Somewhere between ten and twenty years ago, when my mother was working as a reenrollment counselor for Regis University for their online graduate school program, one of those inane books came out that is so often praised by vapid business management called “Who Moved My Cheese?,” which conceives of employees as nothing more than habit-bound rats in a maze who have to accept the inevitability of change to the way that they operate. Somewhat later, as a graduate student in Engineering Management, I took a course that was devoted to resistance to change (that was, in fact, it’s title), and the key insights I took from that course were that much of change is ordained from on high without any concern for how it will actually work. Hardly anyone, it seems, asks the people who are on the frontline, the “individual contributors,” what their problems are with a given task, or a given piece of software or CRM website or something of that sort, and then go about making work more productive for the people doing it. Rather, management tends to be seduced by the siren song of consultants promising Pollyannaish pie-in-the-sky panaceas that end up adding more complexity rather than less. The change that results is seldom improvement at all.
At lunch today I chatted with one of my coworkers who laughed out loud at something while looking at his smartphone. Being the sort of person who always enjoys a good laugh and being ‘in’ on the joke, I asked him what he was laughing about. He started off by apologizing that the joke was a bit racist, and that it involved one of his old buddies in the military, who had made a joke about “sticky boys,” people among the local population of South Korea who were overly fond of purloining various items like the meals of soldiers or other equipment. I laughed too and told him it was pretty funny, as he told me about his preference of ramen noodles  to the MREs that served as the normal military diet for those embarked on marches through the countryside, no doubt fairly close to the DMZ, and how various youth would steal things after having been asked to buy ramen noodles for soldiers at various stores. No doubt the appeal among the children for thievery was the sort of envy and curiosity about the way that the obviously well-off foreigners lived as opposed to their own mundane existence. Without hearing what the thieves had to say, it is impossible to know whether those who have stolen from the soldiers in Korea gained anything in terms of having their curiosity rewarded.
Earlier today, I was very irritated when I did one of my reports and found that someone, and I still do not know exactly who, had tampered with the report template. My response was in some choler, leading to a humorous exchange of e-mails as I and a few others tried to figure out who had tampered with my report. The person who was initially named as possibly having done it  explained what she had been working on in the past day and it was quite obvious that she had not done anything that would have screwed up my report template, given the drastic changes that someone had saved to them in the past day, removing some fields, adding others, removing the filter on the retention team agents, and expanding the time for the reports to about a year. It took a few minutes, in which I was quite irascible, for me to restore the template to its original stage, only to hear during that time that the template was no longer needed because there had been automatic pulls of data in SQL set up. That part did not bother me, as the report is a fairly straightforward pull and that sort of thing can be easily managed in an automatic query. My specialty results in working with data that is not straightforward and that requires a fair amount of formatting and active management.
In thinking about these matters I was struck by the fact that at their base there were marked similarities in the frustration felt. Employees at companies feel frustrated at change because their own wishes and well-being are not considered. They are not viewed as being lords of the data, as I modestly call myself, or of being the masters of their own domains, however narrow and circumscribed they are, but they are viewed as mere rats in someone else’s maze. The soldiers might have willingly traded their meals ready to eat, which they did not care for, for a few packages of tasty but not particularly healthy ramen noodles, but they did not appreciate others stealing from them. Likewise, it was the fact that I had to take time, time when I was in a hurry at work, to fix what someone else had tampered when no one else was willing to own up to having messed up my report template in the first place. In all such cases it was the fact that rework and frustration and loss was the result of someone else’s high-handed behavior and the absence of respect and communication that created the offense. Respect seems such a simple thing, but it is far from straightforward—it requires thinking of people at the bottom of corporate hierarchies as people, often highly competent and driven people whose thoughts are valuable and whose insights are often ignored, and who are likely sensitive to the slights they receive, it requires asking for something rather than taking it, and it requires communicating when something has been changed, rather than assuming that such effort is unnecessary. How are we to act so that we do not tamper with what is in the realm of others, and so that we do not violate their own dignity and their own freedom, or disregard their own competence and self-respect? Given that we are all prickly about the respect we receive , some of us more than others, we should be far more generous in the respect that we give, which is far easier said than done.
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