The Supply Order

More office quirks ……. for your reading pleasure.

Humor Columnist Blog

questions

This article is based on an actual incident.

To: warehouse@services.tn.gov – Our printer cartridge has died. Could we please order a new one? The number is JS334455.

To: employee@admn.tn.gov – I’ve never heard of that number? Is it generic? What kind of printer do you have?

To: warehouse@services.tn.gov – It is a Lexmark W828. The cartridges are in the supply catalog.

To: employee@admn.tn.gov – The first number you sent me was the printer’s inventory number. That’s another department. If you need something out of our catalog, you will need to fill out the supply warehouse online order form and submit it.

To: warehouse@services.tn.gov – What order form? Where is it?

To: employee@admn.tn.gov – It is located on the website under Supply Warehouse. Do you even have an account? If you do not have an account with us, you will have to set up an account and get an authorization code before…

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Crisis Management – A Primer

Jason, the young, energetic and new management trainee is bubbling with enthusiasm as he goes through his ‘orientation program’ in We-Make-It-Happen, Inc. On the fifth day of his ‘training’ in the Logistics department, a unit tasked with fulfilling a deliberately confusing set of functions and (ir)responsibilities, he meets with the departmental head, Tom, for the final act.

Tom: Jason, welcome on board. I hope you have been provided with a good insight into the working of this department.

Jason: Yes, indeed. I am very impressed with the variety of activities that your people are taking care of to keep the organization moving forward.

Tom: Is that so (never realized that)? Never mind the routine stuff. I will help you get prepared for crisis management, which is where we excel.

Jason: I am all ears.

Tom: Do you know what the first step is or should be in managing a crisis?

Jason: Er, hmm…. Understand the problem? Find out the importance? Determine impact on customers?

Tom (with a triumphant look): No, not at all. First you need to create a crisis!

Jason (bewildered): Why would you do that? I thought crises happen, not get created deliberately.

Tom: You need experience for that. We will provide you with plenty of opportunities to do so. The point here is that by creating a crisis that is convenient to you, you can be ready with the steps to resolve that, without running the risk of being blamed for it.

Jason (stunned): Never thought of that…..

Tom: Yes, that is the way it works. For example, when you come to know that a shipment due next week is delayed, you make alternate plans but DO NOT let anyone else know till the eleventh hour. Then….

Jason (unable to hold back): But sir…..isn’t the purpose of the Logistics department to foresee, plan and prevent disruptions to the organization?

Tom: Jason, don’t be a fool. And don’t insult my management skills. I am not here to prevent disruptions … or to help some hard working fool in Operations. I need to make myself indispensable…….   Anyway, to continue the story, as late as possible, you send out an email to all people (do not forget to include the CEO and the heads of various departments) about the unfortunate delay in the arrival of supplies…

Jason: …. Along with the alternate plan of action?

Tom (irritated): Patience, my dear child, patience. You have to time these things to perfection. In the first email, you should mention that you are working round the clock to find an alternate solution to the problem, putting yourself in the limelight while seeming to sacrifice your evenings and personal time.

Jason (now all eager and attentive): Then……

Tom: The next morning, at or before 5 AM, you send out an “Eureka” email stating that you have successfully negotiated with the supplier and diverted a truck meant for another customer to your company …… and you are heading out in the wee hours of the morning to the office to receive the truck.

Jason (full of admiration): Wow……that is cool ……in fact, fantastic.

Tom (smiling): And at 8 AM while everyone else is walking into the office to check the good news in their inboxes, you slouch in your chair with a cup of coffee and put on a look that is tired, satisfied and resigned at the same time.

Jason went home a wiser man, well educated in the ways of corporate life.

Deliverables

If you thought the words ‘delivery’ and ‘deliverable’ belonged to a branch of medicine pertaining to women and children or associated these words with the responsibilities of your local Post Office, you may be excused and even offered a free course on an important facet of corporate nuances – read on and become wiser.

A ‘Deliverable’ in corporate speak covers anything and everything – a sandwich for lunch, the Bridge on the River Kwai, an idea to confuse people and, well, even a plot not to deliver anything. With the right imagination, accompanied by a crafty but indecipherable description, each and every (non)activity can be mysteriously turned into a ‘deliverable’.

One must concede that management gurus like Peter Drucker may have invented the ‘deliverable’ as a means of providing an objective way to measure success or failure upon completion of a nebulous task. However, true to the ingenuity of corporate scholars of today, the exact opposite effect has come to stay – converting simple and intuitive outcomes into incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.

