Chapter 2: Strange Bedfellows – Catalogs, Services and Portfolios


I sat opposite Lee, as he paged through a file folder on his desk. He lingered on some of the pages, often with an accompanying ‘Hmm,’ or a disapproving shake of his head. Each time I started to say something, he held up an index finger and wagged it at me to be quiet.

He had insisted I come back and meet with him right now, but he was completely ignoring me. I wondered if this were some kind of test. But if it were, what was he looking for? Did he want to see if I would wait patiently and respectfully for him, or if I would force him to stop and pay attention?

I studied his office a little more, looking for clues. A clock hung on the wall behind his desk where only his visitors could see it, ticking loudly like the heartbeat of the room. Unlike the rest of the industrial wall clocks used throughout the building, this one looked like an antique, with an ornate Victorian wood case. It must have been expensive and meant to impress, but to me, it seemed more an affectation than a demonstration of importance. It was probably some way of him saying his time was more valuable than theirs, so they’d better be conscious of how much they used.

Finally, Lee closed the folder. Straightening his tie and picking a bit of lint from his sleeve, he cleared his throat, and flashed that Cheshire Cat smile at me.

‘So Chris, you don’t mind if I call you Chris, do you? Or would you prefer me to call you by your full name’? He opened the folder again and started to hunt through it.

I cut him off. ‘Chris is fine. Everyone calls me Chris.’

‘Good. It seems you have only been at the company for less than a year, so you probably haven’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate how we do things. Maybe you haven’t had time to pick up too many bad habits from IT here yet. Still, you probably had one or two relevant experiences elsewhere. Whether or not they are usable will remain to be seen.’

Somehow, that seemed to be what Lee thought of as a compliment, so I said, ‘Thanks.’ His slight nod in response suggested I might be correct.

‘I’m just a little surprised you haven’t progressed further in your career by now. Don’t you have any ambition? Are you lazy, or have you just reached the limits of your capability’?

I was stunned by the audacity of the question, but couldn’t manage anything more cogent than, ‘Huh’?

‘You are only a few years younger than I, but by the time I was your age, I was a senior manager, with a staff of 15 and working towards a director role in the local division. I don’t expect you to be as successful as I have been, but even you must admit that rather than being a sole contributor at the bottom of the pile when any reasonably capable and motivated person would at least be in a role at your current manager’s level, shows a lack of either motivation or capability on your part.’ Lee paused for a moment and added, ‘Don’t you have any pride in yourself’?

Lee folded his hands together on the desk between us and sat silent, staring directly at me.

I was angered by Lee’s insinuations, but sure he was looking to judge my reaction. It was the kind of thing I would expect him to do, but the why escaped me. I did not want to play whatever game Lee was pushing. Ramesh never talked about this kind of career path stuff. It was too soon. I’d just gotten here. And frankly, I didn’t see a whole lot of pluses to managing teams of people and spending my time wading through an endless stream of HR paperwork.

Maybe Lee was waiting for me to scream at him so he’d have an easy reason for getting me fired. Maybe he was trying to see how hard he could push me; if I’d buckle under and go along with whatever he wanted. Maybe he wanted me to stand up and push back at him. The only thing I was sure of was that he was more interested in the lint he’d brushed off his sleeve than my career path and trying to help me.

I’d seen his type before at other companies. Lee was all about Lee and nothing else. Everyone and everything was here for him to use to advance his own interests. Everything else was unimportant. I failed to hold back a small smile.

‘Did I say something funny’? asked Lee, when he spotted my grin.

‘Nothing, I was just reflecting on my prior work experiences in light of your feedback.’

‘And your conclusion’?

‘I’ve only been here a little while and believe that, until I know more about the company, it’s premature for detailed conversations with my manager about my career path. While I appreciate your feedback …’

‘Wrong!’ Lee cut me off. He stood up and walked over to the window, his back to me, and his form reduced to a shadow against the bright sunlight shining in. The brilliant light created almost a golden aura around his outline.

With his back still to me, Lee said, ‘You’re wrong on several counts. First, it is never too early to work on your next job. Second, moving to your new job has little to do with how long you have been in your current job, and third, your career path has little to do with your current manager and what they want. You own your career path. You are the one responsible for it, regardless of who you work for. You’ll work for many different people, but your career path is your bedrock.’

‘But how can I possibly work on it in a vacuum by myself’? I asked.

‘That’s why you have mentors; people who can offer wisdom based on their greater experience. They give continuity to your experience. Managers come and managers go, but your mentors are there forever. They are the ones that help you stay consistently focused, regardless of who you work for.’

