Friday, August 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, Rest in Peace

A good manager has to get to know her employees without getting too familiar. This is a challenge. Temp employees present a different dilema. It is harder to get to know them if you really want to, because you may not keep them. I learned yesterday AB and her nephew shared a birthday. For 18 years, they had a special bond. Now her birthday will be a reminder of his brief stay on this earth. Sigh. He lives in a neighborhood that is and has been a war zone. Running drugs, carrying guns are commonplace. Most of the boys do not expect to live past 18. Some have never been out of their neighborhood until they make their first and only limo ride to their grave. Where are their parents? Strung out on drugs, in jail or worse, dead. The ones that make it out alive move to another neighborhood or city.

This urban problem has spilled into the workplace, which is truly a microcosim of society. Front-line managers and human resouce pros have to assist the employee family members dealing with the collateral damage that comes with living with these issues. Your workplace becomes their refuge.

If you listen to the ones who got out, these kids see these drug dealers riding in nice vehicles, wearing nice clothes and caring a ton of cash. By the time they are 13 these kids know where to obtain the arms and drugs. 13!!

The managers of these organizations reach out to the kids because if busted, they will end up in juvey. The busted child is replaced within minutes. Can you replace staff that quickly and seamlessly? I can't. If only those organizational skills were put to use for something legal. Think about it: they have an organization chart, clear-cut division of labor, marked territories, sales, distribution and of course, collections. A legal team is on call to care of any problems that may arise. They are schooled never to sample the product.

I guess the next question is, why not legalize the drugs and have the government regulate it, like it does with alcohol and cigarettes?

It has been determined that substance abuse is a disease. It should be treated as such. Those underage who chose to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes manage to get their hands on it. Suburbanites have the healthcare coverage or have jobs that provide employee assistance programs. Mel Gibson lost his mind on alcohol. His handlers got him a good attorney and put his backside in a rehab clinic. What happens to the poor? Do not pass go, go directly to jail.

The music videos are not helpful. Those wannabe rappers live in multi-million dollar gated communities. Most of them had mundane childhoods and are making money and presenting a facade to the impressionable youth. You would think with the deaths of Tupac and Biggie Smalls they would connect the dots. These young musicians have a responsibilty to their customers. But their target market is off mimicking what they see in these videos. Not a good marketing strategy.

By decriminalizing this issue, you will shut down an industry. You can set up a counter in the stores where you can buy alcohol, you will be subjected to carding. The taxes made off of the product would be used to rehab those who want to deal with the problems that led them to become an addict in the first place.

Do you buy AB cake - or a case of tissues?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

'May I leave early?'

Yesterday, one of my temporary employees was desperately trying to get my attention. She's one of my lower-maintenance employees, so when she stuck her head in the third time, I knew there was a problem.

AB has been with my company for about six months. As with most temps, she's working in this capacity because she has a host of family problems. Blessedly, her chronically ill father finally passed, relieving her of the daily burden/drama of Code Blues. She's the responsible member of the family - therefore, she's always on call. In the past two months, her life had settled down and she was taking the necessary steps of returning to school for nursing.

Her return to normalcy was interrupted with the shooting death of her nephew.

Far too many of our black men are lost to violence. Disputes used to be resolved verbally or worst-case scenario, a brief fistfight. Now arguments are resolved permanently. A generation of black men has been and continues to be destroyed by violence.

The women are left to pick up the pieces of the shattered family. Children are the biggest victims in this Shakespearean tragedy being playing out in our urban communities. The death took place in the city but the ramifications spill over into the suburban workplace. I don't know the details surrounding the death of this young man - he was either in the middle of a situation gone horribly wrong or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Most people look away or ask the dreaded question, "What did he do to deserve it?" Both reactions are common and very sad. The violent act and society's response are equally unacceptable. This just rips at my spirit. To think it doesn't ripple through all communities is absurd and naive. Those who can run from the cities and live in gated communities. Isn't creating your own little prison? As "those people" move into the suburbs, white folks move further out.

I grew up in a rural blue-collar black community. My parents and the other adults in the neighborhood went to work every day. My parents were involved in the church, PTA and the civil rights movement. The lawns were well groomed. My brothers and I were advised early and often that God, education and hard work were necessities to survive in the white world. We were told that we would have to be better than our white counterparts to even get an opportunity to compete. To expect fair treatment was to ensure disappointment. My parents fought for us to be respected and get a decent education in a school where blacks represented seven percent of the population. This administration's "No Child Left Behind" has focused on test taking AND is chronically underfunded.

