Monday, April 13, 2009

Managing is a pain; why i hate reviews 2b

Reviews make manifest a fundamental conflict between two systems of value: one value-system that depends on money and one that doesn’t, let's call it social value .

Managers want and to some degree need (and need to believe that) their bond with their staff extends beyond wages for labor. And in most of cases, this is true; we all work harder for people we like and respect and there are all kinds of concessions and non-financially motivated agreements made on both sides of the relationship in the course of any workweek, if not workday. We all say that we don’t work “for” money in and of itself. Also true. Money is necessary but, again for most of us lucky enough to have choices, not sufficient to keep us in a given job.

And yet, at the same time, the relationship is fundamentally founded on and maintained by money, It’s not like we’d care about the welfare of our staffs, or even ever met them if we hadn’t hired them. And most of the employees, many of whom we liked a whole lot, and valued as employees, pretty much disappeared from our lives after they moved onto other jobs. Not because we were all pissed off, or hated them but because, we had lots of other things to do. ( I know there are exceptions to this rule, but if you are a manager for any length of time, you end up with dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of people passing through your P&L and very few continue to be close friends after they move on.)

So most of the time this conflict between a social and financial relationship isn’t that hard to reconcile. We both know we work for money and more than money. Or in Zizek’s phrase, describing how ideological frameworks work in society, we know we work for money but act as if we don’t.

That’s partially because humans are social beings and like other people to like us. And partially because, in the office, people are mostly visible and money largely isn’t. Money is invisible in both a superficial and deep way. Superficially, we just don’t see it. I mean, it’s not like our manager goes around handing out wads of cash. For most of us, it goes right into our bank accounts. At most, we get those receipts in sealed envelopes left on our desks by administrators.

The deep way money is invisible is of course the fact most or our salaries are a secret. The vast majority of us have no idea what anyone makes, unless they work for us. This isn’t some accident or social nicety, though we like to relegate it to the category of etiquette to sanitize it further from its troubling implications.

Keeping our salaries a secret is a fundamental constitutive fact of our professional lives. It would take a whole other post to explain why and I haven’t even gotten back to reviews yet. The controversy, however, is worth further exploration. If you explore the subject online, you'll get a lot of Utopian claims for transparency from consultants.. The claims all make sense from a rationalized cost-benefit perspective and make almost no sense at all from the context of real experience involving real people, let alone real people work in an increasingly competitive capitalist society Here’s one. And then back to why I hate reviews tomorrow or the next day.


tillypick said...

you had me at "i hate reviews", but then you lost me.

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