This post is addressed to the people who still believe they have a future at Stack Exchange, and who still hold out some hope that there can be a way out of this mess. If you have no such hope left, I can certainly understand that and don't begrudge you. I myself am not sure, but I feel compelled to try, at least.
What we've been doing clearly hasn't been working. Stack Exchange isn't interested in listening to meta feedback in the way it is currently addressed. Shog9 confirmed yesterday what I'd been suspecting for a while:
My former colleagues have an amazing skill: they are able to understand what people are trying to say. To read between the lines and see, not just what is written, but what is meant, what is felt. And to respond accordingly, with care and empathy. They can communicate.
And right now, they are being told not to use that skill. Told that they MUST not use that skill. I know this because I was told this. It has been ratcheting for over a year now: more and more "musts" and "must nots" - "say this AND ONLY THIS."
At this point, they are operating under an unbelievable amount of pressure. And you have seen the results of this: "they gulped out fine folly about dignity and acquiescence".
You may think, in expressing your anger, that your words will reach and influence those behind the scenes, those calling the shots, writing the words that MUST, eliding those that MUST NOT. But know that the influence takes only one form: yet another click of the ratchet.
Your anger will be held up as evidence of toxicity. Your frustration as evidence of noncooperation. Just as it has been for so many months past. My dear ex-colleagues will be blamed for failing to control you, and another rock will be laid on their backs.
Right now, what we're doing on meta is actively sabotaging our own goals. I know this is not fair, and I know that this situation is a kind of Kafkaesque trap, but if you're still here and still harbor some hope that the network, that our communities can still recover from this mess, it is time for a shift in strategy.
It seems evident that we have to make the first step here, or everything is just lost. It sucks that we got this far, and it sucks that they won't extend an olive branch on their own accord, but we have the truth in black and white now.
The only thing we're currently actually in control of is our reaction to this.
There are still employees in SE that believe in the people here, and we still have some support in the company. Right now, by acting out our (justified!) anger here, we're making their lives harder, and making their position harder to justify internally. If all this is anything more than an exercise in catharsis, we have to change our strategy. To that end, I would propose:
Stop the angry rants on meta. It is natural to be angry, and lord knows we have plenty of reasons to. But it's also obvious that, not only is nobody that they're addressed to reading them, but they're actively undermining our position here. No senior manager at Stack Exchange Inc. (SEI) will be swayed by an angry rant, if they ever read the post at all.
Engage with the feedback mechanisms they provide. This one is trickier, because you might think that they'll just ignore it. Truth is, they still might. But we don't know that for sure. We do know for sure that our current approach is being ignored. So in the absence of better approaches, this seems to be our best bet.
Reward positive behavior. Right now employees who still dare to come to meta are super scarce. When they do, and when they engage with us here and act constructively, we need to encourage it. Negative reinforcement via sustained criticism has not worked out for us, in fact it has done the exact opposite. Everyone is human, and everyone has their breaking point. If we want to maintain any sort of relationship with the employees, we need to stop piling negativity that is not their fault (but the fault of management) onto the employees who still talk to us.
The most bitter pill to swallow
I know many of you have no hope left that anything can be salvaged, and I understand that feeling and am nearly there myself, then there is the most bitter pill to swallow. I know many of you still hold some employees and contributors in high regard, because they've been kind and professional in the face of all this. They're currently being hurt by our approach. It is clear to me from what Shog wrote, and from his plea for our assistance, that the pressure resulting from SEI's perception of our actions is almost unbearable.
I know it is incredibly unfair, and I know the onus should not be on us to control how a corporation perceives us.
I know none of us meant for this to happen, but it is happening. We know about it now, and all we can do at this time is control our response to it.
So, for all of you who have lost respect and faith in SEI leadership, but still have some faith left in the CM team I echo Shog's plea: Don't do this to those who remain. Like us, they didn't sign up for this. Like us, they've been mistreated badly by the company. But unlike us, they don't have the luxury of walking away. This is their livelihood.