Friday, January 28, 2011

Think About Corporations

If you work for a local or small (or even medium-sized?) company, I'm envious. I once (over 15 years ago) worked at a family-owned grocery store. It was a low-paying job, but it was a satisfying place to work. It was a large store, but the management made sure we employees all felt as though we were part of a community. There was a monthly (or quarterly?) newsletter, an annual Christmas party, and an annual summer picnic. It was a family-friendly and happy place.

People keep telling me that I should be thankful to have a job. And, I know they're right, and I am thankful. At the same time, though, I wish I worked at a place more like that grocery store, a place where the "head honchos" were not just names people drop (as a reason or a threat) but real people who worked hard and also actually knew what their employees did.

Instead, though, I work for a large corporation that, at one time, was a small family business. The business thrived, so the company decided to grow. And then they grew and grew and grew and grew. Much of this expansion and change has taken place in the last 10 or 15 years. I've been with the company for nearly 8 years, long enough to see that they are not the same company I started working for. Instead, they've become like many large corporations--cold and inefficient, with a large disconnect between the people who do the work and the people who assign the work.

I can only speak for retail corporations, mind you, and I've only been a part of two of them, so yes, my knowledge and experience is limited.

In the first big corporation I worked for, Borders Group, Inc. (you may have heard of it), I was the manager of one of their Waldenbooks stores. Even with the limited communication we had at that time (no email or internet access in the store), as the manager I didn't feel like I was alone or out of any sort of loop; my job was simple, in fact, to the point that it became monotonous. As manager, I had little control over the business--no say in the books we carried, no say in book-signings, no say in...well, pretty much anything. We had specific directions to follow, specific promotions to advertise, specific bestsellers to display. Most Waldenbooks stores would look the same (to some extent, at least). The main thing that managers had to do was to produce Preferred Reader numbers. This was the main evidence to me that the "big bosses" (who set these goals) were out of touch with how our particular store worked. When you have regular and faithful customers who already have Preferred Reader cards, you can't make them buy another card (especially after raising the price of the card!). Likewise, international customers (our second biggest clientele at my particular store) had no use for one. As far as I know, the Preferred Reader program was discontinued shortly after I left the company. And, I don't think Waldenbooks even exists anymore now (?), possibly due to the inability of the corporation to change with the times. That may have involved individualizing each store and, *gasp*, listening to the store managers.

The job I have now as a retail store manager is much more complicated. I have a lot more responsibility, and this responsibility gets added to almost daily. At the same time that I (and my dear dear employees...who are wonderful, even though they are as underpaid and overworked as I am) have more and more work to do (dictated by people who have not worked as store managers in this company), we get less and less support from the corporate office. My guess is that this is because every other department is equally overworked and underpaid. That's most likely because the people in charge come up with ideas and policies (and implement these ideas and policies) without trying them out or running them by the people who will have to actually bear the brunt of these ideas and policies. Additionally, they usually do not allow the hiring of additional people in these various departments; in fact, in the stores, they ask us to keep cutting employee hours. So, the average response time from my corporate office (for an urgent situation) is three weeks; that's IF we get a response at all. Ironically, one of this corporation's values is accountability. They also, supposedly, value each and every associate.

I have ideas on how to bridge this disconnect between the overpaid bosses and the underpaid workers; namely, communication. I have made multiple (non-anonymous) suggestions over the years (via an e-suggestion box) regarding both communication and efficiency in this corporation, and each time I have received a reply for why the suggestion is not possible. These were mostly meager excuses, defensive in nature--asinine refutations. Sometimes the replies went in circles so many times that I was dizzy after reading them. Once I received the reply that I had a great suggestion and it "was already being worked on." That was four years ago; they apparently never finished "working on" it. Oh, and this corporation also says that it values innovation.

(Yes, I'm thankful I have a job. That's why I didn't name the corporation I work for.)

I'd love to hear your comments; please leave them below!

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