Foul things on the Good Ship Critical Mass

There are time when I really wonder who the hell is steering the Good Ship Critical Mass. ‘Cuz right now, we’re headed for a really big iceberg.

All of last year, we went through a long process of Performance Management. People were trained to manage others, encourage personal development, assist with planning training, and conducting performance reviews designed to evaluate what had happened and set the basis for merit-based raises.

Things started getting a little fishy just before Christmas. A few bonuses (I got one, but not even remotely close to last year’s shocker); most people got a pittance tantamount to an insult. Morale started to sink.

The promises of a salary review had taken a long time. We’d expected to start seeing salary ranges, etc. well before the end of last year, but all signs of the illusive ranges went sight unseen. A lot of voices started chirping up — what was going on? Is the company trying to shaft us?

I, the apparent eternal voice of Critical Mass Spirit, told everyone to have faith. As a manager, I saw that as my job — keep people believing that things would transpire as they were supposed to. When you lost the faith, you lost the ability to be inspired. So I did all I could do to keep up the faith.

Sometimes, I felt like the Reverend Jesse Jackson. But today, I realized that as with his famous appearance on Saturday Night Live, I was reading from a children’s book. Only in my case, no-one was laughing.

Critical Mass, it seems, is without money. Kind of makes sense, when you think about it — we did have to lay off 20 people about a month ago. That was due to what many believe to be an accounting error. Well, it seems the longevity of that error is a lot longer than previously thought. Critical Mass, despite cost-cutting, still has no money.

Money for what, you may ask? Well, we still have our satellite offices, we still have a lot of HR staff, we still have a lot of system administrators, we still have a fully-staffed and subsidized bistro, we are still purchasing half a million dollars in software that many of us will never see or use, and we’re still upgrading computers that we really don’t need.

But pay people what they’re worth? GASP Heaven forbid!

Okay, yes, a little over-dramatic. But not far from the truth. Simple fact: no raises. A few people got market adjustments, but that’s it. I didn’t, and right now, I could really use a boost in my bottom line, if just for cost of living. There are others here, such as Arthur (okay, he’s no longer here, but this is to illustrate a point) who haven’t received raises since they started over three and a half years ago. Not one. Nada. Zip.

Now you tell me — is that right? I think not. Frankly, if they haven’t received a raise, I think (as a manager) I’d want to know why. If they don’t deserve it, perhaps they’re not the sort of person I’d want around. But that’s just me. (Arthur, technically-speaking, was one of the layoffs, though he volunteered since he was leaving anyway. Saved someone’s job, he did.)

So the company is beginning to self-destruct. The former dull murmur in the background of discontent is now a foreground conversation. Things aren’t being hidden anymore. People are upset. People are downright pissed. People are planning their exit strategies. And these are good people.

You think it sounds petty? So what if they didn’t get a raise? Oh, boo hoo, you want to whine because the company doesn’t give you want you want. Suck it up, because that’s they way life is, and not everyone gets their due.

Yup. You’re right. But there’s a couple of things you’re missing.

First, the company had promised, even if indirectly, that raises were coming. Second, the company had a history of rewarding with raises on a semi-annual basis. Third, certain people were more-or-less told that a raise was coming.

If your parents had told you, as a child, that they would think about getting you a puppy, what would be your reaction? Hope, of course. What would you think if they did that for a year, telling you that at Christmas, you might be getting one? You’d be pretty darn excited come December 24th.

Now imagine they told you on December 25th that they couldn’t give you one. No warning, despite expectations. You’d feel pretty devastated, I’d say.

And that’s what all this is about: expectations. You have to set expectations properly. And Critical Mass didn’t. They didn’t say that raises were not coming because there was no money for them. They didn’t say that we’d have to pull in the belt buckles and be more careful with our spending. No word of that at all. So why does the company act surprised when its staff takes the word of no raises so poorly? How dare they! Don’t they know what we’ve been through?

I know. I’ve been here long enough to see it all. This, I can handle. It’s not easy, but it’s manageable. What isn’t manageable is hearing all the bitching about how this company is going down the drain, partly due to what appears to be mismanagement from above, and partly due to the impending exodus of talented people. This is not something I relish watching.

I’m going away on vacation on Friday, and I can’t wait to leave. If for nothing else than to get away from all this. My team is beginning to self-destruct. The time and effort I’d spent to work up their faith and inspiration has been almost competely wasted. What do you do when the faith is gone and inspiration leaves you? I’m asking that very question of myself — because my faith is waivering terribly, and I’m having trouble inspiring myself, let alone my team.

Arthur’s been gone for a couple of weeks. I envy him in ways I can’t begin to describe. His is a freedom I crave, a nonchalance that I could only dream of having. Maybe one day, I’ll find that “thing” I need to push forward. Maybe one day, I find within myself the inspiration to rally the team again and find the new way to do things. Maybe one day, they’ll lay me off and I won’t have to deal with this shit.

I do not like this in a boat. I do not like this with a goat. I do not like this corporate bull, it is too much, my head is full.