Super Sunday Hamster Blender Blog

12 April 2008

Living Among the Cows

To live the life of a farmer! Unfathomably hard work, with incredibly long hours, but the payoff – you work for yourself, see the immediate results of your efforts, and bring food to your countrymen – must be immense. To me, it is work that actually matters. Like doctors or teachers. Unlike, say, corporate executives of retail stores. Telemarketers. Accountants. Any kind of middle manager who does nothing but take whatever is said at the top and say it again to the bottom. Farmers actually make a difference.

If you think about it, farmers have a great deal of control, and they add a great deal of value in the work they are doing. They are accomplishing tasks to bring food closer to our dinner plates. We sort of need food to survive. Compare to a company that sells sneakers, which tends to bring third-world exploitation and obnoxious marketing in exchange for their massive homes and kids with BMWs. Farming is difficult, physical work. Stressful, make-ends-meet work. But it is meaningful and self-satisfying.

I am sure the majority of the three readers of this blog have never worked as a farmer, and hence, we probably cannot comprehend this level of self-satisfaction. We see manure and splinters and getting up at 4 AM and losing an arm in the thresher. We tend to be from the corporate environment, which, as we know, is far more advanced with its organizational structural hierarchies and self-interested board room power shuffling of paper. However, if we put it in a different perspective, I think we can come to appreciate and embrace the farmer.

To achieve this perspective, let’s visit a farmer, who I call Farmer Farmer (not feeling especially creative at the moment), and imagine he is thrust into the corporate world, the one most of us are routinely intimate with…

For starters, Corporate (located in New York City) needs to know how Farmer’s farm (in Kansas) is performing. Since New York City is far from Kansas, therefore dissuading Corporate from actually seeing, experiencing, or understanding what is going on, they instead request from Farmer weekly status updates. These updates require Farmer to report the number of eggs produced, the number of eggs defective, average number of eggs produced per chicken per day, chicken utilization, number of chickens per square foot, and each chicken’s favorite color. This elaborate reporting scheme is, of course, repeated for all his cattle. Cows, unfortunately, are sub-divided into two categories; Beef Production Utilized Cattle and Non-Beef Production Milk-Only Utilized Cattle. Soon, Farmer Farmer is using acronyms like AGMPDPNBPMOUC (Average Gallons of Milk Per Day Per Non-Beef Production Milk-Only Utilized Cattle). It is phonetically pronounced “ag-MA-pud-pun-BEP-mok” for convenience.

Apparently, the figures and clever acronyms alone are not enough. Corporate prefers to have them in graphical format. Farmer, not especially schooled in charting, is sent to and spends a day in PowerPoint training. Farmer is doing such a good job at graphing that Corporate asks for more. Twice a week. With conference calls. Farmer has to answer questions like –

“You have 12 chickens not producing any eggs. Why is that?”

“Because those are roosters.”

“Hmmmm. Non-egg producing chickens; NEPCs. You’ll have to lay them off.”

“But, I need the roosters, er, NEPCs, to propagate the chickens. It gives me more chickens.”

“Have you considering outsourcing?”

“What?”

“Outsourcing the rooster-work. Propagation is not one of our core competencies. We don’t pay for propagation, we pay for eggs. Come on, Farmer, do I have to think of everything?”

So the roosters are laid off, and substitute roosters are vendor-supplied in to help propagate the chicken population. The cost to hire prostitute roosters is much higher compared to actually owning the roosters, and the measure of Cost Per Egg-Producing Chickens & Un-Roosters Per Day (CPEPCURPD) rises to disturbing levels. Corporate calculates it is now cheaper to buy the eggs and re-sell them, and decides to outsource all the chickens to Mexico. 200 chickens are terminated and given severance. The Corporate Newsletter calls it “a fortunate right-sizing of our ability to satisfy our beloved customers and shareholders.”

“Well, I still have my cows,” muses Farmer Farmer.

And a new hire. Because of all the outsourcing, Corporate requires Farmer to hire a Vendor Manager who has to implement “Vendor Quality Programs.” This turns out to be a fancy title to indicate a job where you get to visit other companies and verify that they are not doing what they are being asked to do, but you get to enjoy some free dinners and a round of golf here and there. And this requires a whole new set of reports.

Farmer now spends two days a week preparing and presenting reports, some of which are never read, but deemed critical to the operation. Sort of like the Bible for most Christians. Losing two days a week is actually hampering his ability to get farm work done, such as, you know, harvesting and milking and threshing and the occasional square dance. Farmer has to hire a farm hand.

Now with two employees to manage, Corporate mandates that Farmer must execute Performance Management – that is, he has to give employees performance reviews and develop their careers in a sporadic series of humiliating meetings highlighted by forms imploring how good this is for you. Like when you fill out tax forms.

Farmer quickly assesses his two workers, and they are doing a great job. He gives them both the highest possible rating of “Outstanding.”

