The first time I heard of Quantum Services was over a year ago when one of the Wilson Farms district managers (they call them “supervisors”) decided that he was going to try Quantum in some of his stores. Quantum specializes in convenience and gas station stores. It seems that Quantum Services must do a decent job since, as far as I know, they still inventory all the stores that RGIS used to inventory. Based on Quantum’s website their focus is very different from RGIS. They found a niche and they sticking with it. Based on what I have heard, the promise of accuracy isn’t an empty one. If you believe their website, they pay their employees better than RGIS and manage to have better benefits.
Well, I’ve not posted about my employer the multi-national inventory service, RGIS, LLC, for quite some time. What could I say except “same shit, different day” ?
Since pay has been “standardised” under the P4 “Count or Die” policy, I’ve come to realise that running stores efficiently and effectively does not benefit me. If a fuck-up teamleader takes 4 hours to do an inventory and I take 3 hours to do an inventory, which one of us makes more money? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not me. Several of my “peers” milk the clock to compensate. But, as for me, homey don’t play that. I do it for real or I don’t do it at all. Which is why I decided that I don’t want to run inventories anymore.
I first mentioned my desire to stop running stores around Halloween to my area manager. It was the first time I’ve ever seen him shocked. He talked me into continuing to stores on a reduced schedule in November and December. I think he was hoping I would change my mind. Well, I talked to him on the phone on Monday and he said that he would think about it and that we should meet face to face today. Much to my surprise, he didn’t try to talk me out of it when we met today.
I feel a whole lot better.
Last week, I got an email from the RGIS corporate gods that included this tidbit of information:
On June 27, 2009 the Average Per Hour (APH) Standards will be raised in several of our accounts. More than half of our teams are already operating at levels that meet or exceed the “New” APH Standards, so raising the Standard may have little effect on you.
In other words, if you were a good little RGIS inventory counter, worked your ass off and met your aph goal -TOO FUCKING BAD! Starting June 27, it’s probably not good enough anymore.
Apparently, not enough of us sucked at meeting our aph goals; so instead thanking us for making the company even more profitable by meeting or exceeding productivity goals, we are being set up for failure again. If aph goals are a moving target, it doesn’t really matter how fast we count. We will never be fast enough. We will suck again.
Apparently, the corporate gods have realized that they need to give lip service to accuracy:
As we strive to execute at higher levels, we must never jeopardize accuracy or customerservice in the name of productivity!
“Oh, gosh, store manager, I can’t image why our inventory counters didn’t give you a good count. We told them never to jeopardize accuracy.”
I tell myself that I am lucky to still have a job. But some days, I’m not sure I really believe that.
Well, we got back to Buffalo Tuesday night. The Lovely Lettuce and I really enjoyed our 6 day ‘oliday in the Motor City. Although, if one wants to be technical, our ‘oliday was Southfield, MI since that is where we slept. Perhaps our ‘oliday will inspire me to post about something other than the joys of working for RGIS. Just for the record, I must tell you that I resisted the urge to drive to the RGIS World Headquarters and fart in their general direction.
We loved the Henry Ford (Museum and Greenfield Village), the Detroit Insitute of Arts and Detroit and Toledo Zoos. We visited lots of neighborhoods from my past and found that some of them were for all practical purposes gone.
Dining in the Motor City and Environs was a culinary adventure. The Lovely Lettuce had what she called the “best veggie burger I ever had” at a restaurant called Sweet Loriannes. We both loved the veggie meatloaf there as well. We found out that beets and feta cheese are a tasty combination at a restaurant in Greektown called the Golden Fleece.
There was a lot of stuff to blog about. Hopefully, I’ll get around to it.
Our district has finally gotten around to distributing the March 2009 Team Member Handbook. In order to continue my employment with RGIS, I have to sign the “RGIS Team Member Handbook: Acknowledgement of Receipt” form. The Cliff Note Version: RGIS can do whatever they want and I can’t do a damn thing about it.