The idea of a deliverable may be used to convert a simple result into a monumental outcome. Thus, a simple orientation session for new recruits in an organization can be positioned to ‘deliver’ the following:

  • welcome new hires and make them feel at home
  • help them become familiar with the nearest restrooms and fire exits
  • infuse the sense of belonging and commitment to the organization
  • create an appreciation for the nutritional values of different lunch options
  • ….and so on

In case the reader has failed to notice, the above deliverables are carefully defined to defy objective measurement of any kind. An added benefit of such definitions is that, where an external agency is involved in providing such complex deliverables, what may otherwise look like an exorbitant consultancy fee can readily be projected as a fair reward.

At the other end of the spectrum, the ‘deliverable’ phenomenon is used by veterans to remove any semblance of clarity in what is being delivered. Thus the objective (sorry, ‘deliverable’) of an expense reporting system, with simple functions such as the ability to enter and approve expenses, could be turned into a ‘system for simplification of workflow to control costs’ immediately creating a situation where implementation of the said system can be neither completed nor assessed for success.

Just imagine the extension of this corporate style to your every day activities. What is the deliverable for the plumber who fixes your leaking pipe? Eliminate discharge of water from the pipes other than at permissible outlets? Or, say, for your hairdresser – achieve a ratio of 1:3 between the amount of hair remaining versus the original quantum?

The next time you sit in a restaurant, waiting for food to be served, try and define the deliverable for the waiter (other than, of course, the actual items of food ordered). The fun is endless.

The Budget Cycle

Fair Warning: This is not for novices and beginners. You need to have gone through several “…101” courses (Evasion 101, Misleading 101 and Cover-Up 101 to name a few) to be admitted to this Game of Budgets.

Every organization believes that if every department and every area of business is tied to a strict budget, things will automatically be under control. The corporate mantra for governance is ‘budget versus actual’. It is therefore no surprise that seeking and getting sumptuous budgets approved feels like a real life enactment of Hunger Games.

Though the budgetary cycle is only an annual affair (incidentally, ensuring job security for hundreds of spreadsheet-wielding finance wizards and their deputies), if you are responsible for running anything at all in your company, you do not rest for one minute from thinking about past/future budgets. The cornerstone of your planning should always be more ‘projects’ on your list than anyone or any organization can dream of completing in centuries. For example, if you are a Facilities Manager, you need to have an endless array of ‘to-do’ items such as ‘repaint the underside of shelves in the records room’, ‘enlarge the company logo displayed all over the office’, ‘increase the number of water fountains in the cafeteria’ and ‘change the ringtone on all phones in the office’. Moreover, to ensure that you get noticed at the right time by the right people, you also should have a sprinkling of projects such as, ‘change the color of the one-month old carpet in the CEO’s office’ and ‘replace the coffee maker in the Board room twice a month’.

A golden rule in budgetary exercises is to be aware of past ‘performance’. As a departmental head, you never want to be in a situation of having underspent or underutilized the previous year’s budget. This is like signing your own death warrant by inviting a lower budget for the coming year. Therefore, you keep a very close eye on what you are (not) spending throughout the year, especially accelerating your spend, if needed, towards the end.

A common topic, which is inevitably linked to monetary budgets, is the issue of headcount. Managers fighting for an increase (or against reduction, during desperate times), is a familiar scene in all organizations. The savvy manager stays ahead of the pack by using colorful presentations of the innumerable tasks (refer earlier description of ‘list of projects’) that her team has to take care of. For good effect, the resources are divided and subdivided into minute ‘buckets’ to project an image of insufficient staffing for every task. For example, the above-mentioned Facilities Manager would classify her mail-room staff into those responsible for sorting Fedex packets; sorting UPS packages arriving in the afternoon; delivering confidential, priority mail to ‘C’ level executives; and so on. Divide and Conquer of sorts, I suppose.

The grand finale of any budget exercise is the meeting of the apex committee for final approval. Needless to say, several sub-committees would already have done their work and filtered out the less fortunate departments’ requests. Interestingly, significant budget allocations are in order for these sub-committees themselves. Many a time, these committees are master show pieces to demonstrate company wide ‘participation’ while all the shots are, by default, called by the ‘Chief of Staff’, who has the ear of the CEO and others on the top floor.

In line with all corporate meetings, the apex committee uses a randomization algorithm to cut or approve various budget requests – such randomization ensures an atmosphere of luck and chance, rather than one of need and purpose. And then, everyone moves on to preparations for the next cycle, providing an opportunity for the losers to have one more try.

