The Project: Bonus Behavior


This is the third in a series of articles detailing some of the management behaviors that took place while a certain department was working on a very labor-intensive project.  This won’t be detailing the project specifically, but how management handled the stresses on the department resulting from the project.

It was in one of the team’s staff meetings that Sarah announced that Ilene, for all her hard work on the project, was to receive a bonus.  With great fanfare, she presented Ilene with the bonus, thanking her for all her hard work.

The staff clapped for Ilene, for not to do so would have attracted Sarah’s attention, and nobody wanted that.  It wasn’t that Ilene didn’t deserve the bonus. She did.  She had worked many hours as the primary person on the project.  Always known for her good cheer, she was popular with her peers, and was always ready to pitch in to help one of her fellow co-workers.  No, it wasn’t that Ilene was either disliked or didn’t deserve the award that caused the undercurrent of tension in the conference room applause.

Then what was it?  It was the face that Ilene alone was being singled out for a bonus for her work.  Many of the staff felt that the only way Ilene was able to head this project was that many of her duties had been temporarily shuttled to other people in the department.  Thus, while Ilene had her hands full with the project, the other staff members, already burdened with the work in their job, now were faced with additional responsibilities that they were accountable for.  This led to extra hours, staying late, working night and weekends, and some very stressed and tired people.

Even this would have been overlooked by the staff if they had also received some recognition for their efforts.  They hadn’t, and that bothered them.  If you just walked in and heard Sarah, everything was done by Ilene and she managed to do everything related with the project without any assistance whatsoever.

The staff didn’t even look to monetary rewards, though that would have been nice.  They were reasonable people, and being such, recognized that the department didn’t have the financial resources to hand out checks to everyone from the department who helped out in some way.  The management and leadership, though, didn’t even offer a hearty handshake to them to thank them for their efforts.  Instead, they were just given more work to do and the expectation was set that it had to get done.

What could have management and leadership done?  How about each area head take their group out to lunch on the company to thank the staff?  How about giving one half day off to each member who took on some of Ilene’s work during the project?  How about an ice cream social for the teams as a thank you, and then announcing they had the rest of the day off, and management would cover the office for the rest of the day?

No, none of that was done.  Management had made one person, Ilene, very happy, and made the rest of the staff feel as if they didn’t matter whatsoever.  Morale would sink ever lower, people would get frustrated and leave, and management would shake their head and wonder why.  After all, didn’t they just give Ilene a bonus to show their gratitude?  They would continue with their blinders, confident that they were managing things well.

As for the staff?  Well, they probably would be told that they didn’t appreciate anything management did for them, even when management didn’t do squat.

Failure is an Orphan

blame someone else

The annual meeting to discuss the latest engagement scores was held by Sarah, with about typical results.  Some scores went up, some went down, and some stayed the same.  That wasn’t news.  As any employee who had watched this dance for several years knew, the focus of the meeting, and the major entertainment, was how the scores would be spun.  This year was no different in that aspect.

You had to listen more closely this year for the entertainment, however, as it was subtle, but it was there.  It wasn’t in what was said about why the scores were what they were, but in the different explanations for the scores.  For any scores that were good, or had shown improvement, Sarah and her supporters immediately complimented each other on how well ‘the department’ did.  However, for any scores that had shown a decline, the story was quite different.  For each one of those, the explanation was that ‘the company’s’ scores on these areas must be represented by the data, not the department’s.  In other words, any poor scores were not reflective of the department, but rather that the company’s poor scores were dragging that number down.  Thus, it was not the department’s fault the numbers were low.  They could then be blithely ignored and have no concerns whatsoever given to them.

This see-saw effect happened throughout the meeting.  It was obvious that any good scores were reflective of the department, and that any bad scores were the result of everyone else dragging down what would have been stellar numbers for the department.  This flexible interpretation made Sarah and her supporters feel good and walk out of the meeting assured that they were doing a wonderful job.

There is an old saying that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.  In this case, failure did have a parent, but it turned out to be dubious lineage.  Sarah and her supporters didn’t know who the parent was, but it was obvious it wasn’t them.  This finger pointing would allow them to escape any critical review of themselves for another year.

A good leader is one who accepts both the good and the bad news.  That leader than engages in critical reflection of that bad news and why it happened, and what can be done to turn it around.  That leader does not push it to the side, blaming everyone else for it, but uses it to grow.  The result is a better leader and a better situation for those they lead.

If the only mental exercise you get is to figure out a way to blame others for your own bad news, then I congratulate you.  You are a master of the spin.

I cannot congratulate you for being a good leader, though, for you have a long way to go before that title is bestowed upon you.


The Lucy Van Pelt Method

Lucy Pulling Away Football from Charlie Brown

Anyone who read Charles Shultz’s classic comic strip ‘Peanuts’ knows the setup.  Lucy Van Pelt would hold a football and invite Charlie Brown to kick it.  Charlie Brown would refuse to do so because he knew Lucy would pull the football away at the last minute and cause him to go sailing in the air.

Readers knew that was going to happen.  That wasn’t the payoff of the comic strip.  What readers looked for was Lucy’s current excuse to Charlie Brown about why it would not happen this particular time.  The reason was always well thought out and convinced Charlie Brown to run up and want to kick the football with all his might.  Then, at the last minute, Lucy would pull the football away, Charlie Brown would go flying, and she would offer some excuse why she just had to pull the football away, usually making it sound as if Charlie Brown was at fault.

Sarah probably read ‘Peanuts’ religiously just for the times when Lucy and the football would appear.  She seems to have taken lessons from her.

Once again Sarah had received bad news on the Employee Engagement report for her department.  Once again the report showed her people’s morale was abysmal, lower than low, with the lowest scores being reserved for their trust in executive management and staff’s ability to speak up without being punished.  As longer term readers of this blog know, this wasn’t a surprise, and wouldn’t be when Sarah released this to the department.  Like Lucy Van Pelt, the entertainment came with the excuse that Sarah would give for the scores being so low.  Here is a recap of some of the previous excuses Sarah gave throughout her career:

  • There was nothing wrong with management.  It was all the employee’s fault, and thus they had to fix everything that was wrong.
  • The scores were reflective of the previous leader of the department, despite the fact that the questions asked not about the leader of the department, but the leadership of the department, of which she was one.
  • Silence save for asking the leader of the department what she was going to do about the scores, despite the fact that Sarah had led the department for seven months during the rating period.
  • Everyone had a different interpretation of the question.  Once we had a common interpretation, the scores would be better. (They weren’t)
  • and our particular favorite:  Staff was tired of taking the survey, did not answer honestly, so the survey was invalid.

This year, Sarah went for an oldie but goodie.  She attacked the survey itself.  No space between the words, no comma, no semi-colon was safe from her ‘examination’.  Her goal?  To convince herself that the test itself was poor, so could not provide accurate results.  No matter that the company which created the test had decades of experience in the field, that the questions were vetted by experts, and that the company had thousands of clients.  None of this mattered.  It didn’t tell her (again) that her brilliant and inspired leadership was causing her staff to dance in the aisles, so it must be invalid.  And who can believe an invalid test?

This would forestall another year where she might have to be introspective about the nature of her leadership.  This would put off any thought that she was a poor leader and manager who might need to make significant changes to her personal style in order to have a happy and engaged staff.  This would give her 12 months breathing room to have to look inside herself and come to grips with the fact that she needed to change.  No, it was much more efficient to find the next excuse than expend energy on becoming a better person, and by extension, a better leader.

Sarah could be very happy in walking off the field with her football while her staff lay moaning in pain.  After all, it was their fault they were in pain, wasn’t it?

Leading Into Oblivion


Hazel sighed.  While she didn’t expect much else from Sarah, she still had to marvel at how oblivious she was to everyone else, no matter how much she claimed she ‘cared’ for her department.   The latest meeting with Sarah, which was the reason for the elongated sigh, was the perfect example of this.

Sarah had called this meeting with Hazel to tell her about a ‘great’ idea that she had one day while out at lunch.  Now, to be honest, the idea wasn’t bad.  It would not go down in the annals of time as the greatest idea on the face of the earth, but it wasn’t bad.  Now, since it was Sarah’s idea, it was going to be implemented, for though Sarah contended it was ‘safe to say’ a contrasting opinion, Hazel (and everyone else) knew it wasn’t.  So, she just smiled and said yes, it was a good idea.

The ‘great’ idea would be implemented.  That didn’t bother Hazel.  She was used to implementing Sarah’s ideas, good, bad, and otherwise.  What caused the sigh for Hazel was the time frame Sarah insisted be followed for the implementation of this idea.  It had to be implemented by next month.  Seeing that it was already the third week of the current month, this left little if no time for Hazel. She knew, from previous implementations, that she would have to consult with the lawyers, with regulatory, and with vendors, to get this implemented.  If she and her team had nothing else on their plates, this might be a reasonable timeline.  However, due to Sarah’s past ‘great’ ideas, they were slammed with work in the current month and the next month, leaving no time for this to happen.  This was the cause of the sigh.

At no time during the conversation, which was rather one-sided on Sarah’s part, did she ask Hazel what kind of work she had in the next month.  Not one inquiry was made as to whether her team would be able to add this to their current workload.  There was not concern one for the welfare of the team or whether a team already overloaded with work could handle one more thing.  No, as usual, Sarah showed a callous indifference to anyone else’s time or concerns.  It will simply be done or there would be consequences.   Hazel entered her office and began to see how much more overtime she would need to put in to make this latest brainstorm happen.

Where is your perspective as a manager?  Is it solely focused on you, your career, and what others can do for you?  Or, do you look at your team, what challenges they are facing, what their workload is at any given time, and then look at what you can do to make it easier for them?  Does your viewpoint stop at the tip of your nose and go no further?

Your employees are your greatest resource, and the source of your success.  If that is the case, shouldn’t you do everything to help them be their best?  Doesn’t that deserve at least one question as to if they can implement something for you?

If you treat your employees simply as tools to get a job done, those are the results you will get.  Emotionless, utilitarian, and inanimate.  A good manager knows to treat their people as people to get amazing results.  One thing is for sure…there will be a lot less sighing.

The Very Careful Responses

dangeraheadsignThe staff had to give credit to Sarah.  At least she was trying.  Well, at least it seemed like she was trying.  This is what they thought, among other things, as they sat in one of the company’s larger conference rooms awaiting their ‘action day’ on their employee engagement survey responses.  The scores had not been wonderful, and getting to the answers was made more difficult by the fact that a large percentage of the staff felt it wasn’t safe to speak up on issues, especially if they carried a negative bias towards Sarah.  She was not known as someone who was welcoming to criticism and eventually would dole out retribution to whomever made the comment.  The department was littered with those who had tried it in one way or the other.  It seemed only those who complimented and flattered Sarah went anywhere in the department, and those people had a very different name among the staff.

Sarah either didn’t recognize this correlation or didn’t want to see it; the staff didn’t know which.  What they did know was that they would continue to spend their time in these sessions producing little or nothing because the truth was just too dangerous to speak.

The facilitator today was someone from the company which had administered the survey.  He had been at the company before, and in front of Sarah’s department before, so had some understanding of the issues.  He began without much introduction, saying that they had a lot to do and little time to do it in.

The session ran in a pretty typical fashion to the previous attempts.  The staff was given self-adhesive notes in order to write things that were good about the department.  If the next step followed suit, they would go up to a piece of paper in front of the room and attach these notes onto the sheet in some fashion.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen just that way.

When the staff was finished writing their notes, the facilitator called upon one of the members of the staff, Mitch, to bring his responses up.  Before putting them up on the paper, however, Mitch was asked to tell them out loud to the group.   Mitch, glad he didn’t write anything particularly offensive, did so, while the rest of the staff furiously edited their notes for when it was their turn.

The next part of the exercise the staff knew well.  As they had written down what was good with the department, now they would write down what was wrong with the department.  Knowing the facilitator would ask them to come up and speak their criticisms, the each staff member was more than a little nervous.  Fortunately, the facilitator gave them a chance to save both themselves and their jobs.  He asked them to write down something that could be improved with their department or with the company.  To a person, everyone jumped on that opportunity and, one by one, they brought up their papers describing what was wrong with the company, not the department.

This was not lost on Sarah, who commented that no one really mentioned anything wrong with the department, but with the company.  She wondered aloud if this was because people didn’t want to speak of the issues with the department or that the department was running well.  In a few minutes, she went on to the next topic of discussion, and didn’t give another mention of the odd case of why nobody would speak badly of the department.

Like her predecessor, Sarah didn’t, or wouldn’t, recognize a fundamental truth.  People had indicated, now for a second year in a row, that they were afraid to speak up in the department.  If your staff has indicated in an anonymous survey that they are afraid to speak up in the department, why would you have a session where they are mandated to…speak up in front of the department about the problems of the department?   For many who knew Sarah, they believed this was a calculated move by her to indicate to her leadership peers that she had done her due diligence, but her staff was unwilling to say anything, or that they had indicated nothing at all was wrong with the department.  That box could be checked off, and Sarah could remain secure in the delusion of her own leadership greatness.

Leaders need courage.  They need courage beyond just having to make ‘the tough decisions’, but also to accept criticism about their leadership style.  They also need courage to be able to change that style for the benefit of their staff.  When a leader arranges a situation to purposely avoid that criticism, it shows that they know things are wrong, but either refuse to or are unwilling to change.  It is a very selfish leadership that will be a leader in name and salary only, and not as a person with followers who truly believe in their leadership.  The only leadership they exhibit is of their own ego.

When you have to rig the contest in order to assure the outcome you want, you are not a leader.  You are little more than a carny game operator who makes sure that nobody can win at your games of chance.  In that situation, the real losers are all those who are subjected to your so-called leadership.

The Reorganization, Part 1


Carolyn sat in Sarah’s office presenting her view of what the organization should look like.  Sarah, since ascending to the leader’s position, had informed the department that she was going to make some changes, and invited the staff to share their ideas with her.  Carolyn had given this some thought, and had presented Sarah with a different spin on the department’s structure and its way of doing business.  Sarah thanked her for her submission and asked where Carolyn saw herself in this new scheme.  Carolyn had pointed to the spot recently vacated by Sarah, which would have been a promotion for her.

Sarah wrinkled her nose a bit, looked at Carolyn, and said, “I’m not sure about that.  I don’t think you are ready for it.”  Talking about this later, Carolyn had mentioned to colleagues how wonderful that one sentence had been for her morale and engagement in the department.  Was Carolyn qualified for the position?  Absolutely.  Her credential were impressive, her leadership experience deep, and she was well respected by the department.  This wasn’t about credential.  It was all about ego.

If Carolyn had known the history of Sarah and promotions, she still would have felt highly disengaged, but would have seen she was simply the latest in a long line of refusals by Sarah to believe anyone was ready for promotion, save for Sarah, of course.

Carolyn would have seen her own direct report, Mitch, who had proposed three times during his tenure with Sarah to receive a promotion.  Each time Sarah dismissed him with a wave of her hand, claiming he was ‘not ready’ for anything more than he was doing.  Even when an independent analysis by a consultant brought in by the department had shown Mitch was doing the job of his manager but not getting the role or pay for it, she would not budge.  She would have seen another member of the department, who after putting in 10 years in her function, be told she was not even going to be interviewed when her manager’s slot became open.  The employee left, taking with her valuable experience, and saying openly in her exit interview that the company promised promotional opportunities, but this department didn’t seem to care about its staff.  Now, Carolyn had seen this happen to her.  Nobody was ever ready in Sarah’s eyes, except for Sarah, of course.

A staff stays with a company for different reasons.  For some, it is a paycheck to get them from week to week.  They put in the requisite work, get their requisite pay, and leave.  Others come for the experience,and leave when they have received the experience they need.

A third group comes in wanting to make something of their time with the company, help it grow, and make it flourish.  Management and leadership time and time again are told they need to keep these people with the company, as they will be the ones who will help the company expand over the coming decades.  These people will work hard, dedicated themselves to their work, and be among the most loyal.

The company’s part of the bargain, however, is the also keep these people interested in staying.  This third group isn’t interested in staying in the same role for the rest of their lives.  They want to grow themselves as they grow the company.  A good leadership team and a good management team knows this and works towards making that happen.  They appreciate their people and do what they can to keep them where they can continue to help the company.

By denying that no one, except you, of course, is worthy of movement, the leader turns those loyal folks into those who just punch the clock and look for their next opportunity.  They fail at being good stewards of the company and are only looking out for their own interest.  Yes, the would be the first to scream if they didn’t get what they think they deserved, but blithely look beyond anyone else feeling that way.

Leadership like Sarah’s means that those who stay there will not be watching the company’s bottom line, but rather the clock.  They will show the exact same amount of loyalty to Sarah as she has shown to them.  She will have taught them well.  Sadly, the lesson will be look out for yourself and screw anyone else.

Lead on, Sarah.

Not It!


It began almost immediately after the meeting had started.  The consultant from the company which had administered the employee engagement survey had just introduced himself when the head of the department spoke up saying she didn’t know how valid the results were.  Why did she say this?  She had recently come into the job, after the incumbent had, sadly, passed away.

It wasn’t that the department head was brand new to the company.  Far from it.  She had been in a leadership position for the past four years within the department, just not leading the department, save for a brief time when the former head of the department had medical leave.  Still, she felt it necessary to say that she was not sure the results were valid because she wasn’t literally the head of the department.

Looking deeper into this claim, one would find it self-serving at best, and fraudulent at best.   Why?  I present the following evidence.

  • The survey mentioned the department leadership team, not the head of the department in its questions.
  • The survey results from the department head’s smaller group echoed the results the department as a whole now were receiving.
  • During the temporary tenure of the now department head, the engagement scores were also as abysmal.  As the results were announced when the former department head had returned, the excuse was it was all the department head’s fault.

In other words, it wasn’t that the results weren’t genuine, it was the excuses presented by the department head.  She was searching for any excuse, as she had done in previous years, to invalidate the results.  This year it was to blame a dead person for the abysmal scores, claiming she had nothing to do with such poor performance.  It was a performance that she had turned in each year, and which nobody in the department really believed.  Why would she do this?  Simply put, it was her actions and attitude as a leader of the department that was causing these poor results, but that would mean she would have to change her style, which was dictatorial and micromanaging.  She didn’t want to change, so the excuse train left the station once a year.

There is a child’s game called tag.  The rules of the game are simple.  One child is ‘it’.  That child has to tag another child in order to not be ‘it’ anymore.  Of course, the other children scatter and try to get to a safety zone called ‘home‘ before they are tagged.  When first signing up for this, the children decide who is going to be ‘it’.  In many circumstances, the last child to say ‘not it!’ is the one who gets to be ‘it’.  Thus, the children all try to be the first to say ‘not it’.

We expect this on the playground, not the corner office.  If the majority of your time is spent giving excuses for why you aren’t responsible for your employees are miserable, you are spending way too much time making excuses and much to little time trying to investigate the causes of why your department is miserable.  If you suspect it may be you, but are too egotistical to want to admit that or to think you are the one who has to change, then you are not leadership material.

True leadership is one where the leader does what is best for their people, not for themselves.  If they do that, there is no need for excuses year after year why the scores are bad, because the scores will be wonderful.   What do you spend your time on — making up more and more complex excuses or creating a department which has no need for such pitiful excuses?

Engaging in Illogic


Hey Everyone!  It’s time for that new game that’s sweeping that nation, “Where’s the Logic”!  I’m your host, Chuck Lotsofteeth.  Let’s meet tonight’s contestant, a department in a company, both wishing to remain anonymous, for reasons which will become painfully obvious.

This department in question recently learned its scores on the company’s employee engagement survey.  Like most surveys, there were areas for celebration, and areas where the department could have done much better.  One of those areas for improvement was the pervasive feeling that employees could not speak freely.  They did not feel it was a safe-to-say environment.  The department leadership decided to focus on this, and began a discussion on how to fix the perception.

“Why don’t we put together focus groups to discuss why they don’t feel it is a safe to say environment”, one manager suggested.

Let’s pause here to ask…WHERE’S…THE…LOGIC!

Let’s see.  The people of the department have indicated that many of them don’t feel it is a safe-to-say environment.  So, what are you, dear manager, proposing?  Let’s get together in a group to openly discuss why we can’t discuss things openly.  How successful do you think this is going to be?

As the brainstorming continued, another manager brought up the idea that each group in the department should hold a meeting where the employees could openly discuss with the manager what the manager’s faults were.  This would clear up any misconceptions and solve the problem.

Once again, let’s ask…WHERE’S…THE…LOGIC!

It’s not a big leap of logic to believe that those who feel they cannot speak openly are those who fear their manager will engage in an act of reprisal.  Whether that manager is their direct supervisor or someone who has some power in the department, those people are the ones who can adversely affect an employee’s career.  What does this manager want to do?  Have those self-same employees openly criticize their manager.  The silence will be deafening.  Doesn’t it make sense that if the employees felt they could do this, there wouldn’t be a safe-to-say problem?

Sorry, leadership, but you will have to come up with better than the same old solution if you want to fix this issue.  First, start by looking inward and do some self-reflection.  Ask yourself, ‘is it me’?  Then, find a way to get to the truth that will provide safety to your employees.  We have some lovely consolations prizes for you.

Join us next time on “Where’s the Logic”, where we always are unafraid to ask, and where it is always safe to say!

The Song Remains the Same

gary cole office space

The latest company-wide meeting had just ended and Joan, with her fellow employees, began exiting the room.  Some folks were chatting, others were looking at their mobile devices, trying to catch up on e-mail, and others, like Joan, just walked quietly, absorbed in their own thoughts.

It wasn’t that the meeting was that thought provoking.  It had been rather ordinary.  Statistics on how the company was doing, a few presentations by people wishing to highlight how wonderfully their department was doing, and a few jokes by the executive team which went over like balloons filled with lead.   No, Joan’s thoughts were focused on the presentation by the head of Human Resources on the employee engagement score results.

The results were not unexpected.  Good in areas where they were good last year, bad in areas where they were bad last year.  No, none of that was causing Joan to ponder.  Instead, it was one particular statistic and one comment by the head of Human Resources regarding that was causing Joan’s musings.  The statistic took Joan by surprise:  almost a third of the respondents to the survey did not feel the company was a ‘safe to say’ environment.  In response to this, the head of Human Resources had said, “We’ll need to work on this.”  Joan smiled as she walked, because she had heard that before, many times.

The first time she heard it was years ago in another organization responding to another employee engagement survey.  The survey had revealed the department was in the basement regarding engagement.  The department head, a man who could charitably described as ‘out of touch’ with his employees, told the assembled department that this wasn’t good and that he was taking concrete steps to ‘work on this’.  He outlined the steps for the department, dismissed them, and then seemingly lost that piece of paper, as nothing was every done.  Joan wasn’t surprised.  Knowing the politics of her department, she knew the department head’s own manager and the department head did not get along.  He had probably been ordered to get things right, but had ignored this mandate beyond saying what he was going to do.  It was a poor choice, as he was asked to resign after the next employee survey results showed even worse results.

A year after that, another employee survey, still poor results, but this time the department head’s manager had reported the results.  During the intervening year, the company cost-cutting program had wielded not a scalpel, but a chainsaw, decimating not only Joan’s department, but every department in the company.  Delivering the results to the department, the manager had said simply, “We’ll have to do something about this.”  Needless to say, nothing was ever done.

Since that time, in the companies where Joan had worked, the same phrase, almost word for word, had been uttered in response to one survey or the other.  So, when the head of Human Resources at Joan’s current company had uttered those words, Joan could do nothing but smirk.  She knew nothing would be done, partially because of her prior experience, partially because she was in a department in the company which had received abysmally poor scores.  She had to credit the management of the department.  They didn’t say, “We’ll have to do something about this”.  They simply reported the results and took no action of any kind.  Joan had to give them credit for being efficient.  Since the head of Human Resources knew all about this and had done nothing to mitigate it, she knew empty words when they were spoken.

If you don’t recognize the picture at the top of the page, it is the department manager in Office Space, that wonderfully accurate and subversive movie about corporate life.  Most any time this manager appeared, he would say, “Uh, yeah…” and then deliver some news with all the warmth and sincerity of a bad actor.

When you blatantly speak something that you know you are not going to fulfill, you send a message.  That message is that you consider your audience to be so dumb, so out of it, so blatantly sheep like, that they will accept anything you say at face value.  The truth usually is much more complex.  Your employees say nothing because they are afraid for their jobs, not because they trust your words.  Each time you say something you know you are not going to fulfill, you erode whatever meager confidence your employees have in your abilities even further.  The only saving grace is that, by this point, they know the lie when spoken, so it means very little to them.

Even if you cannot do anything about the situation, being straighforward and honest with your employees will elevate you in their eyes inestimably.  They will appreciate your candor.  They will appreciate that you have shared something with them so openly.  They will appreciate that you respected their intelligence.  When that may be the only thing you have left in a company, it becomes a very valuable asset.

Privacy, Schmivacy!

The cubicles were being dismantled and walls were being knocked down.  Finally, the expansion of the department was under way.  The department had outgrown its current space for the past couple of years, and it finally was time in the queue for the department to expand its current footprint.  The leadership of the department was happy about this, as it gave them a chance to flex their creative muscles in deciding how the new department floor plan would look.  Too bad the staff didn’t share that enthusiasm.

Why?  For the answer to that, let’s look at the old and new configurations of the staff area.  The old configuration had old style cubicles.  They were serviceable.  Dull gray fabric, desk area, higher walls.  They would never make the cover of Modern Office design, but they offered something that the staff craved.  They gave the staff a modicum of privacy.   The higher walled cubicles meant that, unless the person was very tall, they would have to round the side of your cubicle to physically see you and what you were working on.  Turn the monitor a certain way, and you could be able to work without everyone seeing your business.  The fabric of the cubicles meant that there was some sound absorption, giving you a bit of peace from the chatter in the office.

That wasn’t the plan for the new office layout.  Oh no, the new office layout was to have newer cubicle styles.  Instead of higher walls, they would be lower, so as to let light and air flow through the office space.  Instead of fabric, the cubicle partition would be part glass, adding a modern and sophisticated look to the place.  It was going to be a showplace.

Now let’s look at it from the cubicle dweller’s point of view.  The cubicle walls were lower, meaning anyone could now just look over your wall and see what you are doing.  So much for privacy.  The lower walls let light, air, and noise through, disrupting your concentration.  Fabric absorbed the noise, while glass reflected it, meaning the chatter that was there would now be amplified.  There was nothing good about the new setup, and there was a lot of bad.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it was confirmed, though inadvertently, by one of the leadership team.  In talking about a possible new departmental screen saver, she said that she would be able to see if everyone’s screen had the screen saver just by walking past the cubicle.  Goodbye, privacy!

The staff realized that those who created this new scheme all sat in offices.  They could close their doors, and often did.  They had privacy.  When the planning occurred, no one from the cubicles was brought in to be part of the meetings.  Their point of view was not sought.  Even when one of them did speak up in a general department meeting, his comments were dismissed as nothing really to be concerned about.  After all, he was only a cubicle dweller.

One of the great animator Chuck Jones’ creations was Daffy Duck, a greedy, selfish character who was a frequent foil for Bugs Bunny.  In one Daffy’s more popular cartoons, he gains great wealth and is told that there will be consequences if he does not give it back.  Daffy’s reply was, “Consequences, schmosequences, as long as I’m rich”.  In true cartoon fashion, he was no longer rich and did suffer very painful consequences.

If we translate that to this story, the phrase might go, “Privacy, schmivacy, as long as it looks good.”  What’s saddest about this whole thing is that it could have been a much happier ending if the leadership, the office dwellers, had done one simple thing.  If they simply had asked the cubicle dwellers what was most important to them, instead of deciding it for themselves, they might have ordered different cubicles, created a different space, and had a happier crew.  Now, probably, they will have a very quiet office, so people won’t be overheard complaining about the new layout, and wonder why people aren’t happy.  After all, they now have better light and air flow, don’t they?  What more could they want?

What more could they want?  They want to have their opinions asked and heard.  It was the one thing the leadership team did not even consider.

That’s all, folks.