I point this out because I didn't grow up in an urban setting. I cannot begin to understand how a generation can be so lost. Could it be that in this day and age of political correctness, the bar is lower and kids are not being given a decent education? This, compounded with the lack of decent paying jobs available once the basics of education are achieved?

In this global economy, India and Pakistan's middle class has grown at the expense of America's.

Why are black men so angry? How would you feel if you are walking down the street and a white person not so discreetly crossed? How would you feel if you are followed around in a store? How would you feel when you are driving a nice car and you are pulled over for no reason? How would you feel if you are in a restaurant with a white employee and the waitstaff addresses them and hands them the check? (If you are even seated in a timely manner.)

What about petty crime? A white kid's parents are called and he's released with a smack on the wrist, the whole incident dismissed as "growing pains". A black youth in the same situation is channeled into the criminal justice situation. How about lack of mentors in the workplace? White men reach out to the men who look like them and show them the ropes. Black men are pushed into a corner because there is this underlying fear that their wives, girlfriends and daughters may want to have sex with them. (Don't believe me? I have had bosses dumb enough to share their thoughts and fears with me. Nice.)

These are activities of daily living that white people take for granted. If you were treated this way, wouldn't you be angry?

I have had white men fall all over themselves to share their wisdom. Whatever their motivation, it has helped me get to a place where I can develop people who look like me.

The good news is that in my little corner of the world, there is a group of black men who are stepping up and returning to these communities to try to save these men. It will be the grassroots campaign that is underreported by our "liberal media"
that may save these men and the community.

What can you do? The next time you see a black man on the street, make eye contact and say hello. Keep AB in your prayers. It's a start.

Monday, August 21, 2006

New Beginnings

Welcome to my blog. The purpose is to share the insanity - the frustrations and joy that take place in my work environment & life on this lovely planet. The management initiatives that I have to implement are absurd. My clients are just mean. Most are mid-level risk managers who no doubt are treated like crap, so I guess it is the "kick the dog" dynamic. The most important part of my job is staff development. It is very challenging and rewarding, but it requires a lot of patience.

My staff are a diverse gang: socially, economically, ethnically and age-wise. The one thing they have in common is a constant need for validation - and they all experience hot flashes or PMS at the same time. The boys suddenly have client visits when they see the commercial size bag of Lays potato chips and the Hershey kisses in the employee breakroom. The boys make up the core of the sales force. Tall, good looking, very insecure but make lots of money. Whatever they promise the clients, the operations/claims team has to figure out how to deliver it. (Or convince the clients that they really bought something else.)

I report directly to the President of my division. He is my third boss in four years.

All three had different management styles which has resulted in psychological whiplash for me and my remaining staff. My current management team has embraced the accounting concept of EBITDA or earnings before the bad stuff. It's all bullshit. The current initiative is the remodeling of our regional office. Anytime you can spent $200,000 on renovations but can't part with $20,000 for salary increases is just nonsense.

I will have this lovely office and I will be in it alone. Because the staff, if they have half a brain, will seek employment elsewhere. What we do has yet to be outsourced overseas.

Insurance is the one service that you pay for it and have to fight like hell to get your claims processed. Nice. Claim adjusters are the red-headed stepchildren. WHY? We are the product/cost center. We pay claims, we spend the money. The only folks lower on the food chain are underwriters. They are the poor slobs who recommend what customers to write. Unfortunately for them, customers who have no claims prior to the company writing the program always have an employee who falls asleep at the wheel and drives over a family of six who are on their way to church. When that claim is sent up the dreaded flagpole, Upper Management's response isn't "What a shame," but "What bastard wrote that account?"

Burnout is a common occurrence in my field, so hobbies are mandatory. I confess I am a pathetic Eagles fan. The Eagles are not even worthy of a curse. The Eagles have broken my heart for a very long time. But my friends know where to find me on Sunday afternoons. Like a lover who is not good for me, I keep returning. My prediction for the upcoming season: 10-6.

Politics and history are passions of mine. I earned my B.A. in history/political science. (A perfect foundation for a career in insurance.) This passion and the lack of leadership in D.C. has led me to get involved politically. I have adopted a couple of progressive candidates: Lamont,Sestak, Ford, P Murphy and L Murphy. I have and will continue to give them time and money.

The most important role I play in life is that of Citizen. If I slack on in this role, nothing else matters.

Your comments and indulgence are welcome.