Archive for June, 2008

Never Treat the “Temps” like They’re Expendable

June 27, 2008

Boy would I like to have been a fly on the wall during the upshot of this debacle!

I ran into Bill the “temp” last week. He was out in the parking lot smoking a cigarette and looked as though he needed a friend. I’ve run into Bill before. He’s an older gentlemen who was recently “right sized” from a company where he had worked as a middle manager for over twenty years. Both Bill and another “temp” were recently brought on to fill in for Liz who is off on maternity leave.

We’ll return to my meeting with Bill in a moment.

Liz is an executive assistant to a powerful, (and of course) pompous and arrogant senior vice president of something or other. She was a “coat-tailer” who had followed her boss to the company from another firm. Both Liz and her boss have been around for about three years. I never paid much attention to her but I definitely get the impression that she is not very well liked by the rank and file around the office. I guess she has developed a sense of entitlement and “status” due to her connection with a powerful superior. I’ve heard that Liz is both distrusted and feared by many due to the fact that she will blame anyone and everyone for any mistakes or errors in the reports that she prepares for her superior from data provided by her boss’s subordinates at the division level. Regardless of the real causes of the errors, Liz’s boss always takes her word over anyone else’s. She is, in a word, untouchable.

I suppose that when you’re as powerful and important as Liz’s superior, you rely on your aide de camp for everything and, therefore, support and protect them at all costs. It seems that Liz can get away with just about anything. I guess that she is even perceived to be so important that it requires two “temps” to fill in for her while she is away. But that’s only part of the story.

You see Liz’s boss has a reputation for being a real jerk as well. Overly demanding and idiosyncratic about the goofiest things, this senior vice president is the stuff that I love to write about. I have done some research on this character and found that he has probably never really worked a day in his adult life. He has a five star education and it appears that he had actually started his career at the executive level. How does one do that? Anyway, I hear that he is always lambasting his subordinates over the bad news, errors and mistakes that result from the reports provided by Liz. Based upon some comments that I’ve heard from others, Liz’s boss does not think much of anyone in the organization.

Well, Liz goes off to have a baby and the temps take over her duties. Things progress for a month and then all hell seems to break loose. I heard that the temps have been working awful hours and putting up with a lot of guff from Liz’s boss. The rumor mill has it that they’re pretty much fed up.

Back to my meeting with Bill.

So I walked up to Bill in the parking lot and asked him how he was doing. He shook his head and began telling me about the confrontation that he and the other temp just had with Liz’s boss. It seems that since the time that Liz left, both Bill and the other temp have struggled to get the reports completed for their new superior. Not only were they poorly trained by Liz but Bill says that the report formats themselves were fraught with formula errors. It seems that a lot of the data reported by the divisions became distorted and irreconcilable due to all of the mistakes in Liz’s calculations. The boss would hear nothing of it. He demanded the reports be prepared on time and could care less about the cause of the errors. He was an executive and not interested in the details. The truth of the matter, according to Bill, is that this senior vice president was clueless about how the reports functioned or how the formulas worked. He only wanted to see the results on time. Both temps were chastised each time they’d mention uncovering Liz’s mistakes or ask for his help or advice. Tempers were beginning to flare

The final straw hit the camel’s back earlier that day when Liz’s boss asked the temps about the monthly forecast report that was due later that morning. They replied that they didn’t even know what he was talking about. At that point, Liz’s boss flew into a snit. Bill said that he did all of the talking in defense of the two and told the executive that Liz had not gone over the extremely complicated forecasting process with them. At that point, the irate executive called Liz at home and asked her if she had reviewed the forecast with the temps. At first, Liz insisted that she had. But as Bill interjected himself into the conversation on the speaker phone, Liz relented and admitted that she had forgotten. Her boss then asked if she could review it with Bill but Liz whined about being too tired. The conversation ended. The now red faced executive instructed both of the temps to “just figure it out”. The deadline was looming and he didn’t care if they had to stay there all night to get it done. At that point, the other temp stated she had appointments for that evening. The executive replied that he didn’t care about her problems. Having endured enough, she quit the assignment and exited the building.

