Sunday, May 21, 2006


Direct Deposit Considered Harmful Part 1: Microcosm

My first full-time job out of school was at a large company. A really large company. At such a large company, you show up for your first day orientation on a Monday morning with 30 or 40 other new hires and everyone learns how to set up direct deposit.

However, my boss Jerry had a habit that I didn't fully understand and appreciate until this week. Usually employees with direct deposit pick up their paycheck envelope in their office mailbox but, of course, it is just a receipt. That's the easy way. It's a lot more efficient to have an assistant do this than to waste a manager's time with delivering these apparently useless envelopes to employees. Jerry didn't see it that way. Each payday, he hand-delivered the envelopes to the team. This important ritual ignores for a moment that we work in this huge hierarchy and Jerry takes the time to openly acknowledge the work associated with the payment. It's like when a shopkeeper receives payment from a customer. In this case, the shopkeeper knows he's helping the customer and there is transparency in the exchange. The shopkeeper is not motivated by money and a boss but by the relationship with his customer.

In Hoover's Vision, Gary Hoover points out:
People need to know that their work matters. Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea continually pointed out to his copy-shop employees that they were helping people announce birthday parties, spread the word on neighborhood festivals, or find their lost dogs. Herb Kelleher reminds the people of Southwest that they are helping people get to graduations, to weddings, to be at the side of loved ones who are sick.
The problem with corporate management was explained by Peter Drucker. He said that salaries "obey the internal logic of the hierarchical structure." Unlike the money earned by the shopkeeper, salaries do not reflect the work that was actually done (merit) or the market. This may be an obvious point.

Next time, we'll deconstruct what's really going on and we'll see what's happening each time a mega-store displaces local businesses. An unholy web of opaque transactions will replace the transparency the community once enjoyed.

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