The Nosy Parker

Nosy Parkers are everywhere. Your talkative aunt, the neighbor with prying eyes, your chatty hairdresser and sometimes even your best friend are all variations of the same theme. When it comes to the corporate world, nosy parkers present you with a problem (for them it is an opportunity though) that is simultaneously amusing, tiresome, annoying and also a potential threat to your ability to survive and do your job.

First, nosy parkers exist at all levels in the organization. It is wrong to assume that the practice of this special art is limited to the lower levels in the organizational hierarchy – clerical, secretarial and similar jobs. If you have the nosy-parker gene, you carry it to your grave and if the journey to your end passes through various levels in the organization, tough luck on your subordinates, peers and superiors. Sometimes, these genes can also be acquired during the above mentioned journey, defying traditional biological theories.

A nosy parker starts off as a very friendly and pleasant individual, especially if you yourself are shy and reserved and incapable of initiating a conversation. A “hello”, followed by “looks like you are new around here” progresses to, “where do you live?”, “how many siblings did your great grandfather have?” and quickly moves up a notch to, “when did you have your last colonoscopy?”. You are waltzed through increasingly intense sets of questions in a mesmerized manner where you are answering questions in spite of yourself. You reach a borderline hypnotic state where you lose the power to say ‘no’ to any question, however intrusive. In a matter of minutes, your life becomes an open book to the friendly nosy parker who files away the information for future use elsewhere.

Some roles in the company naturally lend themselves to be a good fit for nosy parkers – front desk/receptionist, HR Executives (with whom other staff have ‘personal’ conversations by necessity) and finance executives (who deal with all types of expenses and hence can keep tabs on what is going on), to name a few. This, by no means, implies that an ingenious individual in an obscure department such as Archives & Records cannot beat everyone to the ‘Chief Parker’ title.

Armed with unlimited details about infinite numbers of people and situations, the professional nosy parker plies his/her trade by providing an opportunity for information exchange. For example, the Manager, Operations might overhear (eavesdrop on) a partial conversation between two Project Managers, in the break room or in the parking lot, regarding possible delays in some customer deliverables and ‘report’ this to the Director of Projects. This could in turn result in a variety of outcomes, ranging from a pat on the back for the Manager, Operations to admonishing of the Project Manager(s) or even replacement of the PM’s in question.

Nosy parkers pose special challenges to their managers. Take a look at the following conversation to understand the travails of such a manager:

Nosy Parker (NP): Good morning. May I have a minute of your time?

Manager (desperate to finish a report due in half an hour): Yeah… what is it?

NP: I heard that we are signing a big contract with Customer-A. I would …..

Manager: Who told you that? We don’t have any such contract ……

NP: The salesman concerned has invited us to drinks this evening, so I thought something must be cooking.

Manager: The only thing cooking at present is my brain. I have to finish this report quickly. So, if you don’t mind…..

NP: Well, I would really like to manage that project. Anyway, Liz, the only other project manager in our department, might be pregnant and so I am ……

Manager (walking out, looking at her watch): OK, ok. Let us deal with this when it happens. For now, can we do some real work?

Nosy parkers contribute liberally to the creation and spread of rumors. Blessed with exceptional imagination and extraordinary extrapolation skills, a simple, ‘…Jane is at the doctor’s office’ becomes ‘….Jane has had a nervous breakdown’; ‘customer A is asking for a lot of information’ becomes ‘customer A has canceled our contract’; ‘Tom, the CFO, may be taking a short vacation’ turns into, ‘Tom may have been fired’; and so on.

The Email Shower

Nothing defines corporate life as well as the proliferation of email messages crisscrossing the length and breadth of an organization. So pervasive is the phenomenon that in many companies, or at least in sections of many companies, no one “talks” to anyone else in non-email mode.

Emails can be as powerful as a nuclear device – with a single stroke of a finger (or click of a mouse, if you will), you can destroy many a family weekend, a romantic dinner or even an entire vacation. All it takes is a one-liner, “Call me.   D” (for dramatic effect, the boss signs, if at all, with only the first initial), safely and securely, and in an untimely manner, delivered to your smart phone. Of course the boss is not available to take the call even after you have tried calling till your phone battery is dead.

