Friday, July 16, 2010

The Four Letter Word - JUST

Several years ago, I called a meeting with a VP in the company.  My purpose, to eliminate the word "Just" from his vocabulary.  I had reached my limit of his last minute requests that were phrased as follows, "I just need a quick qualifications package." or "It shouldn't take long, it's just a little marketing material." or my favorite, "I've got the tough stuff, you just need to put together the quickie marketing sections."

Is there anything more denegrating than the word just in those sentences?  If it is so easy, why do you need me?

I work at a consulting firm.  That means the sun rises and sets on the billable hour.  So I am in no doubt that those people with engineering or science degrees are crucial to what we do.  However, I'm also convinced the firm needs people with my skills too.  Organizational, communications, marketing, business terms, strategic thinking, etc.  Since the economy has tightened however, it's become obvious that the just word spans beyond tasks into things like compensation and reward. 

At the onset of the real economic crunch the firm made the first step toward defining the classes within the company.  They sent a memo with guidelines on maximum raises.  Technical staff were allowed up to 6%, overhead staff up to 3%.  See the implied "just" there?

Since that time, it's gotten tougher all around and we were told raises are more selective for all staff, regardless of billable or non-billable roles.  But I keep hearing about technical staff getting 5-6% raises when overhead teams are getting nothing or maybe 2% max for high performers. 

In a company of 1,500, the overhead staff totals only about 100, supporting everything from legal, to HR, to marketing and communications, to finance, reproduction, office services, etc.  We are told our overhead costs are high, but if a real analysis is done, we know the overhead overruns are from staff who are supposed to be billable charging overhead, not from fully budgeted overhead positions.

I think I feel the most sympathy for our HR staff. Can you imagine having to justify these practices while being caught in the trap of it yourself? They are overhead positions, they process the raises, they see the difference of value every day. And then they have to go out and sell it to the rest of us managers in the overhead groups as being the right thing to do. 

Why do I write this dangerous little posting?  I don't know.  I think because I'm feeling a little down about giving my hard working staff the news of no/few raises this year.  I think because I'm feeling that as the economy continues to churn and the MERGER continues to merge onward, the just thing is picking up speed.

And when it comes down to it, my team works too hard to feel like it's just the way it is.

1 comment:

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

That was a very articulate explanation--I won't think of the word JUST the same way again.