Left to his own devices, Bill said that he had attempted to reverse engineer the forecast to determine how to proceed with it. He wasn’t getting anywhere and his attempts to gain information and insight from the executive were fruitless. “I’m a level B executive!” Bill was told, “I want results not excuses! I’m not concerned with details. I want answers.” “Don’t you think that you have a responsibility to know what your assistant is doing?” asked Bill, “Didn’t you ensure that she had adequately trained us before she left?” Bill said that the executive was silent although he could tell that the man was seething. “I’ve been managing direct reports for years.” said Bill, “As a manager; I’ve always felt that I had a responsibility to make sure that people got trained properly and that operations ran smoothly. I always followed up.” Bill said that he received no further response. Frustrated and disgusted, Bill went out for a smoke.

So I asked Bill what he was going to do. “You know I need to work.” he confided, “But I don’t need this.” I have not seen Bill since.

An office-wide call went out for “volunteers” to help the executive during Liz’s leave. There have been no takers. I wonder who is preparing the forecast.


The “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives nears Completion

June 20, 2008

Every story needs a beginning. If you smell a new book coming on, you’re right! Ever since I began writing the various chapters of The “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives last year, I’ve had that in mind. Of course, there’s several more chapters tucked away as well as the ending and self-test. I just thought that I’d share Chapter 1 with the readers. This has been a work in progress. Believe me, there’s no end to the material that’s available.

Chapter 1 Welcome to the Society for bad Executives

Well you’ve finally made it! Whether you’ve slimed, backstabbed, double-crossed, kissed-up (or just got the call from your old pal Chad or Biff), you have arrived. You are now an executive. Feels good, doesn’t it? You are now smarter, sharper and indeed a better human being than those that you’ve left in the dust. You must be! You got the job and they didn’t.

So what’s the first thing on your agenda besides ordering $50,000 of new office furniture or taking two or three lavish but useless business trips? Why, keeping, consolidating and increasing your power! To accomplish that you may need some support and we’re here to help. We’re the Society for bad Executives. We’re an elite and clandestine organization known only to those chosen few. There are no dues, meetings, secret handshakes or subscriptions. The only requirement is secrecy and strict adherence to the standards we’ve developed through many years for wreaking havoc on organizations and the workers who are employed there. Our organization is so top secret that our members do not ever get to see the roster or formally meet each other. It only makes sense. You may have to turn on another member someday. That’s too bad for them. It’s a dog eat dog world. You’re in it for yourself and only the best of the worst survive.
The main benefit of your membership is your personalized copy of The “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives. This tome contains chapter upon chapter of tips and tricks to maximize your hold on authority, manipulate your subordinates, suck up to your superiors and never (we repeat never) be held accountable for anything that goes wrong. It’s a must read for every executive. These are tried and true strategies and tactics that we’ve compiled from members over the years.

You’re probably wondering why we’re being so generous here. The answer is quite simple. We must perpetuate the executive’s image of power and omniscience. Power is what it’s all about after all. The power to dominate, manipulate, threaten, subvert and evade must be maintained and cultivated. The ability to speak with authority on all subjects, make snap decisions, shoot from the hip and never be wrong must be honed to a fine edge. You have a lot to live up to. The rest of us are counting on you.

How do we know that you can be trusted to adhere to our policies and never disclose your membership or share any contents of the handbook with outsiders? We don’t! If you had one shred of ethics, we would never have approached you in the first place. In the Society for bad Executives, our rule is quite simple: Transgress, and the full might of the society will be turned against you. Consider for a moment being demoted to the loading dock or a cubicle with absolutely no golden parachute or perhaps being publicly humiliated in front of your superiors or upstaged by (perish the thought) a subordinate. It can all be arranged. We knew you’d see it our way!

So let’s get started! Whether you’re the arrogant pompous strutting ass, the frenetic slick backed hair mile-a-minute talker or the quiet conniving little weasel, there’s a place for you in the Society for bad Executives. Go forth and make some pronouncements. Savor the taste of authority. Make them jump. It’s fun to be important.

Make us proud. We’ll be watching!

If It’s Pop-tops vs. Laptops, I know where I stand

June 13, 2008

I admit that I’m a little late with my post for this week. I had to take a business trip out of town. I was gone until yesterday. Traveling for business sure isn’t what it used to be but I thought that I’d use the time wisely and make some observations about today’s business travelers.

