Saturday, May 14, 2011

The WSM Employee Survey -- Total Transparency? [Part Three]

And it gets better. The process that the WSM corporate office have designed for considering the results of the WSM Employee Survey make George W. Bush look like the model of inclusiveness and Muammar Gaddafi, a bleeding-heart, progressive democrat. Sigh ...

A mate from Produce told me a couple of days ago that there will be two one-hour meetings in the Southern Village store next week to read and then provide feedback on the Survey results, just before the results are summarily taken away.

Eventually, I found a small notice to such effect, right above the timeclock. You probably have the same in your Unit. But no missive in my mailbox. No personal announcement in my department. Why do I get the feeling that real discussion is being avoided and suppressed?

I wrote an e-mail to the WSM Human Resources Manager. I got a response. This is all a delicate matter. I have made certain promises, which I set out below. So, I am publishing my two replies to her response, but not her response, because I do not yet have her permission.

Notwithstanding that, I think my replies are self-explanatory. By the by, all of this follows exchanges I had with the WSM General Manager (Ruffin Slater) and a meeting I had with the WSM Human Resources Manager, as a consequence of which I felt I had been assured there would be a meaningful process of full publication, full discussion and full inclusion of worker input in the formulation of Action Plans. Sigh. More fool me. Anyway. Letter 1:

"I am writing to you because you and I met to discuss the process of publishing the Employee Survey results, allowing sensible discussion of them by employees, and then fully including employees in the formation of any consequential Action Plans. I am using this e-mail exchange as the base for this current e-mail since it pertains to answers proffered by Ruffin.

I have heard from fellow workers in both Carrboro and Southern Village that the Employee Survey results will be available next week. Indeed, I have heard that there will be some sort of meeting. Frankly, what I am hearing is a little disturbing, and is not consonant with what you and I discussed, and is certainly not in accord with co-op policy as it relates to openness and inclusion in decision-making. After all, this Survey is the property of all employees, not just a few.

But, rather than deal with rumor, I thought I would ask you:

1) Will I receive a copy of the results, sufficiently in advance of any discussion, that I may be able to make meaningful contribution to any discussion? If not, why not?

2) What are these meetings I am hearing about, how will they work, and what follows?

All the best,

Letter 2:

"Thank you for taking the time to respond so fully. I am not in disagreement with your overall approach, save for a few matters:

1) I use as the premise for my commentary the normal decision-making process in the Employee Handbook. Generally this involves Ruffin, or an equivalent, sending out a position paper and requesting feedback; feedback coming in; and Ruffin or the someone making a decision based on the feedback. This is not very democratic. I've said so before. Ruffin's answer has been that, in financial matters, he has to have the final say. We could argue that one. I have. But not today. In this instance, we have a process that, in its widest sense, is dealing not so much with financial matters as with social. The social impact of the business of the co-op on employees. I would expect to see some movement away from the strict 'Ruffin decides' approach, and more demonstration of democracy. To be honest, there is some movement. But I am still concerned that, at the end of the day, employees feel that concerns they have expressed (and I am pretty certain some were expressed) are going to be addressed. That is a balance thing, and I hope you will keep an open mind as we go along.

2) You have addressed a major concern of mine about this process. Namely, whether I will have enough time to digest the results. Having thought about it a bit, there really is no way of addressing the concerns of those who have made comments other than by keeping results on premises. But I do not like the corollary, which is that this creates a potential inequality of contribution to the formulation of Action Plans. As it stands, on paid time, managers will see the results longer than me and other ordinary employees, and the corporate office will see the results more than managers. This is not equitable. You offer me and others the opportunity to view the results further. But when? How? On whose time? Why does, say, Ruffin get to make contribution to the Action Plans on co-op time, and not me and other ordinary employees?

3) Once again, a process has been designed that has major impact on employees that employees had no hand in designing. Would it have been so difficult to ask, at the beginning of this year, for volunteers to sit on a committee to devise this process alongside the corporate office? All it does is further the notion of 'them' and 'us.'

4) I get the points about confidentiality and sharing one Unit's information with another before the other Unit has seen their own stuff. But we have a real opportunity here for genuine, open conversation and a chance to get us all on the same page. Can we please include in this process, much of which is still unannounced, the opportunity for the whole co-op to see what the rest of the co-op is discussing (I'm not talking the original surveys here, or even the results, but the draft Action Plans), before those Action Plans become set in stone?

