Sunday, 18 November 2007

Life in Ukraine

Explaining the GCMP
Corporate HQ have instituted a Global Cost Management Programme (GCMP) and there's nothing wrong with that.

One of the first expenses they have targeted is stationery and, well, I suppose we do use a lot of it: in fact I checked my departmental expense report: stationery accounts for 0.01% of 2007 expenditure (2008 target: 0.005%).

From now on we must treat the company's money as if it is our own and we will be mostly printing in black and white. Yes, even the monthly traffic-light status report, don't be flippant.

But how to go about persuading people to use less stationery in a big company? I mock but if that's what you really want to do then it's not, in fact, a trivial task. Especially if you start from a premise that your employees are spendthrift wasters who wantonly bend paper-clips and sharpen pencils down to stubs for their own amusement. Certainly it's hard to imagine a real free-market solution.

Our solution? Centralise: Stationery buying has been restricted to a few select individuals, who have been told to scrutinise all requests carefully and make tough.

As far as I can ascertain the secretaries here on on the 43rd floor have never been to the Ukraine and have never heard of collectivisation, which is curious because that's exactly what they have invented in response
"In order to use our stationery more wisely", reads the memo, "we have agreed that all stationery on the floor should be pooled. This means that any local stores of paper or pens or suchlike that you have in cupboards or pedestals must all be moved to the photocopying room next to staircase E (the one that leads to the canteen) where they can be managed centrally".
The result will not surprise any student of Soviet history, or economics: hoarding leading to shortages and surpluses.

Neither love nor money on our floor, now, will find you A3 (though there's a stong rumour that they have some in Sales) but red biros are two a penny: ten will buy you a black felt-tip.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Love Capitalism, Hate Markets

Bluematter asks why is it that people hate the market? He observes that

The implications of the public's mistrust of markets are profound. Simply put, it's the resource allocation equivalent of having invented the chainsaw and insisting on using your nails to cut down trees. What can be done to change public perceptions of markets?
He suspects that the answer is an ethical one: a perceived conflict between social values that emphasise altruism, selflessness and cooperation with that of the market which people associate with selfishness, deception and conflict.

In the world at large he may to something, but I don't think this ethical argument explains mistrust of the market that you can observe in a corporate environment.

At BigRedCo nothing is priced and all resources are rationed from stationery to headcount to access to IT developers. But this certainly isn't for ethical reasons: it's for reasons of control. The senior management simply don't believe that a market system - or indeed any other system would work.

As Samizdata observes - managers may wear smart suits and talk the language of capitalism, but they don't walk the talk.

In BigRedCo the story is - the honest belief is - that investment resources are granted to projects with a good business case, and a lot of Business Plans are completed and ROIs are calculated.

But the fact of the matter is that resources are limited and allocation is by central directive. After all if just anyone could buy new IT systems just because they could afford it, why where would it stop?

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Matrix Management

At BigRedCo we are fond of matrix management and I have two reporting lines. (In fact, I have three but even the least-informed among us know that the regional dimension is entirely toothless, so we can safely disregard it).

Travelling up my main, or solid, reporting line I am six levels below the CEO.

I cannot say exactly how I know this for there hasn't been an organogram published in two years, but nonetheless I know it, just as know that the staircase E is the shortest route to the canteen, that we are at war with Eastasia, and that blogging about one's work life is unwise.

In BigRedCo you just know.

Tracing my other reporting line I am only five levels below the CEO ! Consequently I prefer this reporting line as it's much easier to get things done. It's just a shame that it is my dotted reporting line.

On my solid reporting line my boss's boss's boss is new. Not just new to us, but entirely new to BigRedCo. This is a bad thing as he will want to do things differently. Indeed he has already performed an internal reshuffle in which my boss's boss was reshuffled so badly he's out of the pack. He has been replaced. This is also a bad thing: two new bosses who must both 'come up to speed' rapidly. For them that means walking the floors firing opinions. For my colleagues and I it means Powerpoint - a lot of Powerpoint. And in the middle of the budget season as well.

Frequent reorganisations are important for large companies. They give the impression of change, action and progress. They also allow the commitments of previous year to be forgotten and the plans for next year to be forged anew. We're working on the 100 day-plan, preparatory to the two year plan.

I, for one, welcome our new management overlords.

Friday, 28 September 2007

About Corporate Red

From the outside, large companies stand for (embody?) values like capitalism, globalisation, hard-headedness and the free market.

Large companies are against state interference, central planning and quangos. Their CEOs will happily lecture hapless civil servants, instructed by their political managers to employ a more business-like approach, in the disciplines of the market. Public sector cock-ups are greeted in the press with cries of "they wouldn't get away with that in business"

They would.

Those of us on the inside of big companies know they aren't really like that: Really they are more Ricky Gervais than Gordon Gecko, more Basil Fawlty than Citizen Kane. I work in one and sometimes you would cry, if you didn't laugh.

But my blog is not just about corporate life, it's also about how big companies are run - for from the inside big companies are from the market they profess to aspire to: internally they embody values like central-planning, socialism, statism and command-and-control.

Which is why they often don't work....