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Memo from the Department of Redundancy Department

Nov. 10, 2020
Re: PPP (Pandemic Productivity Prevention) Program

Ladies and gentlemen of the Bilgewater Executive VP team, welcome to this emergency meeting. Those of you able to travel and here now in masks, please remain seated.

That goes double for those of you on Zoom, still in your pajama bottoms.

I have gathered you today to talk about Bilgewater’s pandemic response. Because while all of us are familiar with the terrible death toll and economic dislocation imposed by COVID-19, none of us could have anticipated the serious — I would dare say existential — operational problems the crisis now poses for this particular leadership team. There are three, which I offer in ascending order of heartburn:

1. Productivity: As many of you have no doubt noticed within your respective divisions, Bilgewater employees have responded nimbly to the challenges presented by social distancing and virtual/remote work. Unburdened by commutes, meaningless meetings, and random requests from their bosses— i.e., us— productivity has soared. In fact, according to an analysis shoved under my nose last week by Old Man Bilgewater himself, our productivity gains over last six months have already outpaced what this team had forecast over the next three years.

And while this is good news for the Old Man, the corporation, shareholders — blah blah blah — it is extremely dangerous for the people in this meeting. Why? Because unchecked, this staggering leap in productivity will be expected not only during our present circumstances, but once things return to normal, too. Worse, we’ll likely be tasked with somehow generating even more productivity in the future. I’d like all of you to contemplate what your work lives and bonuses will look like in three years, if we don't put a stop to this. I don't know about you, but there's a reason I became an executive VP, and it wasn't so I could work harder for less money.

2. Customer Satisfaction: A closely related problem is what these annoyingly productive employees have been doing with their newfound free time. Unbeknownst to us — because, to be fair, most of us have been “working” remotely from our second homes on beaches or mountains — these eager beavers have been innovating. How do I know? Because the Old Man asked why customer satisfaction suddenly spiked. I quizzed one of the nerds who works for me about this and she replied: “We’ve been implementing lean strategies to improve processes — and products — that deliver value to customers.”  Who talks like this? More importantly: Why talk like this? The dopes we sell to have been buying the same crap from Bilgewater for decades, and the last thing we need is for them to ask for something new. Trust me, I used to work at a place where we listened to customers, and they were complete pains in the ass: “Why can’t it work this way?” “Why don’t you deliver on time?” “When will you update the software?”

Wah wah wah. Personally — and I think I speak for all of us – I don't want to spend my last few years before retirement dealing with new demands from these crybabies.

3. Employee Autonomy: This is the biggest problem of all: our employees are starting to realize that they don't need us. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be an issue — it's not like any of us want get our hands dirty and do stuff, and we can’t go visit our whiny customers anyway — but revenues are down, and word on the street is that the Old Man is looking for some, shall we say, large expenses to cut. I shouldn’t have to spell out what that means, but I will anyway: you may think you put on a cashmere sweater or hand-tailored Zoom shirt this morning, but what you're really wearing is a target. The Old Man doesn’t see so well anymore, but even he can find the big numbers in a payroll report.

So: I need every one of you to giddyap and do what we always do during times of trouble: Deflect. Defer. Delay. Assign nonsensical projects and reports. Demand justifications for everything. Delegate different parts of different projects across different departments, preferably with duplication. Most important of all, look through your divisions and find these innovation-crazed troublemakers. Because if we don’t fire or frustrate them soon, this meeting is going to be a lot smaller next time.

And, not for nothing: Put on some pants, will you?

John R. Brandt is CEO of The MPI Group, a global research firm. A humor columnist at  IndustryWeek since joining as associate editor in 1994, he was promoted to editor-in-chief in 1995, where he served until 2000. His latest book is Nincompoopery: Why Your Customers Hate You—and How to Fix It (HarperCollins, 2019). He can be reached at [email protected].

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