Fear and Loathing = Productivity
The form starts out reminding me that I can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason. New York is an “at will” state so this isn’t really a surprise. But most employers don’t remind employees that they can be terminated at any time when they distribute a new employee manual. Since productivity is job one, someone at RGIS must think that fear & loathing will increase productivity.
Policies and Procedures
Legally even in at will states, one could sue for wrongful termination if one could prove that the employer did not follow their own employment policies and procedures. Well, RGIS has plugged that loophole.
I understand that RGIS may change, modify, suspend, interpret or cancel, in whole or part, any of the published or unpublished personnel policies or practices, with or without notice, at its sole discretion.
Basically, RGIS has just informed me that I can’t rely on anything I read in the Team Member Handbook. Policies and procedures don’t really mean very much if they can be changed at any time without notice. The power is entirely in the hands of RGIS. And they want you to know it. Perhaps I should admire their honesty. Most employers pretend to be benign even if they aren’t. On the other hand, RGIS says “hi, we just want to make sure that you know that we can screw you over at any time we feel like it and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Apologies to Tesco Vee and the Meatmen for the title of this post
Top Gun: Top Guns are our fastest and most experienced counters and are placed in areas such as checkout or areas that require advanced counting speed and accuracy. Top Guns are everything that RGIS stands for and are the “cream of the crop”. A Top Gun’s professionalism and skills represent the best we have to offer.
—ASET (Auditor, Specialist, Expert, Top Gun) skill level definition
That’s what they want everyone – both clients and employees – to believe. Conflict of interest notice: I used to be a Top Gun under the old standards. So you may want to take what I say with a grain of salt. On the other hand, inventory supervisors are told to “protect the five”. This means that the five best counters in an inventory are to be given areas to count that will help them maintain their average per hour (aph) status.
This isn’t a rant against the remaining 3 Tops Guns in our district. They are certain among the fastest counters in our district and deserve to be Top Guns. But even they have trouble attaining Top Gun aph’s in some inventories. And that brings us full circle to “protect the five.” Some stuff is just plain easier to count. Other stuff is hard to count and no one can sustain a Top Gun aph counting it. In a big box store inventory we did last week, one of our Top Guns was counting around 450 pieces per hour instead of the 1040 pieces per hour required of him as a Top Gun. Was he slacking? No, the problem was lack of preparation by the store. When 20% of the merchandise doesn’t have tags or bar-codes that scan, productivity suffers. When the racks are so full that you have to remove merchandise from the rack to be able to count it, productivity suffers.
This is why “protect the five” is needed. If Top Guns weren’t protected, eventually they would no longer be Top Guns under the new productivity standards.
So the end result is a two class system – Top Guns and everyone else. Since the Top Guns get to count the high aph areas in every store, it is very hard (and frequently impossible) for anyone else to achieve Top Gun level aph’s counting the merchandise they are assigned to inventory. Some people get around this by doing a bit of cherry-picking themselves and risking the wrath of the inventory supervisor. There is no team in RGIS anymore, it’s every man for himself. You have to protect yourself when you are prevented from achieving a higher aph by company policy.
Today, the thought crossed my mind that it really doesn’t matter if RGIS loses clients over the next several years. RGIS, LLC is owned by the Blackstone Group, a private equity and mergers and acquisitions company. If RGIS can demonstrate significantly better profitability for a couple of quarters, it becomes a much more attractive company to sell. The Blackstone Group isn’t in for the long haul but, of course, in the short haul, the increased profits are nice.
Given the push for productivity and the pay cuts that were effect on April 25, 2009 in our district (and I assume our division), RGIS is already showing significant increases in profit.
Today, I was at a big box store inventory with around 40 of my fellow employees. One of them and I guesstimated that given who was at this inventory, the average labor cost was reduced by approximately $2.00 per hour per auditor. Unfortunately for everyone involved the store was an absolute mess (but that is a subject for another post) and productivity did not rear its handsome head. Even the “Top Guns” were counting at the “Auditors” level.
