Ask your supervisor about this Tea Makers post

A long time ago Gorblog posted some new hires’ impressions of the CBC:

“I was caught off guard by the extreme bureaucracy and conservatism. As soon as I walked through the doors, I got the sense that I entered a time warp.”

and this:

“I guess for me the biggest difference is the red tape… compared to the smaller places I’ve worked at, there are far more people and steps involved in getting things done.”

Back in the early days of the last century, when the CBC came to life, the prevalent management style was a very top-down one. That is, the boss-man sat like an emperor on top, and all decisions flowed from him.

It was a logical one for many commercial businesses, but even in the early days of the CBC it was recognized as a bad one for the corp. It wasn’t a reasonable model for a creative organization that was trying to reflect the whole of Canada. What was needed was a looser structure that allowed “creatives” to work freely and gave individual stations more of a say in what they put in the air.

You can’t boss artists around, and you can’t tell someone how to best represent their community if you don’t live there.

But while most agreed that the ideal model was light and decentralized, the CBC struggled to implement it. The country was big, for one. The CBC was put on a year-to-year funding model, which necessitated constant lobbying and begging in Ottawa.

So you had a president in “Head Office” in Ottawa deciding policy and liaising with the government, and the vice presidents in Toronto and Montréal deciding on programming for the rest of the country.

Over time, these people ended up isolated from what we’re all about, which is programming. Over time, they became more interested in management and structure than anything else.

This is not necessarily because they are fascists who hate creativity and freedom. It stems from being a crown corporation on a year-to-year Parliamentary budget unable to plan for the long term and unable to borrow money. Self-preservation becomes tantamount. And these managers did what they knew best. Assign more managers.

Now, after decades and decades of this kind of thinking, you end up with a very ass-backwards corporate culture where the product becomes secondary to the management. Creativity becomes stifled because it has to travel through so many layers of bureaucracy.

From downtown Toronto I have no flipping clue what a farmer in Saskatchewan wants to see on TV. But if I were to take a stab at it, I would take a look at statistics. Polls. Ratings. Abstractions, in other words. Programming becomes a bloodless affair.

We’re at the apex of this kind of thinking in the CBC in 2008. Richard Stursberg once told Antonia Zerbisias:

“I don’t pretend that I’m an expert on programming – but I know a thing or two about television. This is fundamentally a managerial challenge.”

You might think that with so many managers on board, the CBC is buzzing with people telling other people what to do. The reality is that most managers are simply caretakers for some kind of corporate asset. Equipment. Buildings. “Content.” People.

And most of the time they’re not allowed to manage. They’re told how to manage. They’re not told to solve a budget shortfall, they’re told to lay off people. There’s a big difference.

And that’s why these new hires feel like they’re in a “time warp.” They are. We’re still stuck in an outdated structure that never worked for us.

And this is why there are so many steps to everything. The answer to most questions is “ask your supervisor.” Your supervisor asks her supervisor and her supervisor asks his supervisor until the problem goes away or someone somewhere makes a decision. But the problem is, once the issue reaches the decisionmaker he or she is so far removed from the original issue that they are dealing in abstracts.

I know some CBC managers are reading this and violently disagreeing. But if you are honest with yourself, and looking at your job objectively, you know that there’s a lot of truth to what I’m saying.

The times that we’re most productive is when we skirt the bureaucracy and get something done. When you make the decision, take the responsibility, call in a favour, and get to the task. Every time you do this, the end product ends up being better and getting done faster. Get good enough at this and they will promote you to management.

We’re drowning in managers. This place squirrels managers away like acorns in all kinds of places. Managers with dubious duties, duties that overlap each other, duties that parallel each other, duties that even contradict one another. There might be another manager with the same job as you in another city, and you wouldn’t even know it.

And as much as you don’t want to hear it, some of them have to be cut. We have to be cut. It’s long overdue and has to be done.

Or sooner or later someone will do it for us.

17 comments:

  1. David
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Sorry to hear you are taking a break but I do understand why.

    As to the layers of management there was briefly a point where, at least in the suburbs of the CBC, there were too few managers. I spent an entire year between meetings. The meeting finally happened when things exploded in our faces due to a total lack of communication.

    However, for 3 or four years prior to that one, when you presented a problem and a potential solution you were asked if you could handle it and received a yeah or nay immediately.

    Now everything is computer controlled and with the return of the levels of little gray men in gray suits at gray desks, only now in Toronto instead of Ottawa, the situation has returned to the way it was in the seventies. Even management can not find out where they stand at any given time. Knowledge is hidden in the bowels of computer red tape which was intended to make everything so easy to understand.

    Very sad.

