Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Personnelovac Machine

I had a good chuckle last night reading a cute, satiric short story from 1960 with an HR technology related theme.

The Success Machine, by Henry Slesar, follows "Personnel Manager" Ralph Colihan. Colihan works for General Products, a company where "mechanical brains" (big computers) do all the thinking and employees are there to simply act on the results. Colihan runs the "Personnelovac" machine which assesses employee performance. Each day he enters in punch cards of various employees and the Personnelovac chitters, chortles and chuckles and burps out an assessment. If the card is pink, the assessment ends with the recommendation: Fire him. The pink slip goes into the Action Chute and the deed is carried out.

"Marvelous machine, that. Most marvelous of 'em all, if you ask me. Sizes up a man beautifully. And best of all, it's one hundred percent honest. That's a mighty important quality, Ralph."

On the day of our story, Colihan breaks a company rule and begins to Think. He wonders why his machine is spitting out pink cards at such a rapid rate. Twenty-four out of the last 40 assessments have come back pink.

Although concerned, our hero hatches a plan to exploit the opportunity by entering in the punch card for Grimswitch, a colleague that has been annoying Colihan and others. Sure enough, the Personnelovac's recommendation: Fire him. Unfortunately, Colihan's enthusiasm is short lived for the President of General Products, spurred on by the negative assessment of one department head, instructs the Personnel Manager to run assessments on all department heads.

"It was an interesting week for Colihan.

Morgan, the production man, was fired.

Grimswitch came up to see the Personnel man and tried to punch him in
the nose. Fortunately, he was a little too drunk, and the blow went wild.

Seegrum, the Shipovac operator, was fired.

Douglas, the Treasurer, was permitted to keep his job, but the
Personnelovac issued a dire threat if improvement wasn't rapidly forthcoming.

Wilson, the firm's oldest employee, was fired.

In fact, seven out of General Product's twelve department heads were
greeted by the ominous pink card."

This continues until the only department head left for the Personnelovac to assess is Ralph Colihan himself.


(note: The Success Machine is available in the public domain.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Success Machine
by Henry Slesar

The Personnelovac winked, chittered, chortled, chuckled, and burped a card into the slot. Colihan picked it up and closed his eyes in prayer.

"Oh, Lord. Let this one be all right!"

He read the card. It was pink.

"Subject #34580. Apt. Rat. 34577. Psych. Clas. 45. Last Per. Vac.

"An. 3/5/98. Rat. 19. Cur. Rat. 14.

"Analysis: Subject demonstrates decreased mechanical coordination. Decrease in work-energy per man-hour. Marked increase in waste-motion due to subject's interest in non-essential activities such as horseracing. Indication of hostility towards superiors.

"Recommendation: Fire him."

Colihan's legs went weak. He sat down and placed the card in front of him. Then, making sure he was unobserved, he broke a company rule and began to Think.

Something's wrong, he thought. Something is terribly wrong. Twenty-four pink cards in the last month. Twenty-four out of forty. That's a batting average of--He tried to figure it out with a pencil, but gave it up as a bad job. Maybe I'll run it through the Averagovac, he thought. But why bother? It's obvious that it's high. There's obviously SOMETHING WRONG.

The inter-com beeped.

"Ten o'clock department head meeting, Mr. Colihan."

"All right, Miss Blanche."

He rose from his chair and took the pink card with him. He stood before the Action Chute for a moment, tapping the card against his teeth. Then, his back stiffened with a sense of duty, and he slipped the card inside.

(Continue reading this short story via PDF by clicking on The Success Machine in Nobscot's HR library.)


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