Perfect Isolation

None of the employees gathered in the conference room had ever seen Lars Sunden in the flesh.  And even in this presentation, displayed on a huge screen, the head of the informational technology department remained a vague figure wearing a white shirt and a tie.  He was only visible in the corner of the huge screen otherwise dominated by a slide with  too many lines on it and filled with acronyms few of the people in the room understood. The only noticeable thing about him was that he was slender and that he spoke meticulous English, despite his foreign sounding name.

He was bringing them such important news that all the employees of the department had been requested to attend, even those who were hired hands. Probably around a thousand people had gathered in the same kind of rooms all around Europe.

The mood in this room bordered on the hostile, which was no wonder as the company had undergone a series of cost saving operations that piled an increasing workload on a dwindling workforce. Pulling people from their tasks for a meeting meant they could not do those tasks. It did not help that those people only expected bad news, given the companies economic plight.

The mood had not become better when the first thing that was addressed was the expression of a warm thanks from Lars to another high manager, one Geralt Liberty,  a man who had decided on early retirement a day before the presentation. It was already known that it could hardly be his age that made Liberty leave, as he was in his late fifties, but that it had probably more to do with his involvement with a certain cost saving project  that had made the company lose two million dollars instead of saving it as was promised. Despite this disaster Lars praised the retiring manager for his efforts in creating savings that appeared prominent on the slide but had yet to be realized.

Next Lars started to reiterate the current situation. The market was bad, the economy was still weak and  the company barely made a profit. As such more cost reductions were in order. It was not mentioned by Lars, but the slide showed a figure of 25% EBITAD. This was a term few people could recall with ease but the number 25%  poked people to attention: that was a quarter of something. Was it a quarter of their budget? The people looked around with some worry.

Next on the agenda was an outlining of the IT policy which Lars drilled down to doing more with less.

“Poverty..” So Lars said, “leads to innovation..”

It was an expression that lost him  the marginal goodwill he had. People saw the specter of   hunger stricken Africa rise and instinctively knew that poverty did not lead to innovation: it lead to misery.

The next item on the agenda was a shift in the hierarchy at the top of the foodchain. Responsibilities were reshuffled and where certain directors had been responsible for this or that, they would be responsible for that and this after the change. Few names were familiar to the watchers and those who were familiar were nothing but names of people they only knew from slides shown in other presentations filled with too many lines and unknown words.

More slides were shown as Lars quickly went down the hierarchy. With the second slide names had been dropped for functions. And only with the fourth slide people in the room started to see something they did recognize. There were no names, but one person in the room, a manager that was considered high among them was connected to a function at the bottom of that slide. They were coming into view.

Lars got the fifth slide and hurried quickly through all the functions and when he came to the part that did involved the people in the room there were only two things on the slide. The first item was the disastrous cost savings project that some of them had been involved in and had been implemented in disregard of their advice. The second was the task of replacing the aging desktop computers, which had never been executed because the higher management had kept off spending money on new computers for years because it considered to outsource this particular activity. Despite an urgent call to innovate, most of the companies workforce were still working on decrepit computers that were so old that they stood a real danger of falling apart.

The only exception were the laptops of key people, which had been replaced by new models. It did not need to be mentioned that higher management and their staff belonged to the group of key people.

All their other responsibilities, including that of keeping the companies network infrastructure, mailing infrastructure and production systems running were not mentioned. These had fallen well below Lars horizon of interest.

The fore last item on the list was to express higher management commitment to make sure that everyone would be able to get the latest performance figures real time.

“We will soon be able to deliver reports to anyone at any time.” Lars said, who visibly beamed with the idea of being able to call up a performance report at the spur of the moment. A wet dream that completely failed to interest the bulk of his employees.

The last item on the agenda was the implementation of an educational system.

“We have to educated ourselves and our colleagues. We need more training on the job and appoint key people who will train they co-workers. We will provide an extensive pool of e-books and online courses so we will have an innovative cutting edge technical staff.” Lars mentioned with a enthusiasm that did not invoke the same response in the room as they knew very well that all education courses for which they had to pay had been cancelled to save costs. To them it looked like this higher manager was going pile more work on them by draining away even more people from the already understaffed departments to teach others…

“And we will see to it that education will be measured as a KPI.” He banged the desk enthusiastically.

KPI was something the people in the room had heard about. It mean key performance something and it was something that kept awake at night a certain kind of managers.. Nobody at their level did something with KPI’s. These workers had their technical reports and those told them what the systems were doing.. There were no acronyms for that: they talked about logging, errors, alerts and incidents. And they were used to report problems and  point to solutions.

Lars wrapped his presentation up with an call to everyone to let ‘them’ know if they had any questions or remarks. It did not matter what. Nobody in the room felt invited to speak their mind or ask questions. Instead he workers and their direct managers  filed out of the room to go to lunch. The whole presentation was barely mentioned during the meal and half forgotten by most after the lunch as urgent work was demanding their attention. The most important thing they got out of it was that whatever happened up there did not directly affect them as they did not exist in Lars slides.

Everyone also knew that in a few years time there would be another presentation organised by yet another head of the technical department in which other higher managers totally disconnected from their workforce would be telling them of yet another change in responsibilities, key indicators and focus of effort. It had been like that for a few years now.

Sometimes an employee  thought of telling a man like Lars Sunden that he was a bleeding idiot, but nobody did that for they knew that even if Lars would listen to them, he would not understand them.

The air is too thin up there.

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