Lee walked around behind me. Standing over me, he placed his hands on the back of my chair.

‘You see, Chris, I’ve accomplished more than everyone else, but I haven’t done it alone. I cannot do it alone. No one can. Do you know why’?

I shook my head.

‘Because there are always people who resist change, no matter how big the benefits. I am change. I am not the stone who resists the stream. I harness the stream to my purpose.’

If he next asked me to snatch the pebble from his hand, I was going to break out laughing. ‘So what does this have to do with me and my career that you keep talking about’?

‘I need people deep in the organization that trust me and work with me; people who support our goals and keep me apprised of what others are saying, so I can deal with it at my level.’

‘You want me to be an informer? That’s how you advanced your career? You turned on your friends’?

‘Not at all. You people in IT don’t get it. What you do is no different from what goes on in sales or service. You just have different tools. Take away those tools and it’s all about people. It’s always all about people and changing their minds. That’s why sales is the purest form of business. We change the way people look at things. We do it every day, and we understand it is what makes this all work. You confused people in IT still don’t get it. That’s why the executives can bring me back here and hold me accountable for changing IT; because it isn’t about knowing the most about technology. It is about picking the right people, and getting them to work the right way. I’m looking for enlightened partners to help me educate and convince people why change makes sense.’

He was getting out of his depth and it showed. He was going to fail miserably if he truly believed that. But if he didn’t, what was he trying to convince me of? Or was he testing me again? ‘What kind of changes do you have in mind’? I asked.

‘We need to change the way IT interacts with the field. When we deal with the customers … the people who give us money and keep the company in business, we don’t make them deal with a dozen sales reps, each of whom has their own narrow area of specialty. We don’t give them a bunch of piece-parts and expect them to figure it out. We give them a complete turn-key solution.’

Lee leaned forward. ‘There is an old rule in sales that you should put as few barriers between people who want to give you money, and yourself, as possible. That’s what sales lives by. I am going to put IT on that same footing. I am going to change the way IT works.’

I shook my head. ‘I don’t understand how it applies to IT’?

Silently, Lee walked back around and sat down at his desk.

Shaking his head, he said, ‘You really are dimmer than I was led to believe. Do you know how many people a sales manager has to contact, to get something as simple as a PC for a new employee’?

Lee smacked his hand down on the desk. ‘Eight. Eight different people, and none of them are accountable for making it happen, or knows a lot about what the others do. They just do their own little set of tasks and then toss it over the wall to the next. Why is no one accountable for the end to end resolution of that simple task? Do you know how much time is wasted … taken away from time generating revenue, to make up for IT’s inability to do their job properly’?

‘With all due respect, we work very hard to give the field maximum flexibility in determining which of our services they use. There are lots of different kinds of PCs people may want.’

‘But how many do they need? Does each sales rep, who knows less about technology than their children, need a different kind of PC, built in its own unique way, to their personal whims? No, of course not. It’s just a tool. Business is not about nuances of tools. It is about people and behaviors.’

Lee sat back in his chair and laughed. ‘IT doesn’t give us services. IT gives us a box of components and we have to figure out what parts go together. IT couldn’t bundle them into services if their lives depended on it. The field doesn’t want a box of parts; they want solutions that help them get their job done. It’s called providing a service.’

‘Well, how is IT supposed to know what the field operations want? We’re not mind readers, you know.’

Lee shook his head and slammed his folder shut. He pointed to the door. ‘You’re hopeless. Get out of here.’

I stood up and headed for the door. Just before I reached it, Lee said, ‘Did you ever think to ask’?

Tips that would have helped Chris

People very skilled in interpersonal interactions, may ask questions that don’t make sense to you. Often, they don’t really care about your answer. They are examining how you respond to the question. You will greatly increase your relationship-building strength if you look at the things a person says to you from three perspectives:

1)  What is the interaction about?

2)  How are they speaking about it?

3)  Why are they speaking about it?

Spend time working with people outside of IT. Each group in the company has its own perspective and priorities. If you want to improve your support of other organizations, consider spending time shadowing some of their people for a day or two. Learn what their concerns are, and what they need to succeed in their terms, not yours. It can only make you better.

People will take you into their confidence for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is to understand your true position on an issue, without revealing where they stand. Sometimes it is because they want your help, and need to give you information not available to the general population. Sometimes it is to gain your trust, because you can only gain trust by giving trust. Try to understand why a person is giving you unprecedented access, or unusually confidential information, before you sign on.