Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Meet the new boss

A workplace fable. Any resemblance to real individuals is unintended and purely coincidental.

Photo from
In the mornings while I go through the messages in my in-box, I can hear him. He's leaning on the door jamb to Sam's office, or maybe Wesley's, or maybe he's sitting in the chair in front of Sara's desk, or leaning over the top of Brian's cubicle wall.

His voice is going on and on. "I'm all about mutual trust," he says. "If we trust one another, we can work together toward our goal. The principles I believe in are..."

After a while I stop listening to the words, but I still hear the voice, yammering away.

It's the new boss, and he's planning the all-staff meeting he's called for the whole division. "I'm gonna say blah blah, blah, and then I'm gonna introduce the agenda. I'll go through my spiel, and while i'm doing that, Sandra, you're gonna be writing down what they say, and then you're gonna....."

At the meeting later that week, he asks us to go around the room, say our name and how many years we've been here, and then "say one word - just one word - that sums up what you do, what you're all about."

When it's his turn, which of course has been saved for last, he says "I'm Bob, I've been here four weeks." Then he pauses for his one word. He thrusts his cannonball bald head forward, widens his eyes, and says, "Lead!"

It's not a meeting, it's a lecture, a hoarse and shouty motivational sermon. He reads the agenda aloud to us, though it's printed on a piece of paper laid at each seat. A powerpoint presentation is on the screen behind him, and every once in a while he'll say, "next slide" to Sandra.

He says he's here to bring change to our division, change that is sorely needed. He says people in upper management don't really know what our division does. "One of my focuses will be right-structuring the division. The first week, I went home and started redrawing the org chart," he says. "There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, it's hard to see how some things fit with others."

This is no surprise to us; it will be the third re-organization we've gone through in five years. "Now I know some of you may be thinking, 'What's wrong with the way we've been doing it?' You may think everything is pretty good, but I was taught to strive for excellence!"

He tells us what he learned when he had a one-on-one meeting with each one of us. "You don't feel appreciated. You don't feel upper management respects you. You're feeling a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear. There's a lot of fear out there, fear of change. But change is here, it's here and you have a choice. You can be part of it or not."

He's all about "telling our story." At his July1 meeting with the board, he plans to pull out "a single sheet of paper. It will be a picture of what our division does. Behind him, the powerpoint slides says "One page, must WOW!"

"It should have picture, images,"  he says, "I like to call them pictographs."

He calls for volunteers for the committee that's going to create this one page WOW. Someone suggests Deb, because she's the budget person. "What kind of data are we going to show?"

A discussion ensues about the validity of data and whether we even collect the kind of numbers he wants to show, then someone says, "Well, it has to be fiscal 13-14, because we don't have all the 14-15 data yet."

Bob's impatient with this nuts-and-bolts talk, and corrals us back to the agenda for "a quick update on corporate-wide initiatives. These are the issues commanding attention in the front office."

One of these is "sustainability. They've gotten rid of all the black individual trash cans in the front office," he says. "They're composting food waste. Now, you might say, 'Hey, I'm all for recycling, but I'm not used to this level of detail,' but I'm telling you, someday our office might be asked to measure up to the same standard, and we're gonna have to adapt!"

Four months before Bob got here, our office received its "Green Office" certificate from our City's office of Sustainability and the Environment due to the efforts of two of our administrative staff. There's a sign on the front door that says so. I'm surprised he hasn't noticed, but at least that will be one change we can manage pretty easily.

He gets us to our feet and leads us in a game where each person has a jigsaw puzzle piece and we have to put them together. It takes us about a minute, then there's a big black-and-white photo of a sleek diesel locomotive idling at a train platform, in forced perspective, its round nose pushing out toward the camera like Bob's shiny shaved skull.

"I like this picture, because it speaks to me," he says. "The train of change. It's at the platform, and we're all going to get aboard. Change is coming! Get on the train or you'll be left behind."

I'm thinking to myself how a train is actually the perfect metaphor for what seems to happen at our organization. It's on a fixed and permanent track, with no ability to change course. Trains can't react nimbly. They can't easily stop when obstacles appear in their path - and when they try, it usually leads to disaster.

Photo from


Mingus said...

Hahahaha....Best photo choice ever!

Anonymous said...

The man's a total tit!

Would I be right to believe that it is government office?

David Duff said...

Sorry, I'm a total tit, too, because I pressed the wrong button and appeared as 'anonymous'!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Please tell me that your one word was the number of days you have left at this office. Ugh. I'm exhausted just reading about this guy.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Resignation never felt so good!