Monday 14 December 2009

heard it through the grapevine...

Apparently, when some people start in a new job, they like to make an instant impression; to create a legend that will earn them some instant respect and get their new career off on the right foot with their new colleagues.  I once had a history teacher who, in his first lesson with us, made sure to absolutely terrorise us; to make us feel that our lessons with him were going to be a nightmare and that we'd better bloody well behave ourselves.  As it turned out, the guy wasn't really like that at all - he was the best teacher I ever had - but he made sure right from the start that a class of fourteen year-olds knew that he wasn't a pushover.

We have a new IT director at work.  He hasn't really started yet and is going through an induction that means he's spending a lot of time out in our stores, learning the business from the sharp end.  I've barely met the guy, but already he's made a few things clear.  He's joining us (indirectly) from one of the big supermarkets, and he's very big on putting the service to the shops above everything else: if something in a shop breaks, then everyone damn well better jump to it to get it sorted.  Fine.  My job isn't directly related to the service in the stores, but as a retail business, paying more attention to the shops makes a certain kind of sense, even if it's not exactly something we haven't thought of before now.  Make your big impression.  Whatever.

We had a team meeting on Friday, and my boss decided it would be a good idea to try to impress us with some stories about how things were going to change.  He's big into something he calls "personal branding", so he's got a keen eye on how the new director is shaping up and was clearly eager to share his findings with us.  Apparently the new guy was less than impressed at the department's response to one particular issue.  Things, it seems, were not resolved with the requisite alacrity.  So what did our new leader do? He made the team leaders responsible ring the store affected and apologise in person.

I think I was supposed to be impressed and a little bit scared by this: new broom in the department and we'd all better look sharp etc. etc.

I wasn't impressed.

I'm sure it's true that we can and should provide a better service to our stores, but I fail to see what is achieved by this.  What does the store gain by some apparently random people ringing them up and apologising?  Does it resolve the issue any faster? Does it benefit the store any? No.  It's an exercise in humiliation.  I'm sure it would mean far more if the store received an apology from - say -  the Director of IT, but what the store thinks isn't really the issue here, is it?  Presumably we're supposed to see that the team leaders were responsible and should be held to account for their perceived failure to act fast enough.  Well, the thing is that the buck doesn't stop with them, does it, it goes on up the chain of command.... so why isn't the IT Director apologising?  Or the Managing Director? Or the Chairman?  Or the Owner?  Even if it's true that whatever the damn issue was - and exactly what it is hasn't been made clear as it's not important to the creation of the legend - could have been resolved faster, is that any reason to treat grown adults like children?

Still, when my boss tells me a story like this, presumably the sensible reaction would be to smile and nod and make all the appropriate coo-ing noises in all the right places.  That's what any sensible employee would do... right?


Here's what I said:

"Did he bring his own naughty step with him when he joined the company, or is he using one of ours?"

I honestly wasn't trying for a reaction, but something of a shocked silence descended on the room.  Someone actually gasped.  Judging by the look my boss gave me, I may not have exactly enhanced my personal brand.

Oh well.


  1. Well, I would have laughed. But then, I haven't been corporate for a very, very long time.

  2. I would have laughed too. I'm teaching a course in corporate ID at the moment, and part of it involves how employees should "live the brand" of the company they work for. I can't help but say I don't really hold much truck with any of that stuff (and that I think mission statements are a load of codswallop too) and it's actually been funny how many of the students have parroted my views in their assessments. Whoops. I'd better hope I don't get an external examiner, or my personal brand's stock will drop right down. Oh well, indeed.