the score sheet, the prior five point night counts for nothing; next game, I find myself at the end of the bench and given limited ice-time. When contract talks come around, I'm told I won't be getting a salary increase because of "gaps" in my on-ice performance.

Thus, in the new Allpour IT, full-time employees essentially became anathema to the system, since they can't be forced to work 70 hour weeks, and they are almost impossible to get rid of. They take vacations, they call in sick, and they have benefits! Each one of these is a negative. And all it takes, apparently, is a single negative, and your career is over.

The idea of having a “career” in the new Allpour IT is an impossibility. Which is why 98% of Allpour IT is now made up of contract employees. Contractors are easy to dump back to the minors (the staffing firms) when they don’t put in 16 hour days. Allpour IT, while coached by Bairn Mullere and his All-Star Team of Incompetents, has been transformed into a white-collar sweat-shop. For a company that often takes pride in affecting its customer's lives positively, the reality behind the key-carded doors of the company is in diametric opposition.

It's time to view the Incompetent at Allpour IT as what they truly are: parasites, destroying their host. The Las Plagas are among us. Bairn Mullere's coaching-oriented approach to management was dead on arrival in my view, and if you aspire to management, I hope you never resort to such a system. It shouldn't happen. Anywhere. Not even in Resident Evil.