Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Papa Mia! The Vatican Puts its Employees on the Clock

Ever on the lookout for the quirky little business story, last month I saw one on an effort on the part of the Vatican to boost their efficiency by installing a badge swipe system to monitor working hours. (Source: The Telegraph (UK).)

All employees - including the Swiss Guard, but (I'm guessing) not the Pope himself - will now be metaphorically punching in and out using their new electronic badges.

The story itself has a marvelous arc:

Pope John XXIII - the much adored (at least by liberal Catholics) pontiff who pushed the Vatican II reforms - had done away with clocking in and out over 40 years ago. Pope John, who was as progressive as pontiffs go, apparently disliked the system as being inflexible. I wouldn't be surprised if he also thought it detracted from the dignity of the worker, which would have been right up his Vatican alley.

But Pope John XXIII:

...when asked by a journalist how many people worked at the Vatican, famously remarked: "Oh, no more than half of them."

This is, I guess, an admission that they might have had a slight efficiency problem.

In my experience, you don't usually have to keep an eye on most professionals, most of who don't work with an eye on the clock (except when they're doing hourly billing). In my experience, there are exceptions - and the more bureaucratic the workplace, the more exceptions I've found.

Thus, at Wang Labs, I worked in a cube near two fellows who, first thing in the morning, turned on their workstations, hung their suit jackets on the back of their chairs, and headed down to the caf (newspapers in hand) for a leisurely breakfast. These two guys also worked out at lunch, and took a long coffee break in the afternoon. Both of them were in my group, and when our boss would come around looking for one or the other of them, I could honestly say that I didn't know where they were, as I had no first hand proof that at that very moment they were slacking - just a hunch. Plus, ever since kindergarten I've tried not to be a tattle-tale.

At Wang, product managers could, in fact, be anywhere. It was a highly bureaucratic, highly meeting-intensive environment. You could be at a meeting in any of the Wang Towers, or in any of the satellite buildings. Or, of course, if you were a slacker, you could be in the caf.

Things caught up with both of these guys, and they were pink-slipped in one of the many Great Employee Massacres I survived there.

So Pope John XXIII probably had it right that in the vast Vatican bureaucracy, there were probably more than a few slackers.

But slackers, of course, can generally find a way to work around the old punch clock.

It's harder with those stinkin' electronic badges, which you need to get in and out of doors. Every trip to the bathroom or the vending machine can be monitored and timed. No more punching in and roaming around. With the electronic badges, the bosses can really play some gotcha.

And playing gotcha would certainly be more in keeping with the personality of the incumbent Pope, Benedict XVI, who's just a tad more conservative than Good Pope John. (In terms of boss material, you will not be surprised to hear me say that I would rather have worked for John XXIII than for Benedict XVI.)

Benedict XVI has apparently approved the move to magnetic badges.

“It’s to bring about better efficiency, although that can be hard to gauge with the kind of work we do,” a Vatican spokesman said. “I would say we already work very hard here.”

Well, yes, I can imagine that it may seem kind of hard to gauge efficiency with much of the work that they do in the Vatican. Figuring out who to canonize; typing up Papal Bulls and Encyclicals; granting annulments; answering the call for exorcisms. They may look efficiency resistant, but - as with most tasks - if you set you mind to it, you can figure out how to measure things.

But does the Vatican really want to rev up the annulment rate - Ah, Your Excellency, we have processed 32% more American annulments in the last canonical year, without increasing headcount.

Do they want to set up a curve, in which only an explicit number of candidates for sainthood actually make the cut - sort of like how GE rated employees, cutting out the bottom 10 percent every year. Ah, Your Excellency, we have done the annual performance review for all of our Blesseds and Venerables, and we have given top ratings to 5% in each group. We recommend the following posthumous promotions from Venerable to Blessed, and the following posthumous promotions from Blessed to Saint. Because they're all dead, pay scales will not be impacted. (Come to think of it, I bet the Vatican does have some sort of system for weeding out the prospective saints who, to their minds, appear bogus.)

Do they want to restrict encyclicals to a certain number of words or printed pages. Ah, Your Excellency, if you want to run over 24 pages, we'll have to go with pdf's. Or if you're willing to go with Times Roman 8 pt, we can still afford to print.

And what if a priest clocks out for what he thinks is a short lunch break, and some sinner stops him in the street, and the sinner is dying, and he wants to make an extra long last Confession, plus he also wants Extreme Unction (which I liked the sound of so much better than the Anointing of the Sick).... Will the priest be tempted to glance at his watch and say, "Okay, but hurry it up. I'm do back in 10 minutes, or the boss will have my head."

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