It’s tough enough coping with endless lines through security and the weather and other flight delays but the business travelers themselves have created their own form of “in-flight” irritation. There’s the never ending chorus of ring tones on the aircraft AFTER the flight attendant has instructed everyone to turn off all electronic devices, the muffled cell phone chatter by those who absolutely MUST stay on their calls even when we’re taxiing to the runway and the flight attendants’ repeated reminders to those who absolutely REFUSE to shut down and stow their laptops in preparation for landing. Sound familiar? Did I mention the legal sized brief cases and wheeled carts containing three or four carryon bags that today’s elite traveler MUST bring on the plane? None of it can ever be stowed beneath the seat in front of them. They must always usurp the ENTIRE overhead bin so that granny can’t even safely stow her chapeau to prevent it from being crushed. God forbid that they check any luggage. How important they must be!

I’ve always treated the pre-boarding time at the airport as a respite from the pressures of the business world. Traveling creates enough stress of it own and I’ve found that a good newspaper, magazine or crossword puzzle provides some modicum of relief while enduring the wait. We were delayed again last night and thankfully they wouldn’t board the aircraft right away. I wandered off to quiet spot as I had an hour to kill. I found a vacant group of four chairs that were attached (you know what I’m talking about). They were all vacant. I plopped down and noticed that I was right across from a bar. It was maybe fifteen feet away.

It wasn’t huge place. There was room for maybe six barstools. I could see the TV hanging on the wall from where I sat. There was a baseball game on and three fellows were sitting at the bar drinking beers from cans (no glasses) and intently viewing the game. The bartender was watching as well. It all looked quite sublime until I noticed a character at the end of the bar. He was standing with a cell phone to his ear. An open laptop sat on the bar in front in front of him. He seemed quite obnoxious. Something was definitely going on.

When he wasn’t pacing and yelling into the phone, he was banging away at the laptop and inserting and removing some kind of card into it. He was extremely frenetic and kept screaming into the phone and strutting around behind the other three patrons who were trying to enjoy their beers and watch the sporting event. There was a glass of beer near the laptop. I assumed it was his. There was maybe a sip or two gone from it. It was obvious that he wasn’t there to watch the game or enjoy his brew.

I watched this continue for about forty-five minutes. The other chaps seemed to be getting a might irritated and shot him a glance or two. The announcement finally came over the loud speaker that my flight was to begin boarding. Mr. Loudmouth must have been on it as well. He grabbed his laptop (still open and running) with one hand, nuzzled the cell phone between his jaw and shoulder, grabbed the glass of beer with his free hand that he had threaded through the handle of his wheeled cart and began to speed away. It was quite a juggling act. The bartender noticed it all and called after him. “You can’t take any drinks away from the bar,” he shouted. Mr. Loudmouth stopped in his tracks and gave the bartender a dirty look. He took a swig from the glass and hurriedly set it down on the bar. The other customers shook their heads and ordered a few more cans of beer. I could hear the bartender popping the tops as I left the area.

When I arrived at the gate I watched this goof head down the jet-way. He was still banging away at his keyboard and carrying on some loud conversation on his cell phone. Thank God he was not seated near me.

What kind of life does a character like that have? What an obnoxious boor! I thought about the other three guys back at the bar. I quickly decided who I’d rather be stranded with in an airport.

When will the Legendary Seagull finally disappear into the Sunset?

June 4, 2008

Like the tales and sagas of seafaring nations, every office or company has its lore. Here’s the story of a curious bird whose departure seems long overdue.

The division had been reorganized three or four times during the last ten years. Most of the employees were new or had been transferred in from other units. The latest iteration of the division occurred four years ago and, as usual, it was extremely top heavy with a plethora of vice presidents and their retinues but with very few employees to perform the actual tasks. Jim was part of that bevy of heavy artillery.

No one seemed to know where Jim had come from or how he came about his title and authority. Jim had been with the corporation for several years and had served in a variety of roles at various business units. How he found himself at this division seemed unclear. He never really appeared to do anything. Although his departmental staff seemed confused and dysfunctional, Jim never showed any leadership or gave any direction. It was as if all of Jim’s new subordinates were expected to just know about everything through osmosis or find things out on their own. Jim kept everything to himself. He had two extremely loyal assistants that he had brought along with him but they were a tightly knit group and didn’t seem to want to get involved or share information with the rest of the staff. The three appeared aloof and disconnected.

