The Next Level

The novice in the corporate world, devoid of proper understanding or experience of working in a mighty corporation, would be tempted to think of levels in companies as merely referring to the different steps in the ladder representing the ‘org. structure’ diagram, famously displayed in orientation courses and analyst reports. But the true power of the terminology and concept of the ‘levels’ phenomenon will take you to a different level (pun intended!).

The Director of Marketing could be explaining to a group of sales personnel the features of a new line of cosmetics that the company was about to launch. The presentation could proceed on these lines:

“At the basic level, these products are the essential, bread-and-butter items on anyone’s dresser, helping to complete the basic grooming and preparation for the day.

But, we don’t stop there (we did not think you would stop after one statement).

We want to take our offering (here you go) to the next level!

Our products are meant to boost the customer’s self-confidence, assert their personality and conquer the world (huh, what is happening here? conquer the world with a Cologne spray?).

So, go forth and educate your customers (Amen)”.

Levels are not absolute, as you may well have guessed by now. Creation of new/next levels in the blink of an eye is a master move practiced by seasoned managers to duck out of questions and topics that are well embedded in their sphere of ignorance. Let us hear this conversation between a manager briefing his team about a new system to track expenses in the company.

Manager: So, you look at who has incurred the expense. If the person belongs to the distribution department, you allocate the expense to that department code; if from sales, allocate to Sales; and so on.

Team Member-1: How about if the employee belongs to an indirect department such as Human Resources? Should we allocate to all direct departments in equal proportion?

Manager (looking nervous):Hm…I see….Wow….Interesting… I think that is a good suggestion….

Team Member-2: Sir, how about expenses incurred by a contractor providing supplies to our pantry?

Manager (visibly rattled): Oh…. really…(looks around desperately)…. You have taken the discussion to a whole new level… we have not thought of these additional levels of complication. Maybe we should differ this to the next phase of the system.

Team Members: (whatever man…..)

The ‘levels’ curve ball can be used, with telling effect, at all levels in the organization. In a meeting of departmental heads, the Controller, Finance could carefully lay down budgetary allocations for controlling overtime pay, stating, “I need all of you to keep your employee overtime expenses below 5% of your total payroll”.

“But my staff, mainly the drivers, have to work significant hours of overtime that the nature of their work demands”, quips Liz, the Director, Transportation.

The Controller, clearly annoyed, comes back with a quick retort, “Oh Liz, you are jumping the gun and taking this to the next level. We have not yet come to the point of taking care of exceptions such as …….

“But, sir, the nature of work for these drivers has not changed in decades. How is this an except…..”

“We are out of time. Meeting adjourned”.