Literacy in the Workplace

I had an interesting exchange with my manager yesterday. We had our very first team meeting under the guise of the new “Great Place to Work” initiative. We were informed that there is no budget for conferences this year so SOL on the professional development plans. There was also an open question about if we understood our performance goals. The exchange went something like this:

Management: Does everyone understand their performance goals?

Me: I’m a little confused. I’m told I need to make 4 contributions that fix an issue in production. What if there are not four issues in production in my product? (I’m thinking do I really need to break something in order to have done a good job this review cycle.)

Management: Actually, you just need to suggest four measurable improvements to production.

Me: Ok. Now, I’m even more confused. How do I SUGGEST measurable improvements? Perhaps we have a different idea of the meaning of measurable? (I’m thinking this is even more stupid than I was initially capable of believing.)

Management: What do you think measurable means?

Me: Something that can be measured.

Management: So do you think you’ll be able to meet your goals for this review?

Me: I’m sure I can, but I’m not sure I’ll know that I did. (This got a few laughs from the non-stupids in the room.)

I think this illustrates how important it is not to use words that you don’t understand. I think suggestions are great, and I think measurable improvements are great. However, when you put the two together you end up with one of the most idiotic statements I heard yesterday.

An example might illustrate my point better. Let’s say I suggest that someone should F-OFF (it actually occurred to me yesterday in that meeting). It is possible that if that person were to in fact F-OFF I could measure an outcome or change in state. Further, I might also find that the outcome or change in state is improved over the previous state. I could then say that I took an action that measurably improved the state of affairs. However, the suggestion itself does not have any measurable improvement.

Let’s analyze this one step further. According to my manager I have a goal of suggesting a measurable improvement. I initially assume the intent of a performance goal is to improve the product and have a way of showing how I assisted in that improvement. However, this is completely false. The real intent of this goal is to allow me the opportunity to suggest something that my manager believes to be true, reinforcing his ego and providing further evidence to him that he is deserving of the salary he earns and his place in the world etc. If I could only get better at setting aside my desire to build quality products I could go far in this organization.

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