A recent report on the Jeffrey Preston Bezos‘ supermarket chain reminded me of when the owner of our newspapers hired an MBA efficiency expert, who had to justify his too high pay.
Until then, middle management had perks – use of a shore home for a week, annual merit raises, partnering of budget preparation. Soon, all that ended. Instead, everyone received a piece of paper with spaces and a title: “Time Allocation.”
The sales folks carried their paper with them in the car and at the office, noting their activity for each prior 15 minutes – all day. Whom they saw? What they said? If they sold? Even noting when they had lunch!
My piece of paper was different. The same reporting every 15 minutes, but more detail. Columns for admin, sales, budget, travel, reports, conference, etc. The percentage of time at each of these disciplines was to be recorded. For example:
- Administrative – 22%
- Sales – 17%
- Budgeting – 37%
- Reports – 24%
In addition, the 15 minutes had to be allocated by newspaper – we had 18:
- The Yardley News – 18%
- The Bristol Pilot – 22%
- Roxborough Review – 25%
- Haddon Herald – 18%
- N. E. Breeze – 17%
After a week of this nonsense I began listing 1% for sales, admin and travel categories every day and 1% each for six newspapers. Two more weeks passed. I called the owner:
Joe, nobody is even looking at these reports. This is a joke.
We talked. The reporting turned into once a day. Most of the staff made up the numbers at the end of the week, when they were submitted.. After all, these folks were paid to get results, not writer’s cramp.
Zoom forward to the present and witness Whole Foods, a grocery chain owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world ($115 billion). The bean and corn and celery counters at headquarters have introduced a new inventory management system – Order to Shelf (OTS), which is supposed to use strict procedures to display, purchase and store products.
OTS uses scorecards to make sure stores follow orders from headquarters. This is the one for the Produce Department:
Business Insider interviewed 27 current and former employees and the answers were as expected from humans toiling under such obtuse micromanagement:
“The OTS program is leading to sackings up and down the chain in our region,” said an employee of a Georgia Whole Foods.
We’ve lost team leaders, store team leaders, executive coordinators and even a regional vice president. Many of them have left because they consider OTS to be absurd. As an example, store team leaders are required to complete a 108-point checklist for OTS.
“Every item in our department has a designated spot that is labeled or marked,” an employee of a Colorado Whole Foods store said. “If that item is even an inch outside of its designated spot … we receive negative marks.”
The walks also involve on-the-spot quizzes, in which employees are asked to recite their departments’ sales goals, top-selling items, previous week’s sales, and other information, according to Business Insider, which also reported that failing scores — which qualify as anything below 89.9% — can result in firings, employees said.
Store managers conduct these tests, internally referred to as “walks,” twice weekly, according to the company documents. Corporate employees from Whole Foods’ regional offices carry out their walks once monthly, and finally, stores must pass a walk conducted by executives from Whole Foods’ global headquarters in Austin, Texas.
Execs at Whole Foods contend that OTS has helped them save money because it has improved the inventory system.
A supervisor at a West Coast Whole Foods lamented:
I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about maps and inventory, and when regional leadership is going to come in and see one thing wrong, and fail the team. The stress has created such a tense working environment. Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal.
Recent labor cuts may also be contributing to stress, especially as Bezos seeks payback from the $13.7 billion he paid for the food chain, but nothing excuses absurdity like the following:
“In the beginning, we actually had a checklist where one task was to initial that you initialed off another task,” explained one employee who was involved in OTS training at several East Coast stores.
She added that particular duty was quickly dropped, but it was emblematic of how far the implementation of OTS had gone.