It was early in the morning as I headed to Ramesh’s office for my weekly one-on-one with him. I hated these meetings. They were an opportunity for him to harangue and berate me, the depth of which depended on his mood. He was my manager and I couldn’t think of a single positive thing he’d ever said to me in one of these meetings. To make matters worse, it was early in the morning, I hadn’t had any coffee and I was late.
I’d sent him an e-mail last night with a summary of everything that had gone on during the project review. I figured he would be pleased that I was keeping him informed, and by sending the e-mail to him at night, implying that I was working late on company business, he’d be impressed.
I hoped that during the chastisement this week for some unwritten rule I’d broken, he’d fill me in on whether Lee and Helmut skulking about after Lee’s run-in with Sabrina, had any significance. Crayton had sent me a text that evening that everyone had been looking for Sabrina all afternoon, but no one knew where she’d gone to. I wondered if Lee was bad-mouthing Sabrina to HR. I’d worked for companies before where people who fell out of favor simply disappeared and weren’t talked about again.
I stopped and caught myself. I’d been listening to Ramesh too much. Ramesh had one of those really paranoid political views of companies and people in them. He was always seeing conspiracies in every corner; telling me to watch out because one day someone would stab me in the back for reasons that only made sense to them. I always thanked him for the counsel, but was pretty sure he’d been watching too much television.
At least with Lee the reprimands seemed to be about specific capabilities and deliverables, or business; nothing personal involved. Ramesh was such a jerk that it always seemed personal. Maybe there was just something personal about me he didn’t like. Maybe, if I were lucky, Lee’s presence might give Ramesh something else to worry about. Maybe he would back off a little bit and treat me with a little more respect.
I’d always felt that if I made a mistake, I should say to go ahead and punish me if you feel the need. Just don’t ride my back every day, never letting anything go, haranguing me about every little thing, so that I’m always second-guessing myself.
I was almost to Ramesh’s office when I got an urgent text from Crayton to stop and call him immediately. I stepped into an empty conference room and dialed him up.
‘Did you hear about what happened’? whispered Crayton over the phone, as if he were revealing state secrets. ‘You remember how I told you yesterday that Sabrina had disappeared? I got it on good authority that they just fired a senior manager in our area this morning.’
In the brief time I’d been here, I’d learned that the firing of anyone at the senior manager or director level was a rare occasion. No one seemed to make it to that level of the organization without being adept at deflecting ownership of failure to someone further down the organization chart. To get fired, they had to have crossed someone with major organizational pull.
‘Okay. But one of my friends is friends with a woman who is dating one of the guys that work in security doing onboarding and offboarding; you know giving and taking away access to accounts and the buildings. It’s the last thing done when you’re hired and the first thing done when you’re fired.’
‘Apparently, there was a confidential communication to his team last night at 10.45 pm, to pull the access and authorization for one of the senior managers, effective immediately. They never do that when you resign, only when you get fired.’
I started thinking about Lee and Helmut talking in the hall, after Lee’s confrontation with Sabrina, and wondered if Crayton had just lost his boss. ‘Any idea who’?
‘No, they wouldn’t say. Only that it is someone who’s been here a long time. I wonder if they will send out a note on it’?
‘Don’t know, but I gotta go. I’m late for Ramesh, and if I’m late he won’t be happy. Thanks for the update. Let me know if you hear any more.’
Ramesh had recently hired a new administrative assistant, Joan. She wasn’t new to the company, having transferred over from human resources. She knew her way around and was experienced in handling people at all levels. In theory, she was supporting Ramesh and his entire team. That’s how leaders at Ramesh’s level justified their admins. But in practice she was his dedicated support, and the only help we got was when we were in her good graces. I’d learned early on in my career that while it’s important to make your manager happy, it’s even more important to keep your manager’s admin even happier.
As I reached Ramesh’s office, I was a little surprised to see Joan’s cube was empty. It wasn’t just empty. It was vacant, as if she’d been moved. I hadn’t even considered that. With the loss of a senior manager, everyone was probably going to move again. No matter where I worked, whenever there was a change in the leadership ranks, everyone got moved. Everyone’s work was disrupted for a week while they shifted three rows over, for reasons only leaders with more time than work on their hands truly understood. Joan was probably the first to move, so she could plan Ramesh’s move. I was not looking forward to this.
I was definitely not having a good morning, and it had barely begun. The only good news was that from the not quite closed door to Ramesh’s office, I could hear multiple voices. That meant I wasn’t really late, regardless of what the clock said. Rather, Ramesh was running over and that was as good as a free pass.
After a few minutes I knocked, despite the voices inside, hoping that Ramesh would simply wave me off. We could reschedule and I could get some coffee and chill out in my cube until my next meeting.
I slowly pushed the door open and stuck my head in. That was when I noticed Ramesh’s nameplate was missing from the slot beside his door.
‘Come in, Chris. Have a seat. I’ll be with you as soon as I finish this call.’
I noticed the few items Ramesh had on the walls were gone. The bookcases were empty, and five packing boxes sat taped closed in the corner. The man sitting behind the desk was Lee. He was just finishing up a conversation on the speakerphone, to a voice I had never heard before.
My mouth dropped open. Lee hung up the phone and laughed. ‘Remind me to play poker with you for money some time, Chris. You can’t hide your emotions any better than a two year old.’
I regained some small amount of composure and managed to blurt out, ‘Where’s Ramesh’?
Lee slowly turned in the chair, surveying the office and ignoring my question. He gestured around the room. ‘Do you like this office? Definitely not the quality of work space I’m accustomed to. Dark, poorly lit, with no windows, and I do so hate fluorescent lighting. Too much glare and it makes everyone look like ghouls.’ He rapped on the desk with his knuckles. ‘Crummy particle board furniture, too. But it definitely is a motivator to do better so you can get out. So perhaps there is a purpose behind such a dismal office space. Too bad some people never act on it.’
