by Mike Crawmer
Working in a company where “no” is a four-letter word forces one to be creative when faced with an impossible request.
Ten years ago, when my department numbered 13 (editors, assistant editors, proofreader and administrative assistant), I helped create a writing workshop. The workshop was offered as a follow up to our in-house proofreading and editing workshops.
Teaching the basics of proofreading is possible, even fun. But teaching people how to write in a six-hour workshop—yeah, right! But logic isn’t a valid argument when put against the dreaded “performance plan.” Mine that year included “co-facilitating a writing workshop” as a “development goal.” Management let us add a half day to the writing workshop, and it went on. We got good ratings, and plans were made for running it annually.
Corporate dictates have a way of changing, however, especially after a major downturn in the business. The following year—1999—was just such a year. Our staff was cut to four. The writing workshop became history. I stashed the course materials in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet, awaiting the day when I could give them a much-deserved burial.
As anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy knows, nothing ever really dies. Last month the manager of a technical department—urged on by one of his “team members” who recalled the writing workshop fondly—decided his staff (all 33 of them!) needed to attend the writing workshop.
His vision for the workshop was, well, expansive. Here’s his response to my e-mail question, What are your expectations? “That each member of TSS understands what goes into a professional communication, particularly in the new ‘one global company’ paradigm; that every member of TSS is equipped to produce professional business e-mails relating to their daily tasks, and basic technical documentation related to their areas of expertise; and that those who are already capable of these tasks may develop the ability to craft announcements and notices for general consumption.”
“One global company paradigm”? What in Hades is that supposed to mean? Technical documentation? I don’t think so. Technical editing is a craft for which I have no interest or inclination.
He did throw us a bone in his final comment (typed in red and italics): “It is worth emphasizing that we do not need to train for our staff to write lengthy texts that are persuasive, entertaining, or deeply descriptive.”
Oh, good, that’ll save us some time.
I spent a week devising a response to this manager. In essence I told him we could dish up burgers and fries in our Workshop Diner but we weren’t willing to serve a five-course gourmet dinner at Chez Editois.
I’m still waiting for his response.