Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the boardroom, the consultants are moving in again. We are complete suckers for consultants in this company. They tell us nasty stories about health and safety. They do ergonomic reviews for us. They tell us entirely pointless things about employee engagement. This time, though, it’s the ones who do re-engineering and re-structuring, and various other scary things beginning with ‘re’.  They’ve been brought in by the Higher Beings (our executive team) to re-position us for new markets. Well I don’t know about you, but I don’t need re-positioning thank you very much. I’m quite comfortable where I am.

It has turned out to be a much bigger project than I feared. The consultants are going round interviewing (interrogating) every single department in the company. Their HR expert is Nathan and I’ve already spent two days with him, two very long days. I wouldn’t mind but he’s not even good looking. He looks like some sort of science professor and has the brain to match. He can’t speak normal English; he is far too clever for that. His vocabulary is limited to words of at least four syllables. I’ve also noticed that, like many other Americans, he likes words ending in ‘ized’. He keeps pontificating about how things could be optimized, globalized, and then systematized or synchronized. Frankly, I just feel scrutinised and even perhaps, marginalised.

I have had to tell him in ghastly detail about every aspect of my job, from the largely-fictional policy and plan design I put on my CV, right down to the mundane query management and admin tasks that make up most of my day. Just talking about this stuff bores me silly. And it makes me nervous. Really nervous. No-one is going to want to know all this nitty-gritty unless they want to take it over or change it in some substantially unpleasant way. Re-organisation seems inevitable. I may grumble about the daily grind, but for all that, I’m not ready to stop grinding.

I decide to have a word with my manager about my concerns, after all, that’s what he is there for. A chat with Big Bad Boss isn’t something I seek out in the normal course of business, so you get the gist of how worried I am about it all. Unusually, Big Bad Boss is most understanding, sympathetic even. It seems he feels just the same. In fact, he tells me he caught a glimpse of an organisation chart that didn’t even have his name on it. That’s reassuring then.

My colleague, Lazy Susan, doesn’t seem too bothered by all the fuss, but then it only took her fifteen minutes to describe her workload to Nathan. Actually, I’m surprised she managed to drag it out for that long. I’m sure she didn’t tell him about the personal phone calls or the internet surfing that she really does for most of the day. Nor does she seem to have grasped the sinister significance of his line of questioning, but then reasoning is not exactly her strong point. I overheard her asking Nathan if he was an auditor. Bless.  

At last, announcement day arrives, and we get to hear what this re-positioning nonsense is all about. The entire HR department is crammed into the boardroom with a selection of boffins from the firm of consultants including Nathan. There is a sharp tang of anticipation and fear in the air. Even Big Bad Boss looks a bit sweaty. As the consultants prattle through their presentation, I play Buzzword Bingo in order to take my mind off the worst. To play this game, all you need to do is track any annoying jargon or consultant-speak, such as ‘added-value’ and ‘strategic fit’. You score twenty points if they say the same annoying thing five times and you score bonus points for any Latin word, or any phrase which doesn’t actually mean anything to a normal person. The time flies by in meetings, I can tell you.

Scribbling in my notebook, it looks like I am keenly taking notes. In fact, I am recording a personal best, with 374 points on buzzword bingo. I might even get to 400 points at this rate. The upshot of all their dodgy consulting clichés is finally revealed on slide 50 of the presentation. It shows a neat little project plan, at the end of which the learning and development department is outsourced to a vendor in India. Sidney, who heads up L&D, goes a funny colour, and this is clearly the first he knows of any such change.

Now, if I were going to wish outsourcing on anyone it would probably be the smugly-superior Sidney as I’ve never liked him anyway, but I still think the company could have handled this a tiny bit more sensitively. The consultant boys ask if we have questions. I suspect the L&D department has rather a lot of questions. What about outplacement? What about severance payments? They might also want specific dates for new career planning, but it seems now is not the time for such minutiae (375 points). This is about re-positioning for a new global marketplace (376 20 points for re-positioning yet again). At least the compensation and benefits department seems to have survived to calculate another bonus payout.

Other, slightly less exciting, recommendations from the boys with brains are: to manage down reciprocal overheads (397 points), drive integration of strategic new business (398) and foster high organisational productivity (399). Honestly, I think we could triple our profitability if we didn’t keep paying consultants to tell us the blindingly obvious quite so bewilderingly. Bingo.

Next time … Candid gets to grip with India

Confessions of a benefits manager – May 2007