OK, well, not really an empire. Just my previous place of employment :)
I was originally going to write an extremely long-winded roundup of what happened here, the “whys”, the “wherefores”, the “howcomes”, the “whodidits”, etc, etc.
But frankly I am just too lazy.
So I’ll start it off by showing a FedEx commercial that just about sums it up, then you can keep reading after the jump…
[youtube width=”425″ height=”335″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hKWM5Z1zds[/youtube]
Let’s first of all backtrack to almost two years ago…
When I first started here, this was a relatively new department only about 3-4 years old. There was a certain “lack of process and systems” because they were new and hadn’t “been there done that” yet. That was OK by me, I like to set things up as I go along, so no biggie. I also came from a place which had pretty good systems and checks in place (just an insane amount of work) so I actually brought some good techniques to the table. No staff meetings.
Fast forward one year later…
We have a new boss (henceforth known as Boss Hogg) who has at this point been here about 6months. He was extremely abrasive, but since I don’t deal directly with him, I’m just peachy. The department looks like its heading in the right direction. We’ve started getting some processes down, we are (almost) properly staffed, we were making headway in convincing the rest of the floor that we were more than just Kinkos. Weekly staff meetings are about 30-45mins.
Fast forward two months…
They made us (the graphic designers) become regular employees instead of contractors. We had no choice in the matter, other than leave. Which one of the designers did. On the positive side, I got a slight pay bump and awesome benefits. On the downside, got a HUGE hassle with paperwork (note, this comes into play later). By paperwork, I mean development plans, reviews, compliance with a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with me (since we were an accounting firm), etc. My first month as a “real” employee had me buried in training videos, questionnaires, compliance surveys, you name it. ON TOP of a full workload. Annoying doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Fast forward another two months…
We tried in vain to hire a 3rd designer to replace the one who left. I suggested an extremely competent designer I had previously worked with, but for whatever reason they didn’t like him. Instead they hired some guy that looked like Penn & Teller (whichever one has the ponytail), who made his start date a month and a half down the road… and then decided to cancel. Well, that prompted a search for designers that *still* at the time of this writing has not been filled. We had one designer come in and he was crap and another designer was brought in. Let’s call her… Medusa. She didn’t work out, see the sidenote below or just skip to the next section.
Medusa Sidenote: Medusa started out pretty good. Good designer, good skillset with Adobe stuff (not so much Microsoft, but thats OK), worked quickly. She was independent which is important because you don’t want to have to keep and eye on someone when you’re trying to finish your own stuff. Federal Design doesn’t require a superstar design guru, but it does require a “decent” eye for design, and the ability to work quickly. She was a good fit, you could give her a project and leave her be. Awesome.
The other designer saw one fatal flaw right from the git-go. She lived about an hour and a half away. Without traffic. I can’t even begin to imagine what that commute is like *in* traffic. He said, no way she lasts. He was right.
When summer came around (although not necessarily related to summertime) she began to miss work here and there, or come in late here and there, or leave early here and there. The reasons ranged from doctor appointments, to car troubles, to traffic, to feeling ill. Normally that wouldn’t matter much, but people would come looking for their projects and she wouldn’t be around. The other designer & I had to pick up the slack.
As the summer continued, it went from one day late or missing up to 3 days late or missing… EACH WEEK. And we were getting slammed with work. Seemingly, every job we gave her bounced right back as she wasn’t there when it was due. It reached a point where the other designer stopped assigning her jobs. He figured if he was going to end up doing it anyway, he’d rather know about it upfront than be surprised with a 4pm fire as someone came around looking for a project.
Well, since Boss Hogg was worse than useless at this point I confronted her about the hours (I drew the short straw). I also looked at it like this. If someone has an issue with me or my work I’d rather they come and talk to me about it first then go straight to my boss. Most people are the same way, I think. Well, apparently, not Medusa.
I sent the email and included only those of us in the design group (3 people), the ones who were directly affected by her absences. She started off telling me I had no right to bring up her hours since I wasn’t her boss (technically this was true). And it escalated from there until 2 days later she sent an email blast to the entire group (15+ people, from her home email no less) accusing myself and the other designer of running a smear campaign to ruin her good name.
The irony of no one else knowing about her absences until SHE sent out the blast email to the entire group apparently didn’t strike her. And never once in any of her emails did she ever address her absences. She brought up unrelated point after unrelated point. Attempts to actually sit down and talk instead of sending emails back and forth went un-heeded.
And where was Boss Hogg? …Hiding. Even with repeated requests for him to step in, he did nothing. Medusa finally solved the issue by resigning the day after accusing us of the smear campaign.