During the ensuing three years, Jim picked up the nickname of “the seagull”. This moniker, known to all at the middle and lower levels, had been bestowed upon Jim due to his penchant for flitting into meetings, “crapping” over everything and then flitting out. Everyone dreaded his intrusions into ad hoc sessions and conference calls. The pest would suddenly appear from nowhere, plop comfortably down and screech a few criticisms (usually while crunching on a mint or a handful of peanuts). I personally found that habit very rude and annoying.

He never had anything good to say and always seemed smug, critical and disgusted. One thing could always be counted upon; his mere presence was guaranteed to result in additional workload. Jim was one of those guys who must have believed that the value of an executive is measured by the amount of non-value added work that they create. Jim was the master of dreaming up detailed schedules of minutiae and analysis upon analysis of the analysis. But the results of all of this “make work” never seemed to go anywhere or prove anything. There was not enough staff to get the required work of the department completed on time, let alone comply with Jim’s whims but the seagull’s two loyalists continuously pestered the staff to conform to Jim’s demands and arbitrary timetables.

About a year ago, the CEO of the corporation announced another major shake-up and canned the division’s president as well as several vice presidents including Jim. We all got the memo and breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps now we’d see some real leadership and get new direction (or maybe just direction). We anxiously waited for the next shoe to drop. There were plenty of good veteran middle managers around who could fill the void.

About a week after the memo, the newly appointed interim president of the division decided to hold a “going away party” for the departing executives. Punch and cookies would be served during an hour long gathering in the cafeteria on Friday. Although most of us didn’t even know what many of these characters even looked like, we decided to drop by for the free food. We also wanted to see how Jim would act. We stuck around for forty five minutes or so. There was quite a crowd with each now ex-vice president surrounded by their own cohorts. There was a lot of laughing and back slapping – but no seagull. Where was he? Had he already flown the coop? No. About five minutes later, my coworker spotted him standing near the doorway. Jim had already raided the candy tray and was popping nuggets into his beak from a fistful that he had grabbed. Someone finally approached him and they began a brief conversation that we could not overhear. All we could see was the usual smug expression on Jim’s face and his eyes rolling as he conversed with the employee. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, Jim rubbed his hands together to remove the crumbs and disappeared out the doorway.

Later that afternoon, my coworker grabbed me by the arm in the hall. “He’s not leaving!” he shrieked. “Who?” I asked. “The seagull!” He replied. My chum then told me that he had spoken with an employee named Bret from Engineering. Bret was the fellow we’d seen with Jim in the cafeteria. Bret had approached Jim to wish him luck but Jim simply ignored Bret’s well intentioned bon voyage and stated that he wasn’t going anywhere. “That’s impossible,” I said, “The guy got canned by the CEO himself. You read the memo.”

But it was true. On Monday morning, the bird was back in his roost. He seemed a bit subdued but it was evident that he was NOT cleaning out his nest. Over the next few months, the seagull returned to circling the department looking for a landing site and a place to poop – and more critical and negative than ever. Rumors flew about how he had simply “refused” to leave after being fired or had pleaded with corporate HQ to allow him to stay. We all knew of his perceived self-importance but I had never (and still have not to this day) seen anyone defy the public commands of a corporate CEO. Two month’s later, a memo from HQ reported that Jim’s title had changed and now included the prefix “acting”. However, all reporting relationships remained intact. What did this all mean?

A few more months passed and yet another memo from corporate headquarters revealed that a search was being conducted for a replacement for the position of vice president that Jim had originally held with the division. Jim was mentioned in the memo with a slightly different title that was no longer prefixed with “acting”. Again, all reporting relationships remained the same. The memo did indicate that he would soon be departing. There was no specific date mentioned.

It’s now been almost eight months since the last memo. I’ve left the corporation but still stay in touch with one of my co-workers. I called my friend the other day. He didn’t even wait for me to ask the question but just started making a squawking noise into the telephone. “He’s still there?” I asked in disbelief. “I thought geese were bad about crapping all over the place,” answered my friend, “Seagulls are worse and apparently they don’t migrate.”