I reckon because of the reduced labor cost all was not lost despite the 10 hour length of the inventory. I think there were 40 auditors for about 6 hours at the inventory (40 x 6 x $2 = $480 savings) and about 30 for the next 4 (30 x 4 x $2 = $240) for a total labor savings of $720 for this inventory. It is possible that the labor cost savings could even greater than that because it is possible that overall we were more efficient this time because of the “Count or Die” program.
Unhappy But Productive
There is not much joy and happiness at inventories since the rollout of the productivity pay in our district. It seems that most of my fellow employees are pissed off or scared or both. Most have taken “Count or Die” to heart. Many are actively looking for new employment. A few have just given up.
Batching is Good
Since the advent of scanning bar codes, batching (scanning one item ten times and assuming they are all the same instead of scanning each of ten items once to ensure UPC/SKU integrity) has been a bit problematic. In some inventories, people have been kicked out for batching. Lately, it seems that everyone except me (and the inventory integrity monkey on my back) has been batching to achieve a higher average per hour (aph). Unofficially, we are encouraged to batch as long as we are not caught.
Most of the time batching causes no problems because like items all have the same UPC/SKU. But some RGIS clients pay extra to have every single UPC/SKU scanned. My guess is that at some point, inventories will have to be retaken because the client paid for “no batching” and RGIS personnel got caught batching. If it happens often enough, RGIS will lose clients.
The Genius Part
“Accuracy is our primary concern” is stil the motto. RGIS, as a corporation, can always blame rogue employees be they managers or inventory counters for any problems with accuracy. I suspect at some point, someone will get fired to apease a client. “Yes, we fired the person responsible for messing up your inventory.”
The Inventory Integrity Monkey on my Back
When I started with RGIS in the early 1990s in Asheville, NC and then Knoxville, TN, the most important thing was definitely accuracy. Yes, productivity mattered. But so did accuracy. If you couldn’t be fast, you were expected to be 100% accurate. It was a trade-off between speed and accuracy. Some people were super-fast. Some people were super-accurate. Most people were neither.
Ironically enough, as the RGIS procedures and software becomes more and more sophisticated to ensure accuracy, inventory counters feel more comfortable to go fast with errors because they assume the errors will be caught by the software and recount procedures. So it’s a win-win for an inventory counter, someone else will fix it and their own aph won’t suffer. Unofficially, this is encouraged.
For umpteen years, 100% accuracy was the most important thing at RGIS. Nowadays, we strive for “good enough.” We strive to as accurate as the error rate requires us to be. People who strive to be 100% accurate are ridiculed for being stupid and not understanding the new RGIS. I suspect at some point, “good enough” won’t be good enough.
It seems that not everyone in our district is pleased with getting their pay cut. A couple of 20 year veterans have quit. I also suspect that I’m running an inventory because the teamleader scheduled for it quit. He told me a couple of months that the next they cut his pay, he’s gone. Perhaps I’m assuming facts not in evidence, but I don’t think so. Update: apparently, I was assuming facts not in evidence
I’m not a very social person. I’m a bit of a recluse. So I reckon if I know about 3 2 people, there has to be more.
Another co-worker with about 30 years of experience told me that he isn’t quitting “because that is what they want him to do.” He openly talked to me about monkeywrenching an inventory. He said something along the lines of “wouldn’t it be great if a bunch of us who got screwed fucked up an inventory like a Target to the point that it have to be redone and when they confront us about it, we just walk out.” I would like to think that no one would do that. But I certainly understand the desire to do so.
And then they changed what it was
Well, the shit has hit the fan at RGIS. Starting April 25, the new “productivity pay scale” comes into effect. Lots of long term employees (including me) are going to get significant pay cuts. I feel like Grandpa Simpson “I used to be hip and with it and then they changed what it was.” I was a “top gun” which meant I was one of the fastest counters and then they changed the theshold for “top gun”. So now I’m an “expert” and I am going to be paid like an “expert.” It doesn’t matter what I was making or why. Someone sitting at a desk at corporate headquarters has arbitrarily decided what my hourly wage will be.
Doesn’t mean Shit
Apparently, everything that made me a good employee before April 25, doesn’t mean shit. One of my co-workers in this district, whom I’ll call “Timmy” after the South Park character, was always given the crappiest crap to count. Stuff like top stock that you have count standing on a 12-foot rolling ladder. Stuff impossible to count quickly. I’ve seen him count lumber outdoors during a blizzard. They made it impossible for Timmy to be fast and then they screw him over and cut his pay for doing what he was told to do. Like Timmy, I’ve taken one for the team many a time and counted crap that no one else was willing.
I should have stood in bed
All the years of being willing to work with little or no sleep were for naught. All the years of getting woken up at 5 or 6 am by a phone call “We’re 10 people short at Kmart can you come?” and going to work just don’t mean a thing anymore. Like Yogi Berra said, “I should have stood in bed.”
At least, I wasn’t made redundant like our “Personnel Manager”. He was an HSUP (hourly supervisor) and when our district merged with another, he got the job of being a scheduling and hiring pooba. Apparently, our district doesn’t need his services any more. One of the area managers will do the scheduling. And I have no idea who will do the hiring. Ironically enough, he was trying for a promotion and was hoping that he wasn’t around when Mr. Shit met Mr. Fan. Alas, he got his wish. I reckon this is a warning to all to be careful what you wish for.
Extra money for “Adder” roles
This one is where I have to be careful for what I ask for. I’ve been known to say that since I don’t get extra for running stores, I don’t really care if I do. Well, guess what. People who run stores will get extra money. I think this is how the corporate gods at RGIS are trying to justify the wage changes. Some employees will have an opportunity to earn extra money by fulfilling specialized task such as running stores, being flow leader, sweeper/prowler (corporate-sanctioned cherry picker), etc.
Both my distrist manager and my area manager tell me that I’ll end up making more money if I run stores. That’s a mighty big if. I”m not sure that I want to run 3/4 of the stores I’m in. When I consented to be a team leader again given the money they were willing to pay me, I consented to only run small stores once or twice a week. To put this in context, when I came back to RGIS a couple years ago, I consented to a significant pay cut because I wasn’t going to run stores. Even with the raise I got for being a teamleader again, I wasn’t making as much an hour as I was in 2000.
Accuracy or Productivity?
In recent years, “Accuracy is our primary concern” has been the RGIS motto. These days it’s just an empty slogan. Of course, ideally, the corporate gods would want 100% accuracy every time. But I think faced with a choice of fast with errors within 1 or 2 percent error rate or slow with no errors, they would choose fast with an acceptable error rate every time.
There has already been a heavy productivity push and accuracy has suffered. I think it is a matter of time before RGIS loses accounts because of unacceptable error rates.
Count or Die!!!
Apparently, productivity (aph – average per hour) is going to be reviewed on a monthly basis (if I understood correctly). And if your aph sucks, your pay will be cut even more. But, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen of all ages, your pay can go up if aph goes up into the stratosphere. So it’s like Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last inventory.
So all of us inventory counters are going to have to face new decisions. Should we agree to do inventories in which our aph’s will suffer and risk setting ourselves up for failure and pay cuts? Should we refuse to count merchandise that would make our aph’s go down? Should we do unauthorized cherry-picking to maintain our aph’s??
A Spanner in the Works
I think that it is very likely that this push for productivity will backfire. Some of my fellow employees are taking about limiting their aph to the lower end of their ranking. I also suspect that there are going to be more no-shows. I hope that no one actively tries to monkeywrench an inventory by purposefully counting badly after they have decided to quit.
I think that the next couple of months at RGIS are gong to be very interesting.