Children, Prepare Your Desk Manuals!

Get ready for the Houston Independent School District's latest wacky adventure in corporate management training. It arrives special delivery from American General retired chairman Harold Hook to his protege and district superintendent Rod Paige. Called the Desk Manual Program, perhaps appropriately acronymed as DMP, it's spelled out in an HISD interoffice memo thoughtfully supplied to the Insider by a disgusted district employee.

"Perhaps you thought Model-Netics was the only time/money waster HISD has bought into?" our informant asked acidly.

Actually, the DMP is a sister program of Model-Netics, Hook's management-language brainchild, which was marketed by his Main Events Management to HISD for a cool $161,000. At that time Hook was on a blue ribbon panel evaluating the district, and he convinced Paige that the system he pioneered at American General could cure the district's management ills. Never mind that critics have lambasted Model-Netics as draconian, militaristic, irrelevant and mind-numbingly boring.

As documented in "Hook-ed on Model-Netics," [Insider, March 13, 1997] supervisors down to the principal level had to attend 20 one-hour sessions to learn the system of 151 symbols and graphs to supposedly communicate management ideas and concepts to one another. The language consists of esoteric terms such as "The Northbound Train," meaning "get with the program," and the "Cruel Sea," meaning some employees sometimes have to be sacrificed for the good of the organization.

Paige bought into the program so deeply that HISD formed an entire department, MEM Systems Administration, to oversee it. The program occupies a floor in a district building on Weslayan with ten employees and budgeted salaries of $477,128 annually. Asked the cost of the program, HISD mouthpiece Terry Abbott puts a convenient spin on it by neglecting to mention staff salaries. The licensing fee from Hook's company for DMP is a bargain $6,250, with another $6,640 for training manuals, explains Abbott. So far, 694 HISD employees have been trained and are hard at work on their desk manuals, at a cost of $4.55 per person up to 2,000 employees.

"We believe these costs compare very favorably with the impact on the district of training costs and decreased productivity for new employees learning a new position without adequate job documentation," explains Abbott, who calls the DMP a "knowledge management system."

As the March 30 memo from MEM administrator Bob Farquharson explains it, all HISD employees must inventory their jobs to determine tasks done by them. Then the bureaucrats must prepare an index of those tasks and submit them to a supervisor for approval. After getting the green light on that, employees are required to spend a half-hour each day documenting their approved tasks and completing Task Fact sheets and Task Instruction sheets for submission to bosses.

Once they are approved, employees insert the sheets into desk manuals. But the job is far from over. Employees must submit Desk Manual Progress Report and Desk Manual Review forms monthly, along with the desk manuals, which are reviewed by their supervisors. Those supervisors repeat the process with their bosses, all the way to the top of the district pyramid. It's not spelled out whether superintendent Paige submits his desk manual to the school board, to God or to his business community allies at the Greater Houston Partnership.

After hearing of the memo, Houston Federation of Teachers president Gayle Fallon had a good laugh. "I'd love to see the man-hours that maintaining this stupid desk manual takes. If we totaled them, we could probably fund an entire alternative school out of it."

An employee who had the joy of creating a desk manual explains that it takes closer to an hour of the workday to document what is essentially an ongoing job description. "What a waste of time," exclaims one administrator. "Like Model-Netics, it has nothing to do with education."

But according to Farquharson's memo, somebody will be looking at the manuals. "Beginning in May," he declares, "the DMP Audit Committee will review individual desk manuals periodically for progress. Specifically named desk manual holders and their supervisors will receive letters providing approximately one month's advance notice of the audit." Sounds like the guy has a future with the IRS, doesn't it?

Farquharson invited those with questions to call the MEMsters. The Insider felt compelled to respond. Diana Perez, a MEM specialist on an annual salary of $38,833, took our anonymous call. Asked how one would deal with a district employee who refused to create a desk manual, Perez did her best to offer solutions.

"This is a directive that is coming from Dr. Paige," explained Perez. "Everyone is to do it. We're going to be held accountable, and you've got to do whatever you need to do." Hopefully, that would fall somewhat short of torturing or executing the rebellious worker.

Asked whether employees' refusals would go into their job records, Perez suggested, "You can probably do that during their assessment. You can report that. As his employer and supervisor, they are going to look to you to make sure your employees are doing it. If you are having trouble, yes, mention that during their assessment."

So any would-be desk manual rebels out there had better make like good little apparatchiks and get on the Northbound Train, or go shopping for a cheap life preserver for use in that Cruel HISD Sea.


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