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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ignore your old-timer employees at your peril

There was a company which gave stickers to employees for each year of employment. At three years, they upgraded you to a flat panel. Just by walking around, you could see who had been there for longer than most, since everyone else had CRTs. This was before the days of LCD panels being the default, so it was a fairly big deal to have the 3 year screen.

One day, the president of the company came on the intercom and made an announcement. Everyone should come downstairs to pick up a shiny new 19" flat panel display! This was a strange way to make an announcement considering how many people were on the phones with customers at any given time, but that's what he did.

So, a few hundred people abandoned their desks and packed into a tiny little hallway and proceeded to display their badges, get marked off the list, and receive their flat panel. Everyone then launched into an impromptu session of reconfiguring their machine to get it to go.

Well, almost everyone. The company did not issue panels to people who already had the 3 year 17" panel. This means that brand new employees who had been there a couple of days were now sporting the new awesomeness, but the people who had built the company to such levels were being totally ignored. The old-timers definitely noticed, and they were not happy about this.

We found out later why we had received this upgrade. Apparently upper management had hired some consulting firm to give them some advice. That firm said something like "spend $120,000 on flat panel monitors for your people". The company did exactly that. They took it literally.

What they didn't realize is that the consulting firm was really saying "take care of your people, and give them the best things so they can do the best work". What they had was a situation in the human realm, but they tried to solve it by throwing technology and money at it, and totally missed the human factor.

Any idiot with a compiler or a check book can solve a technical problem. It takes actual people skills to take care of other people.