Acme learns that trying to be a team player can backfire

Trying to be a team player can backfire

1 of 2 < 1 | 2 View on one page


Billy Ansoff Buchs, CEO of the famed Acme conglomerate, has been quite successful in getting everyone -- even the union employees -- to focus on the big picture. At the beginning of each month, Buchs presents his video-format "State of the Meal Ticket" report to employees. Every worker worldwide receives an e-mail announcing that the latest five-minute movie has been posted to the company intranet. In addition to desktop PC viewing, the film clip is looping continuously at every plant during the lunch period the day it's released.

Meanwhile, at the local Acme plant down by the river, employees follow the metrics the way investors follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In fact, an active underground wagering system as complex as any on Wall Street has evolved around the changes and directions in the key performance indicators Buchs highlights in his talks. Nevertheless, the plant's high productivity rate and historical low staff turnover are sufficient evidence of employee self-interest in the plant's welfare.

Marsha Malowe, the secretary in the maintenance department, is a case in point. Regardless of the dour tone of most of the videos released during the past few years, it's her nature to organize her environment, keep her head down, work hard and actually try to make a difference. Although she doesn't need to, Marsha regularly eats lunch at her desk while keying the department's data into the maintenance software package and cranking out reports. She serves as the resident techno-geek when the IT department can't respond to computer problems in a timely manner. She's a stickler for detail and keeps the maintenance records internally consistent. As Marsha sees it, her goal is to do more than merely pull her own weight.

Although employees in the plant use touchscreens and other high-tech ways to report their activities in real time, Acme's non-exempt office-based employees submit paper timesheets for each two-week pay period.

Acme's maintenance manager, Don Kashane, at least as busy as Marsha, has bigger fish to fry and generally gives the timesheets only a perfunctory review before approving and forwarding them to accounting for processing. Until, that is, the HR department informed him of some irregularities in Marsha's sheets. After doing some investigation, Don called Marsha into his office and closed the door behind her as she entered.

"What's up, Mr. Kashane?" she asked, feeling somewhat trapped.

"There's a problem with your latest timesheet, Marsha," he replied. "And I feel there may be problems with some of the earlier ones, as well."

"What kind of problem? Am I being fired?" Marsha asked.

"No, no, nothing like that," Said Don. "But you've got to account for the actual number of hours you work here. You can't simply put down some number you think we want to see. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

"I'm not sure I do," she replied.

"You've got to stop this, Marsha," said Don. "I know you worked way more than 40 hours the middle two weeks of December. I was here. I saw. We were all working like lunatics executing the year-end shutdown and handling the contractors to relocate Line 7 during the holidays. Dozens of people saw you working here until 8 P.M. every night. Yet, your timesheets show only 40 hours for each week. Why is that?"

"But Mr. Buchs keeps telling us that Acme is having a hard time right now," she countered, "and that we've all got to pitch in to get through the rough spots."

"In fact, Marsha," Don said, "I've asked around, and people told me that you regularly work late. So, I checked with Payroll, and they told me that none of your timesheets for the past year show more than 41 hours in any week. Am I wrong? Why are you doing this?"

Marsha offered her reply through teary eyes. "The maintenance technicians haven't gotten any overtime pay for the past 12 months. I know that's true because I enter the data. It's not fair that they struggle to pay holiday bills while the people in the office don't."

"Look, Marsha," said the exasperated boss, "I'm taking some heat over this matter. You're messing up the activity-based costing system. You're cheating yourself. You're also putting the department in a bad position. You've got to report your time truthfully. And if you don't, I'm going to have to write you up."

"But, Mr. Kashane," said the weepy Marsha.

"There's no buts about it. Just do what I told you," sighed Don as he dismissed Marsha and returned to the mountain of paperwork that characterizes the life of a supervisor.

What's the beef here? Why beat up on a good thing? What would you have done differently?

An academician says:

I'm 100% in Don Kashane's corner on this one, although maybe not for the same reasons as he. Acme's open-book management is laudatory and it has worked well in many companies, but that's not the issue here. Something is wrong with the basic business model. If they are making the financial numbers, they are doing so with a lot of free labor and thus are deceiving themselves. This is basically just another way of "cooking the books." The books may be "open" but they also are "cooked." Acme needs to get a handle on the actual costs of running that operation and figure out how to make it a viable operation based on the real numbers.

There's also both an ethical and legal question here. Employees should get paid for the hours they put in and it's management's obligation to see that they do. To encourage, or even look the other way, on unpaid labor is both unethical and most probably illegal.

Finally, Marsha Malowe appears to be the type of employee most of us would love to have working for us -- dedicated, hard-working, loyal and competent. So, if I were Don, I'd let Marsha know how much she is appreciated. But I'd also explain that one of the purposes of open-book management is to let everyone see how the company is doing -- no games, no hidden costs or payoffs -- just the unvarnished truth. So it's important that she be honest with her records. It's only when the employees and management are aware of real problems with truth that something can be done about it.

1 of 2 < 1 | 2 View on one page
Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments