5150 Business Strategy

Life in the Corporate Fast Lane and Still Remaining Intelligent

The Cobblers Children Have No Shoes

Highway to Hell

Follow me, if you will, to the front lobby of a great architectural firm where the furnishings are picture perfect. Everything looks like it came out of Architectural Digest. There is a spiral staircase connecting floors and my first thoughts were – my god how lucky I am to be in the running to work here. I have hit the lottery and will surely get luxury accomodations from which to perform my supreme management duties. I meet in a conference room which exudes only the best – luxurious ergonomic chairs, cherry wood conference table, the carpets are exhibit grade, and everything presents like it came from the life of the rich and famous. I naively go through the entire interview process with the thought that my work environment will be exactly the same as the environment which I have been exposed. Surely everyone in this firm works in the lap of luxury behind glass enclosed offices with leather chairs and Picasso paintings hanging on the walls. Life will be good. It was a dream waiting to turn into a nightmare… and it did.

Yippee Skippee, I get the offer and accept with thoughts of my executive office floating in my minds eye. The first day I report to the beautiful lobby expecting they will lead me to my work castle from which I will rule my domain. I am escorted to the elavators and my thoughts are, great we are heading to the executive floor!! Up we go and the elevator opens onto a drab hallway where everything is a step, actually several steps, down from the Armani level I have heretofore been thinking existed throughout the company. No big deal – why waste money on a hallway, right? As long as they went all out on where I will be spending 10-11 hours of my life toiling away at my management chores. We enter a doorway that opens onto an open space where there are no cubicles but only waste high walls separating work areas. Obviously these are only meant for the general staff and management must sit past this area. I meet with the CFO and am confident he is going to show me to my office when he points me to the first space of the long open area and proclaims, “this is where you will sit”. OMG, OMG, OMG this cannot be happening.

I kid you not, the picture at the left is not an exaggeration. Take away the sewing machines and this is what the finance/accounting department of this great architectural firm looked like. You talk on the phone and everyone hears you. Of course, they characterized it as the open environment design where collaboration was encouraged, yea right. What, everyone on the other floor did not have to collaborate? What happened to the luxury accomodations, did we not rate up there with the rest of the firm? Please Lord, tell me this is a terrible misunderstanding.

OK, OK, don’t panic. This must only be temporary until my office is ready. After the first couple of weeks the reality sits in – this is it. I am totally screwed. I have made a terrible mistake coming to this company. Trading down from where I had prestige and was respected enough to be accorded an office to conduct my duties. When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, you play the cards you are dealt, blah, blah, blah…. It sucked. I immediately set about lobbying for an office that would allow me to do my job effectively.

Wait, it gets better. So, after several months the powers to be relent and grant me my wish to at least have a partition setup around a separate area of the office. Great, now we are getting places as it cannot get much worse, or so I thought.

Looking back it is hilarious, they put me in the communication room!! From where I sat there was a tremendous view, not of the San Francisco skyline, but the patch panel for the entire company. Trust me, the thought of how much damage I could do the nervous system of the company crossed my mind several times. Just a couple of snips here, there, and everywhere and this company would see my true worth! I had been a shareholder at my other company, I was part of senior management, WTF.

To survive I took every assignment that would get me out of the hell hole known as “my office”. Need someone to travel six months on internal audits, I’m your man. Need to have a regional meeting? Don’t come here, I will come to you. This was a company who listed as one of its expertise areas – workplace design! YO, look how they designed my workspace. As the title says, the cobblers children had no shoes.

This was not the only dysfunctional aspect of this company. My standing comment to anyone who would listen was, “I had only worked for one other company as dysfunctional as this one, and they went out of business.” The truth hurts but this firm, while it practiced world class architecture, was in the stone age when it came to every other aspect of their culture and work environment. To this day the headhunter who placed me at this firm apologizes to me. It has become a running joke.

Also note: I can do my work in a closet so that is not the point. It was the shameless BS that was dispensed regarding creating a collaborative workspace, a firm without walls. The funny thing was that the walls went up all over this firm, both figuratively and literally.

Lesson Learned: beauty is only skin deep. Beware of the thin veneer which hides the corkboard underneath. Never assume that the superficial appearances will necessarily mean bigger and better. In this case the glare hid a very ugly reality.

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