However, Corporate mandates that, statistically speaking, not everyone can be Outstanding, and performance must follow something called a normal curve; the number of ne’er-do-wells must equal the number of superstars. Farmer has a hard time understanding what is normal about being forced to categorize people unjustifiably. For his reasonable questioning, Farmer receives a “Needs Development.” Anyway, the quota on Outstanding is typically reserved for senior leadership as it helps accelerate their bonus. Therefore, Farmer must rate one person above average, and one below. He assigns “Outstanding” to the farm hand, and “Unmotivated But Valued Scum” to the Vendor Manager.

Shortly thereafter, the mandated, force-fed company-wide employee survey reveals that 50% of Farmer’s employees are unhappy with their job. 50%! Farmer is sent to three weeks of “leadership training” and Human Resources organizes a team building event to help improve morale. Ironically, they found a really good one in Iowa where you built camaraderie through working together on a farm for a day.

Now with two extra workers, and half of Farmer’s time spent not doing any real work, costs again rise, most noticeably in the metric Total Dollars Per Capacitized Revenue-Acre (TDPCRA). With the chickens all gone, revenue on the farm has dropped, thus implying it costs more to raise cows. Corporate, launching into action, hires a consulting group to do a 6-month study at a cost of $2 million to bring back the summary of:

“You have no chickens on your farm.”

Farmer is called to New York to discuss the summary findings over a two-day meeting, in which the report is called “alarming.” Farmer is questioned why there are no chickens.

“Don’t you remember? We outsourced all the chickens and the egg laying.”

“Who’s idea was that?”

“Yours!”

“Of course it was my idea. And it matches the report exactly, so we must be doing exactly what is necessary to be successful.”

Corporate spends the night celebrating their obvious success and awards themselves a bonus, and gives Farmer a coffee mug with the Corporate logo. And because of the accuracy of the report, the consultants are retained in order to bring forth a recommendation to their original study. Another $1 million yields:

“Costs are too high. You have too many cows. Reduce your cow-force by 100%.”

So all the milk and beef are outsourced, and there is nothing being left produced on the farm. However, three more Vendor Managers are hired, and since they travel remotely so often, a brand spanking new computer system is installed to help greatly with managing all the different businesses spread out over so many different places. Not to mention to help expedite the PowerPoints and to add even more breath-taking animation. For the record, two Information Technology people are needed to support the system - one to install new software, and one to fix the software installations.

So, with four Vendor Managers, two Information Technology people, one Human Resource person, Corporate also adds a Financial Controller (since costs just seem to be getting worse every year), and the occasional consultant. Farmer, who is now not doing any actual farm work, is having trouble keeping up with the reports and performance reviews and budgets and those damn team building events Human Resources make him do every month. Corporate approves his request for an Assistant Farm Manager and a Director of Vendor Management.

This, of course, leads to a reorganization. And a brand new PowerPoint. T-shirts are printed and bagels served one Friday to hail the new transformation. To complete the transition, Farmer Farmer is asked to create a Vision Statement.

“A what?” Farmer asks uneasily.

“A vision statement. It’s what you want your farm to be in 3-5 years.”

“I want it to be a farm.”

“No, no, no. It must be visionary and compelling; inspiring.”

“I want it to be MY farm.”

“I see you will need our help on this, Farmer.”

So corporate hires an outside consultant for a 3-day vision development workshop held in NYC, and with travel, cost Farmer a full week. Corporate assures him it was worth it when they came up with his vision:

“Our vision is to be a world-class synergistic agricultural entity, serving with excellence our board of directors, shareholders, employees, and community in conjunction with Mother Earth and political lobbyists and God, too. Bless us all, support the troops, and free the baby seals. Amen.”

Corporate insists Farmer print it on a big plaque, put in on a barn with great fanfare, and be inspired by it.

Farmer protests. “But it…it..sucks. It isn’t inspiring. It doesn’t provide any real direction. It’s just a bunch of hollow words. No one will remember it, no one will refer to it, and it will never be used for anything of value.”

“I see you have an attitude problem. I imagine this is affecting the performance of your team…”

“No, for God’s sake, don’t send us back to that fucking farm in Iowa…”

At the end of one particularly tiring day, just after his return from Team Building Session 12 (“How to Manipulate Your Employees with Trinkets and Empty Praise”), Farmer retires to the beige cubicle they installed in his farmhouse. He looks out the window – he has a window office, since he is in charge, one of the great perks bestowed upon him – and gazes across the abandoned fields that used to be his until everything but the house was sold off. He fills out his electronic time sheet and submits it, and reflects back on the day. He spent…

Three hours in meetings to review last month’s results; the “ag-MA-pud-pun-BEP-mok” is not doing well, and two committees were appointed; one to find out why and one to come up with a better sounding acronym;
Found some excellent cow-porn on-line;
Submitted a Request for Purchasing Approval to Corporate for a $4 mouse pad;
Learned how to add sounds like ‘applause’ to his PowerPoint presentations;
Glued the Human Resource person’s stapler to their desk, just for laughs;
Took a catnap in the bathroom stall; and
Drew the conclusion that it is a lot easier to shovel real cow manure than to live metaphorically in it for a lifetime with leaders who are stupider than cows.

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