Wednesday, September 23, 2015

You're Fired!

I was reading Schumpeter/Digital Taylorism in the Economist from last week. It's a great article and should be read. 

The short version; Frederick Taylor was an influential management guru of the early 20th century. He advocated breaking down each job to it's simplest components. Measure everything that workers do and link pay to performance. Bonuses to the best workers and pink slips to the lowest performers. Sounds far too familiar? 

For most of my career I was the guy that made the decision to let someone go. Even as an apprentice I was given the job of foremen. Let me tell you, it was painful for me to lay someone off that first time. For the journeyman that I was letting go, it had to be particularly galling to see an apprentice handing him his final check. But, as time went on, I found a management style that suited me and most times I was able to avoid laying someone off for cause. At the end of a job and without another job to go to, we all would be given the final check; that was expected and accepted by all of us. 

I found that if I respected the workers for their talents and was honest with them when I saw them falling behind in some area, I was given respect and loyalty. After awhile I had a crew that would go with me from job to job. Commercial drywall/steel framing work is hard and it's dangerous and so there is a certain sense of brotherhood that bound us together and it was gratifying to know that these men depended on me as much as I depended on them. I rarely had to say anything to correct them or to encourage them to work faster. Once a week at our safety meeting I would tell them of our progress and how much we needed to do to stay on schedule. As the foreman, I would usually have my tools on and would work all day, by myself, and only see the crew at lunch or at a break. They would come to see me only if they had a problem they couldn't solve themselves. 

Sounds like a nice setup doesn't it? Well, it was for quite awhile; then there was a change. We went to work for someone new to us. I was soon getting called in to the office because I wasn't 'pushing' the crew hard enough. We had been getting bonuses and praise for some time from other contractors. This was startling to me. I asked if we were behind schedule? I was told that we weren't but we could go faster and maybe I should layoff some guys so that they knew I was serious. I did a cowardly thing and said I would think about it. I should have quit.  

I didn't lay off anyone and told myself that I wouldn't work for that guy again. Easier said than done. It became increasingly difficult to find a contractor that was comfortable with my style of leadership. The years went by and for a time I was a contractor myself, trying to use the same style and it generally worked. Then I moved to N. California and found myself looking for work in the Reno area. There were lots of high rise hotels being built and that was something I knew quite well. I went to work as a journeyman; enjoying the fact that I was working, and at the end of the day I would go home and never take the pressures of leadership home with me.

That didn't last long; the higher-ups saw that I had some talent and asked me to be a foreman. I said yes  and it was back to the same demands; "why wasn't I pushing the crew harder?" "You ought to try yelling a little more often". Reno was a much smaller job market than Los Angeles so I didn't have the freedom to do as I wanted every time, though I did try. I'm not proud of some of those times. 

Fast forward 15 years to my first salaried job. I was now an estimator/project manager for a very large, nationwide, construction company.  In December of that first year I was called in to the Manager's office for a 'review'. When I first heard that I was going to be 'reviewed', I thought they were kidding me. In my long history of working in the construction industry, the only review you had resulted in keeping your job. Are you still working? Fine. End of review. I really felt insulted to be reviewed. If you don't like what I'm doing; fire me!

Well, I retired from that corporation and had plenty of reviews. All good. But I was never comfortable with the process. I'm still not. 

It is the way things work these days and the days of work that I truly enjoyed are gone forever. You can read the article and you will agree...


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