But of more importance to the health of the whole shop… 2 people quit because they couldn’t deal with Boss Hogg. We only had one desktop publisher who ended up being the choke point as *every* proposal ended up going through her. It wasn’t long before the poor lady started consistently working 16-18hr days. We all appealled to Boss Hogg to get more help for her, as it would not only relieve her stress, but also actually get more proposals out the door in a nice, neat, orderly manner.
And now started the tidal wave of incoming contractors. All of whom had “spectacular” resumes… that of course they couldn’t live up to. We were told that these people were coming in as a “Manager/Coordinator” or a “Coordinator/Desktop” or some other combination that involved multiple roles. I have no idea what they were actually told, but I’m pretty sure that they heard something different. At first, it was funny as these people would come ask us questions that would go something like:
MGR: “I need a compliance matrix done, who does that?”
ME: “Well… that would be you”
MGR: “I need this graphic done” waves piece of paper in the air
ME: “Well, give that to your coordinator and they will submit the graphic for you”
MGR: “Great, who is my coordinator?”
ME: Blink. Pause. Shrug.
MGR: “What if I don’t have a coordinator on this proposal?”
ME: “Well, then go to *this* site and fill out the form, print it out, staple to the front of a folder, print out a hard copy of the graphic and put it in the folder, email me any source files, oh and make sure you log it in”
MGR: Falls to ground convulsing and faking a seizure so they can go home early and not deal with it
Yeah, at first it was funny. We’d exchange “What was the dumbest thing you’ve heard this week” over a beer at lunch. The ones that had “Desktop” somewhere in their combo title were supposed to help the ONE desktop pub that we had.
Desktop: “I need help, I can’t keep up with all these proposals!”
BossHogg: “You need to do a better job of delegating this work.”
Desktop: “Delegate? to who? NO ONE IS HERE! X stopped snoring just long enough to tell me he’s too busy. Y just sent an email saying he’s not coming in till noon and its already 1PM. Z has been shopping at the mall since 10am! There are four proposals either due today or going into review and there is no way I can finish them all. What are you going to do about this?”
BossHogg: Stares at the Desktop. Blinks. Continues to stare.
Desktop: “Aaaaarrrrgggggghhhh!!!!!” runs out of office
Fast forward another 3 months…
Now, what I think that Boss Hogg had in mind was for each of these people was to have a “one stop shop”. One person that could handle all the roles and take a proposal from start to finish. Sounds nice and neat right?
Well, like a lot of theory, it sounds better than it works. What ended up happening is these people had too much on their plate. Things slipped through the cracks. Documents were in atrocious states when the reached the Desktop Pub, resulting in her having to format them all over again from scratch… ALL of them. The Manager/Coordinator/Desktop/Graphics combo people spent so much time doing the “little things” like making copies and attempting to format (badly) documents that they didn’t have time to actually “manage” these proposals. Chaos, destruction and terror ensued.
What was funny a few months ago was no longer funny as we heard these things for the 50th time. Plus, the workload went up to about double or triple what it was before. So instead of hearing one or two “idiot moments” per week, it became one or two per DAY. The analogy I used alot was that of an old “beater” car. It’s great for getting you to the corner grocery store, but try and drive that beater to Miami and it will leave you broken down on the side of the highway.
Version control went out the window. The poor Desktop Pub would stay up till 4am in the morning formatting a document, then come in at 7am only to find the document she spent all night on was not the current document and someone else has been editing another version. Graphics and pieces of sections would magically appear and disappear from the document.
And where was Boss Hog during all this?
Ask him to do something, and it was like talking to the wall. He had checked out a long time ago and was just holding on to the paycheck and health insurance. I was asked if he was the worst boss I’ve ever had. The answer is a resounding “YES”. Not only did he cause many of the problems by hiring incompetents, not training them, not guiding them, but he then refused to do anything about it afterwards.
It wasn’t that he tried and failed… no he never tried. When we came to him with a problem, we’d either get “go fix it yourself” or “it sucks, but your just going to have to deal with it” or worse “uh-huh, I’ll see what I can do”. The end result was you were worse off after talking to him than you were before, because now you’ve wasted your time in even speaking with him. And yes, there are certain things we needed him for (which we never got). There reaches a point where a designer shouldn’t be arguing with a manager, or director, or even a partner! And thats where you need your boss to step up and handle the situation, one way or another. But nope, nada nothing, zilch, zippo. He would just sit in his office and ignore the screaming matches going on outside of it.
When the bickering reached a point where we weren’t just arguing with outside folks, but ourselves as well I knew it was time to go. And when they announced their “new plan” about how they would handle our department in the future that just solidified my decision. It would be the same mess all over again. So I went looking for a New Mess :D