Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Alternate Way to Run a Corporation

The Current Situation

Well currently corporations are run by investors, they vote for a Board of Directors and the Board of Directors hires a CEO to run the day to day operations. A metaphorical way to see this would be that the Board of Directors is like a nation's legislature (Senate, Congress, Parliament, etc), while the CEO would be like a nation's head of government (President, Prime Minister, etc). The goal of the investor is to make profit, profit and even more profit. If the corporation makes more profit this year than the last and the belief is held that the next year's profits will be even higher.... then the investor is extremely happy.

The problem with this situation is that there is a disconnect with reality between the investor and the rest of society. The concept that firing employees to make more profit as being self-destructive for all corporations who rely upon consumers is alien to the investor. They see the short term and immediate gain and even when someone speaks long term planning, they see this as meaning 5 years instead of 5 generations. When the medical profession indicates that absenteeism is based upon the extra workload and the extra stress which only began making its appearances when corporations tried to get 1 human being to work more than what a human could tolerate.... well the investor believes this to be a product of laziness (remember they would never tolerate the conditions that they attempt to impose upon honest workers).

Corporations have gone unchecked like a runaway train and the owners are happy because the train has made each of their stations in record time (some experts tell the owners that the train never stopped but kept going and this will lead to disaster but the owners ignore these warnings). Then listeriosis hits the food industry, financial markets go haywire, car manufacturers discover a major flaw in their best product..... Apologies come out but nothing really changes (you don't hear of any company wishing to rehire a laid-off workforce to do things correctly instead of cutting corners). More corners are to be cut and new lay-offs are planned with the remaining workers picking up the slack. "Do more with less" is the mantra of the day, then the investors get surprised when less is produced.

The Alternative

So since the investors and business leaders think its normal to practice self-destruction, like staying awake for 48 hours at a time and sleeping for 4 hours and then repeating the sequence and they don't want to stop and think about the consequences of such obvious foolishness, perhaps an international law should be imposed on all corporations. The details can always be worked out later, but here are the broad strokes. A corporation answers to three entities for its survival, the investor who provides capital, the worker who provides labor and the consumer who provides sales. Yet despite this fact, only the investor is represented in the leadership of the corporation (and we have all seen the foolishness that they can achieve).

So the proposed alternative is that we have the investors vote for one third of the Board of Directors, we have the workers vote for another third and we have the local government appoint the last third. The investors continue with the 1 share equals one vote. The workers go with one person equals one vote. Government appointees can not be major investors or workers in this company and preferably not related with anyone who is. The investors will have to negotiate with presenting their views as to making a profit (which is ok if tempered with reason), the workers will focus on productivity (which may mean reducing work hours while keeping the same salary and providing social benefits to make the employee happy and therefore less sick) and the government appointees will focus on consumer protection to make certain that any legitimate complaints on a product is heard quickly and dealt with and also make certain that advertising does not overwhelm the consumer with nonsense.

A confirmed member of the Board of Directors must not be allowed to be a member of another Board of Directors of ANY company. If someone can be a Board Member of more than one, they have just admitted that the workload is insufficient and perhaps they can occasionally work on the front-lines with the honest and hardworking individuals of their company to see how their decisions truly affect the people in the trenches. Could you imagine during World War 2 an individual being a US General leading tanks in Western Europe and then emailing the Pacific Fleet on how they should deploy their ships because he is also a US Admiral? Well there are many who are members of several Boards of Directors in various corporations. How can they find the time if this job is so important?

Concluding Remarks

What the best thing for each corporation would be to have the people on the top work alongside the lowest level entry position employees on occasion and get their hands dirty and appreciate that these workers are not lazy but sometimes over-worked. Again a show that shows owners and bosses heading in the right direction is the TV show "Undercover Boss". Now it isn't at the perfect destination of where corporations should be but it definitely allows the owners to open their eyes and see first hand the reality at the trenches.

Secondly, Unions were not mentioned because we are looking a corporate governance and not management/employee relations which is an entirely different thing. The Board of Directors position filled by employee votes would be like voting for a Canadian federal election while however the employees decide to organize their union and how they choose a completely different set of people to fill in as Union leaders would be like voting for a Canadian provincial election. Later on, managers could be voted as such by their immediate underlings like a municipal election. But these additional features are more modifying the system from the ground up and this blog was more on focusing modifying the system from the top down.

In each of these modified aspects, it necessitates that the worker be astute and democratically minded which will transfer over to his life outside of work which should be more important than his life at work. Work to live, yes! Live to work, no. A successful democratic society must give its citizens the tools to engage in other important aspects of life, where money is only one of many aspects and not the only aspect. Money is like a toy and if someone in society believes that toys are more important than anything else, then they should remain childlike and not be involved in the decision making aspects of an adult society. Toys are great, we can all enjoy the playtime, but we must stop playing with toys on occasion and get our responsibilities done, something the investor doesn't seem able to comprehend as he accumulates more and more toys at the expense of others.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Taking Pictures of Sleeping Workers

Well here we have it. The non-thinking public notice a goofy incident and immediately jumps to a conclusion without considering the situation. The specific issue I am referring to here is the customer who took a picture of a Toronto Transit worker sleeping on the job. We are told that the individual was fired afterwards and we are also told of other incidents like the situation where a bus driver takes an unscheduled break to get a coffee during the middle of a bus run.