Lee turned back to face me. He leaned across the desk and gestured at the chair opposite him. ‘Please, sit.’ As I sat down, he leaned back and said, ‘Ramesh, ah yeah. It seems that Ramesh has decided to expand his record of success through other opportunities elsewhere.’
‘What? Since when? Why’?
‘Since this morning, about 7 am. Let’s just say that it is one thing to say you are on the bus to success town. But saying it isn’t enough. You also have to walk the talk. That means loyalty and confidentiality are part of the fare.’
None of this made any sense. Ramesh had hired me, and although he wasn’t the nicest boss I’d ever had, he’d at least been direct; which is more than some others had been. Was there a connection between what had gone on yesterday with Sabrina? I figured Lee was a petty, vindictive and compulsive jerk. But did he really have the connections to get a senior manager, a peer, fired, less than two weeks after taking over his new job? He really must be wired into executive leadership. There was no other way he could have done it.
‘Ramesh got fired’? I asked.
Lee’s Cheshire Cat grin grew larger. ‘Ever watch nature shows on TV? Ever see what happens when a new predator arrives? They disrupt the food chain for a while.’
‘You got him fired, didn’t you? Why’? I mumbled.
‘Sometimes, when people are confronted with a new reality, they choose not to participate. They choose to seek success elsewhere. When that happens, it often reinforces the organizational message that there is a new sheriff in charge and changes are coming.’
Lee wasn’t going to admit anything, but there was no question in my mind. He had used his influence to have Ramesh fired, mostly because it sent a message to everyone else that although he held the same rank on the organization chart, and had only been here a couple of weeks, on the power chart, the one that really mattered, he was at the executive level. Lee fired Ramesh to put fear into the hearts of his peers, and probably some directors, too.
For an instant I had an image in my mind of Lee’s office, with Ramesh’s head stuffed and mounted on the wall like a trophy, and spaces reserved for others alongside it.
‘So does this mean I now work for you’? I asked.
‘Yes … if it is okay with you. Or perhaps you’d prefer something other than the bus to success town.’
Was he asking if I wanted to get fired? ‘Not at all. I’m with you all the way.’
‘Good. First, forget all of the nonsense Ramesh told you, because obviously it didn’t do either of you any good. I’m going to take a chance, and allow you to accompany me to a meeting with one of our major internal users. You should consider yourself privileged at this opportunity. Think of it as my way to help you get over the loss of your former manager, because I know how well you got along and how much you loved working for him,’ chuckled Lee.
‘Understand this,’ he said, ‘I will be running the session, and you will be there strictly as an observer. If you do anything to impact our relationship with this user, you will suffer grave consequences … very grave consequences. Is that clear’?
I nodded. Goof up and he would fire me, too. That was pretty easy to understand. If he could kick Ramesh out, getting me fired would be easy.
‘Why are we talking to the users’? I asked. ‘Every time we talk to a user we spend 90% of the time educating them on how IT works, and then how the technology they’re asking for works. And usually what they’re asking for makes no technical sense at all. It’s just a waste of time.’
Lee scowled at me. ‘When was the last time you met with a user’?
‘I haven’t here, but users are the same everywhere. They don’t know anything. Why are we tagged with training them how technology works, so they can figure out what they want us to build for them’*******?
‘I could take a potted plant with me to the meeting and I would probably get a more intelligent partner. Did it ever occur to you that they may actually be able to provide some input IT might find useful’?
As I opened my mouth to speak, Lee held up his palm. ‘Wait, don’t answer that. Please try to help me believe that you are not as dumb as I fear.’
‘When do you want to meet with them’? I asked quietly.
Lee made a show of raising his sleeve to show off his ornate watch. It looked expensive. To my taste it was more gaudy than impressive.
‘We’re due there in about 20 minutes.’
‘What should I do during the meeting’? I asked, wanting to avoid any unwritten rules I might break.
‘You’re hopeless,’ said Lee. ‘A child could handle what I am asking, so even you should be able to manage it. You had better get your performance up to par, or your time here will be very brief.’
‘I appreciate you telling me I’m not meeting your expectations, but what should I be doing’?
‘Start by figuring out what you should be doing. For this meeting, just assume this is crunch time. We’re meeting with a prospect for the biggest deal in the company’s history, and competition is intense. If we don’t get the deal, the company will be in financial trouble, and have to fire employees to keep costs down. And we’ll start with you.’
I still had no idea what I was supposed to do. Lee seemed to think he was still in sales and I was a new rep. I wasn’t in sales. I was in IT. We didn’t do things like this in IT. Why did I have to do sales things?
Assumptions can help you move quickly, by papering over gaps, but they can also move you down the wrong path just as easily. Sometimes, people will provide you with incomplete information, hoping you will make assumptions and fill in the rest to their benefit. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes simply because they don’t know, but don’t wish to be seen as uninformed.
Some people will lie to you by omission, telling you only some of the information, and not clarifying, or correcting, what you assume to be the rest. In their mind they are not lying to you, and if you persistently ask the right questions directly, they will tell you all they know. The most common use of this is in implied authority, that they represent, or have the approval, or imprimatur, of someone higher up in the organization, and for that reason, you should do what they ask. It’s important for you to verify, rather than assume. Don’t mindlessly fill in the blanks.
There are things you know, things you don’t know, and things you don’t know you don’t know. Unfortunately, in the absence of accurate or complete information, people tend to fabricate what’s missing … very often inaccurately.