5) The process of informing me of what is going to happen next week did not work well. It does not work well when I learn more from a mate standing in line at Red Box than I do from my own co-op's communication structures. You want to know why I have created and use my own pathways of communication? This is why. Sorry. But it's true. I have e-mails from two people asking ME what is going on.

6) There may be typo's in this e-mail. I apologize. I am writing this on my time, before I work. And there is something wrong with that. My work, and that of others, on helping us to become more co-operative goes unpaid and unacknowledged, what, because the corporate office doesn't like it?

7) You asked me not to post the results of the Employee Survey on my blog. I am a man of my word. I will not. I get this may restrict some employees in their commentary. I will also not post your e-mail to me. But I will post my responses. I think it fair other employees know my view on the transparency and inclusiveness of this process.

All the best,

Letter 3:

"I am now on my work break, and I have a few further thoughts.

A) You mention what we discussed. I am bound to say I came away with the impression that the copies of the results of the multiple choice questions (which had been made anonymous and 'safe') were going to be given to each employee. The comments (at that time) occupied about 68 pages. For reasons of cost and confidentiality, comments would be available for employees to read, but not to take away. This would happen well in advance of any meetings to discuss (certainly, not AT the same meetings). There would be in order, department meetings, store meetings and possibly (at long last) a co-op meeting. Discussions would lead to draft Action Plans, which would then make their way through much the same process of wide publication and discussion by meeting format.

I review the exchange with Ruffin and recall my conversation with you. I think I was very plain about wanting a process that was truly open, transparent and inclusive. That allowed the widest opportunity for employees to consider their thoughts and then make contributions that they could compare with others, and see be included in Action Plans. There is no way that a one-hour 'look 'n grab' meeting can possibly be confused with what I was setting out with you, or with Ruffin. I really do believe a better job could have been done of explaining the fact that the process was by no means going to be as inclusive as the one I was looking at, nor the one I think a co-op should engage in, as Board Policy on decision-making demands.

B) Going forward, I am less interested in whether the process has been perfect to date, and more concerned that, from here on in, especially as regards feedback and formulation of Action Plans, there is the greatest possible dissemination of collective feedback and suggestion, and the widest possible meaningful inclusion of personnel in the process and of suggestions in the final Action Plans.

I'll be blunt. For some five years now, senior managers, the corporate office and the Board of WSM have affected the notion that my voiced concerns that employees were unhappy was simply a figment of my imagination. From what I've been told (and it is limited) of the results to the Employee Survey, that notion is about to find vindication. It would have found vindication earlier, in my opinion, if there had been more collegiality of communication within WSM. More meetings, and more of them where employees could listen to each other in the safety of numbers.

This is not about me. The point is, please let us not now miss the opportunity of addressing the very genuine unhappiness of our employees by not having the widest possible collegiality of communication with regards to discussing the Employee Survey results, and then formulating Action Plans. These Survey results are the property of all the employees of WSM, not just a select few.

It would be a shame if the only collegiality of communication were to be found in those pathways of communication that I offer. That's not my job. On this last point, if it helps, when the Elections Task Force met in 2008, we created an unofficial WSM Forum, available to be adopted by WSM, to allow stakeholders to hold open discussions on matters of mutual interest. That Forum remains available to assist in the discussions that are consequential upon publication of the Employee Survey results. If you want.

All the best,

[To pick up on the Forum point, in 2008, a couple of consumer-owners on the WSM Elections Task Force, on which I served, and which re-designed the WSM Board Elections, created a WSM Forum. We all wanted more communication and conversation within our co-op (still do), and we thought a Forum would help. We asked the WSM Board and corporate office to adopt it, and to link it to the WSM web-site. Nada. Yet more sighing.]

Anyway, to the issue in hand. Fellow workers, you have the power to make this Survey work for you. You have the power finally to demand a real voice in the affairs of your co-op.

I) Demand a proper opportunity to digest the Employee Survey results.

II) Demand a proper opportunity to offer considered feedback.

III) Demand a proper opportunity to be fully engaged in the formulation of Action Plans.

If you don't get involved in the demanding, then you have no-one to blame but yourselves when Action Plans are forthcoming which bear no relation to your real and expressed concerns.