    Let the slashing begin, hopefully it will result in another period of slightly panicked effectiveness…

  2. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Oh, God…this site still exists? I hadn’t checked it out since the lockout. Glad to see it’s still as vapid as ever. But not as glad as I am that I no longer work at the CBC.

  3. Tod Maffin
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 6:14 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    > not if you believe the rumours
    > about kickbacks in the Dalet
    > contract…

    Speaking from experience, the only kicking that happens around Dalet is physical in nature.
    ;-)

  4. Anonymous
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 11:24 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    anonymous said: “And don’t forget that a significant number of workers are promoted into management to get them out of the union–“

    I’ve noticed two or three situations where this occurs.
    1) the individual in question had designs on management from the beginning and used the union leadership position as an “audition”.
    2) the individual was sincere and effective in their role in union leadership, so management co-opted them to weaken the union.

    The first type of person is despicable. The second type is misguided and foolish.

    Another similar situation occurs just before strikes/lockouts. Skilled union workers are promoted into into pseudo management positions in APS so that they can do the jobs of the locked out people. However, over time they lose their previous skills so a new batch have to be co-opted with the next lockout. You end up with the bloated ranks of management with no portfolio, obsolete skills, no status with the upper management echelons and no respect from the workers.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 7:24 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Two Irish quotes:

    I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. W.B. Yeats (18651939)

    You have broken me all the way down, down upon my knees Song: All the way down, from the Irish movie Once

    Message ends

  6. cbcfrank
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 5:18 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’ve been toying with the idea that the next time we’re asked to suffer a ‘town hall’ at the corp, we should simply railroad it into a shareholder’s meeting. Like that, we can dismember the management.

    It’s the closest we’ll ever come to managerial accountability; the Auditor General is easily cowed and/or ignored. Mind you, were that to happen, we’d NEVER see another corporate-wide info session, not even to announce an imminent bomb explosion or Ebola influenza.

    Also, it would only be the near-retirees who’d have the nerve to speak up. Still, it would do our souls good.

    Any takers?

  7. Anonymous
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 5:13 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “And don’t forget that a significant number of workers are promoted into management to get them out of the union.”

    I want to confess, if even anonymously. This happened to me, just before the 2005 lockout. They wanted to get me out of the union because I handle, well, sensitive information they didn’t want the union knowing about.

    At the time I didn’t recognize the sham for what it was. I was happy to get a promotion. Once I realized what had happened I felt a little ashamed and used. But that was years later.

    And then they wonder why we are still bitter over the lockout. Some of these things didn’t just last for a few weeks, they’re still going on.

    I have to live with this every day.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 4:54 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “not one CBC Manager has ever personally made an extra buck by the decisions he/she has made. “

    Not immediately.

    Great post. The control that communications seems to have on content right now is stunning, and don’t even get me started on new media.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 8:16 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    not one CBC Manager has ever personally made an extra buck by the decisions he/she has made.

    Perhaps. But not if you believe the rumours about kickbacks in the Dalet contract…

  10. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 4:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    While the situation of which you speak seems to be endemic throughout the corporation, it seemed particularly bad in new media where not just creativity was stifled, but even the basic tools required to do a half decent job were hidden behind layers of red tape.

    an ex-cbc exmployee

  11. "The Book of Don"
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 3:21 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    …if I could make one brief point IN DEFENCE of CBC management, having spent thirteen years inside the Corp followed by the better part of 15 years working for a rainbow of private sector networks and independent prodcos its important to keep in mind that not one CBC Manager has ever personally made an extra buck by the decisions he/she has made.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 8:52 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    This was a refreshing comment from the management side; one that I hope to which, all managers will pay heed. But when King Richard consolidated power last month and restructured the management tree, I understood how convoluted the approach was to getting things done. Too many steps in my opinion and too much power for the King, who appears to be accountable to no one. But the culture of management will never admit to change because they’re not in a position to fire themselves even for the good of the corporation. Nice words Tea Maker, but they ring hollow for me. LeonT

  13. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 7:57 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    And don’t forget that a significant number of workers are promoted into management to get them out of the union–so they end up doing much the same work as they did when they were in the Guild…just more of it, with no overtime, and frequently a lower salary.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 7:47 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about – I only have 6 managers…

  15. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 7:05 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “the CBC has become a billion dollar bureaucracy that does nothing”

    I heard someone say that over ten years ago. How prophetic. When “managers” have the time to lounge around in steam-rooms then you know they don’t have enough to do.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 6:36 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Judging from my plant, people are promoted into management to get them out of the way, because they are by far (1) the least knowledgeable about broadcasting, and usually (2) the least competent.

    And how come I have 3 bosses? or 4? No one will take responsibility for anything, unless something goes right, in which case everyone tries to take the credit.

  17. Anonymous
    Posted April 3, 2008 at 6:31 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Bravo!


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