I Don’t Agree

The Stalinist Soviet allowed no dissent, and neither does the Bait & Switch organization.

When the new boss arrived, he noted a doctored print ad someone had placed in the mess hall. It showed happy customers and smiling employees, to which some people attached pithy notes. As criticism goes it was so mild it actually looked like praise.

That’s gone now of course. The putsch to clean up malingerers and non-believers cleansed us all of any thoughts other than deification of the almighty owners and their politbureau. How could it be any other way?

It might be otherwise if someone understood that internal dissent is normal. It could also be the best management barometer of employee feelings. All the 360 degree review and other B-School nonsense won’t get to the hearts of people as much as watching the under-the-radar stuff, of the type recently removed.

You could even take that idea and go so far as to encourage open dissent. Provide a place for it – a whiteboard or similar – and critically, anonymity. Simply expressing a contra-viewpoint oftentimes relieves the pressure of daily work drudgery. Being heard, I think it’s called. Smart managers also listen.

Ze Kooler

Control over employees is a necessary tool of corporate consistency.

For instance, McDonalds presumably requires certain behaviours surrounding hygiene, food production and service adhered to without question. Customers instinctively must know this too.  The ironclad rigidity of such important elements of – particularly – food preparation are part of the business and social contract. I agree to pay for this food on the basis that it won’t kill me. That kind of thing.

At the Bait Shop, the discipline is the same, but one wonders to what end. We’re not dealing with time sensitive products, for example. Yes, the bait will have a use-by date, but it’s not critical, and it won’t kill anyone. So why is the place so stiff?

In fairness, the structure of my day isn’t policed. It would actually be better if it were. Instead of a clear cut timetable, we floor people are left to spend our time as we see fit. There’s almost always something to do; it’s a big store and the only constant is stock in and out, so merchandising and cleaning are chores never completed.

Tension arises from the post hoc assessment of one’s choices. The new Boss is different from the last one, and in addition we have the Tool and Die person (Bait Manager) to make it all good. The plan appears to be relationship building…but nothing else can be neglected either.

It’s a gulag. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. No-one has responsibility, and everyone has responsibility. We all live or die on collective application or individual merit, depending. You’re off to the cooler for this choice, and praised for this one. Life’s quality depends upon the mood of your jailer.

The chaos exists because it’s (self-evidently) chaotic at the top. Shit flows downhill, as the famous Chinese proverb does, and, being at the bottom,  I’m drowning in it.

What the…?

New store manager at B&S is sweeping out the old and sweeping in the new. Actually, not so new, because everything he does must be approved by the Baitbureau at the Lubyanka. HQ doesn’t appreciate their made men deciding on their own how to best deploy resources; that leads to innovation, and we all know innovation leads to revolution. Tsk, tsk.

Holding the Party Line is B&S’s driving force. The goal is to make sure that all internal binder audit and policy imperatives are met, not to maximize profits or find new ways to keep customers returning. The owners have an astonishingly fragile ego, which, come to think of it, echoes the street-dealing level bait salesman. Notoriety gained from the power of supply breeds self-importance.

That leaves a limited number of (sanctioned) ways that the new guy can shuffle the cards. His is to create an ersatz personality cult, in which we floor people tout our “favourite” type of bait by way of photo tags on the tanks and shelves. I apparently annoyed him when asked what my “favourite” type of bait is. (A reaction, BTW, discovered by chance from an intermediary, not from the big man himself.) My reply was the truth, that all bait is interesting; “favourite” depends upon the species of fish one wants to catch, time of year, weather, and so on.

Reasonable as that seems, it fitted not the prescription answer demanded from the Bait & Switch Manifesto. Apart from the semantic tomfoolery of maintaining more than one “favourite”, the notion that he couldn’t perhaps engage a little to accurately understand my answer is emblematic of the corporate monoculture.

But we believe in open communication. Tell me how I can do my job better.

Grumbling

Expansion is the big picture driver at Bait & Switch, at least at corporate level.

Seems to me that this is a precursor to a listing, because the only reason to put a business on such a course is to boost the P&L top line. In other words, revenue at all cost, and hang the consequences.

At store level, the repercussions are clear; poor communication, management incompetence and mixed messages. Are we a big box retailer or quality and service-based? Are we lowest cost or knowledgeable? Are personal relationships important or numbers through the door?

Someone, somewhere thinks the business can be all things to all people, which is an admirable dream if you want to ignore the income statement. The place could be big and personal, but it can’t be big and personal and lowbrow and low price. Something’s gotta give.

Which brings me to short termism, the operating umbrella under which we labor. There are big changes required to bring the place up to the standards of even the lowest big box model. Computer systems, stock systems, pricing systems; these area all archaic and showing signs of breaking down. The least stress opens another leak that needs inordinate time to fill.

All this leads to frustration and disillusionment amongst we peons. But no-one cares about that either.