There are many innovative uses of the email weapon, limited only by your imagination. Here are a few that come to my mind:

  • You prove you are working by the steady stream of well-timed emails
  • You preempt any deadlines by repeatedly promising to deliver anything and everything the following day
  • You create or redirect work to others so that you have time for, yes, more emails
  • You cause the company server to crash with larger than life attachments
  • You never delete any of the earlier messages in the thread and frequently refer to something that is hundreds of levels deep in the thread
  • You never ever forget to ‘reply all’

Emails are self-perpetuating in nature – an email begets another one (or more). Like a race to the bottom, there are email competitions as to who will outlast whom. Let us follow one such chain:

Liz: Brian, could you please email me the proposal that we sent to Allied Traders last week?

Brian: I am in a meeting for the next thirty minutes – marking this to Kate to take action.

Kate (to Brian and Liz): Got it. Will jump on it right away.

Liz: Thanks Brian and Kate.

Brian: Not a problem. Still busy at the meeting (while also acknowledging several other such emails)

Kate: Always happy to help, Brian.

Liz (after 3 minutes): Kate, any progress?

Kate: Liz, my computer just froze – will wait for the tech guy to show up.

Brian (still busy at the meeting): Kate, try rebooting in the meanwhile.

Jason (the tech guy): Which floor and section are you in? Your laptop does not seem to be registered with us.

Liz (email spray): Can anyone else help with the document – please….

Random Guy-1: I can probably fix Kate’s computer.

Brian: I am really sorry Liz, the meeting is going way beyond its scheduled time.

Liz: Thanks Brian – appreciate your concern.

Kate: Hey!!! My computer is up.

Brian: Good job, Kate.

Jason: Kate, could you please close your service call request?

Brian: Jason, I will take care of it, as soon as I am out of the meeting. Kate, please fetch Liz’s document as soon as possible.

Kate: I am on it……

Liz: I just got the document.

Kate: But I have not yet sent it.

Liz: Let me see…… Random Guy-3 sent it. Does anyone know who he is? Anyway, thanks everyone.

Brian: Thank you Liz.

Brian: Thank you Kate.

Kate: Thank you Brian – much appreciate your support.

Jason: Can someone please close the support ticket? Thanks.

Brain: On it buddy…..

Kate: Brian, thanks a lot for taking care of this ticket.

Brain: Not a problem Kate.

Kate: Thanks.

Brian: You are welcome.

(Random Guy-3, who actually sent the document, and is an inadvertent “cc” in all these exchanges, wonders, “What the hell is going on?”)

The Holiday Party

Nothing else brings out the culture – or any other label you may care to use – of a company as the preparation, performance and post-event reminiscence of a holiday party. We will avoid assigning a name to the event – Halloween, Christmas, Diwali – to keep the context generic (if you are saying, “it is all the same” at this stage, I have already connected with you).

Typically, preparations for the party start a year ahead of time, just a day after the previous year’s party has ended. There are natural ‘leaders’ in any organization that effortlessly assume (usurp?) the role of organizer(s), edging out the meek and silent contenders. And this is perhaps one of the few areas of corporate sports where the senior executives are automatically eliminated, leaving the field open to the common man and woman.

Considerable time is spent on selecting a suitable venue. Many obviously unsuitable and exotic avenues are considered, deliberated upon and discarded, choosing one of the following reasons through random selection: too small, too large, expensive, too far from the office, too close, too noisy, too quiet, just-don’t-like-it. On the positive side, the organizers have managed to justify around four months worth of work hours.

Choosing a date is no less daunting. A day has to be selected after eliminating any kind of conflict with the school parties and game-days of various employees’ kids, standing weekly meetings of various cultural committees in the office, monthly birthday parties and several other important events. The trick is to get on to people’s calendars well ahead of their dentists’ offices.

About a month before the event day, things reach fever pitch. A variety of committees – food, transportation, decoration, sound system, games, evites and email reminders, coat hangers at the venue and so on – have been formed to accommodate (non)work for the swelling population of volunteers. Of course, regular office work has already come to a standstill. Bosses have stopped asking where their secretaries were.

After dodging multiple bullets in the form of a narrowly-missed tornado or storm, the evasive caterer failing to honor a carefully engineered menu and a eleventh hour cut in the company expense budget (successfully overcome by canceling a critical training program) the event is finally unstoppable. People arrive at the venue determined to have a good time. There is noticeable disappointment when it becomes clear that there is no alcohol – thanks to an overnight decision by the HR manager. The chief organizer tries her best to divert people’s attention to games such as match-the-baby-photos-to-your-current-bosses and name-all-the-conference-meeting-rooms-in-the-office. People are busy talking about their kids’ school and their visiting in-laws. The few bosses who do manage to come in are busy with shop talk.

The party comes to its inevitable end at the appointed hour, leaving the organizers to start their planning for …… you know what.