Am I questioning if the worker was sleeping or not? No, I can see very clearly that the employee is sleeping. What I am questioning is the why. No one seems to want to consider that and the fact that management immediately fired this individual makes me ask why with even more emphasis. A responsible management is supposed to hire someone that they trust to do the job, and yet at the first sign of doubt, the management demonstrates faith in itself in its decision to trust this employee by firing the employee.

Let us consider the following, if the management hired this employee in the first place then it is under the assumption that the individual has what it takes to perform the job. Therefore if this is true, we must assume that this employee is a rational human being, a responsible adult, a competent worker.... yet he has fallen asleep at the job.... why? If management immediately fires this competent worker without questioning the reasons, then management has admitted that it does not trust its own methodologies of scrutinizing capable employees or that it has no trust or loyalty for the people they hire.

So if we assume that the employee is incompetent and fire him and we are correct then the story ends there. If we assume that the employee is competent and yet has been caught sleeping, we must investigate further and then we determine if our assumption is correct or not. If I was management, I would not assume and investigate further before making any decision, no matter how obvious things appear.

Let us look at what kind of job this employee has. He is stuck in a booth to sell tickets and to offer tourist information about the transit system. During the morning rush, he is selling tickets and serving the lineup of people wishing to buy a ticket or get some information. Then its 10 am in the morning and there is perhaps 3 people coming to his booth during that hour. The requirements are that he stays at his post to serve the clients as they arrive. The employee can not leave the booth to start cleaning some outside area because A) the area is so large he may not be able to see if there are clients waiting to be served and B) security concerns of being outside of a secured booth and being robbed.

The employee must therefore stay put. The employee is not allowed to read or to do crossword puzzles or to occupy his mind in other pursuits because management is afraid of the public perception of seeing a non-busy worker reading. Part-time students who could potentially be studying in between clients would not be tolerated either. So we have the employee, stuck in a booth twiddling his thumbs trying to find something to occupy himself waiting for the next client. The employee can not even use the phone to speak to another human being. So what happens? Well ANY human being would fall prey to dozing off and being asleep. AND ANY MANAGEMENT WHO THINKS OTHERWISE SHOULD BECOME AN EMPLOYEE FOR SIX MONTHS TO SHATTER THEIR ILLUSIONS.

There is a new reality television show called "Undercover Boss", where the owner or the big boss goes undercover and becomes an employee at his own business for a week. Well these bosses have their eyes opened, much like the Prince in Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper". In Mark Twain's book, the Prince switches place with his look-alike who is a poor beggar and the Prince sees how his kingdom is truly run. Well the undercover boss in the television show also gets a taste of his decisions done from on top without consideration of the consequences that he is leading human beings who have strengths and weaknesses.

I can guarantee you that anyone who thinks that this sleeping employee is lazy or wrong would change their mind if they worked in that environment for six months. They may not fall asleep like this particular employee did, but if they are honest with themselves, they would see how easily this could happen to them with the existing circumstances. Find what society considers to be the best of the best of the human beings of our society and impose upon that person the following restrictions: A) Must serve clients during rushes, B) Must stay alert during quiet periods, C) Must not read, talk on the phone or do anything that may be perceived by the public as being lazy (can not even read corporate material even if written well and would keep you dynamic). Then have this human being do this 40 hours a week for six months with the occasional overtime thrown in while this individual is also dealing with outside pressures at home (like for example fumigating his living area to eliminate some pests).... Then lets see if this individual would do any better than this employee who was caught sleeping.

As for the bus driver who was caught stopping in the middle of a bus run to get a coffee for his coffee break. Question1->Does the employee have access to a coffee place when he is allowed his break? Question2->Does management restrict their own coffee breaks or do they allow themselves access to a coffee place at a time of their own choosing?

Solutions for the sleeping employee and for the bus driver who takes unscheduled breaks: Have employees work with partners who can chat and keep each other company and allow them some leeway during non-rush hours (like reading?) Sometimes tourists ask these employees about cultural events happening in the area and most of the time the employees don't know, so allow them to have access to this kind of information to communicate to those who ask. Salespeople in stores often know nothing about the product that they are selling because they are not given the time to read up on the latest gadget that their own store carries so they focus on techniques of selling instead of product knowledge..... and during non-rush times the salesmen are confined in moving inventory from one wall corner to the other corner just to give the impression that the store is new and dynamic. So give the employee some leeway during the non-rush times of the day.

As for the bus driver, if the end of his route where he is allowed to take a break is void of a coffee place or whatever would be convenient for the employee, then hire a coffee delivery clerk. The job of the coffee delivery clerk would be to get the coffee order from employees during the day of what they want in their coffee and when their break is and when they will take their break. This way, when the bus driver arrives at his break spot in the middle of nowhere, he will have someone there with his coffee and a quick chat for about a minute or so with another flesh and blood human being. After all, if management gives themselves such privileges why deny these privileges to their own employees? And if management denies these privileges that they themselves take for themselves, why be surprised when employees find ways to acquire similar perks for themselves?

So if anything, I blame management for the sleeping employee, doubly so when they fired that employee without investigation and I would suggest that if anyone was to be fired then it should be the entire management team who provided for this situation to happen.

If one employee has a problem, then chances are that its the employee's fault and responsibility. If several employees have the exact same problem (and in the case of the sleeping employee and the bus driver taking his unscheduled break they are not alone in this situation) then the responsibility is on management and not on the employee. This sleeping worker should not have been fired so quickly, he should have been suspended with pay and have an external audit done to investigate all possible causes including mismanagement, and then deal with the situation appropriately (which could include firing the employee).