Stupid (but mostly true) Story of Workplace Terror and a Stapler

shining

With Halloween rapidly approaching, it seemed like a good time to share this tale of workplace fright.

As many of you know, I work from home. However, I also have an office assigned to me in the nearest company location, which is about 45 minutes away with no traffic…but I live in California, which means that the window in which there is no traffic is between 10 pm and 4 am and, of course, the week between Christmas and the New Year. Outside of these times, the drive is about an hour and a half.

About a month or so into this job I decided to brave the commute to check out our location and the space allocated to me…and print every document I could think of. C’mon folks, a crappy home printer is no match for an industrial machine that prints a 35 page document in a matter of seconds. (It takes Ole’ Bessie at home about a minute per page.) Oh yeah, and the last part of my mission was to kidnap a stapler. You never know how much you need a stapler until you go without one. This working from home gig is not for the faint of heart.

As I soon found out, my company occupies 2 floors of an 8 story building. (I did not know this before, because I had interviewed at our headquarters which are located in another state and had never visited this location prior to this fateful day.) Arriving at the entrance to our suites I knew something wasn’t right. It was extremely quiet. This was due to the fact that with the exception of the security guard, there was no one in sight. I turned right to go search for my office and ran smack into the facilities manager, whom I’ll call Igor. Igor had shifty eyes and a nervous habit of wringing his hands. He put on his best friendly voice, which was still faint and ghoulish, and asked me if I wanted a tour of the facility. Who could say no to a personal tour with Igor? What was he going to do…kill me? I laughed at that thought and quickly agreed.

As we walked down the hallway, things took a truly creepy turn. We passed rows and rows of deserted cubicles and not one other live human being. As we continued on I could hear the buzzing of copiers and fax machines, as they waited patiently for someone to press the button. The coffee machine had sputtered to life but there was no one there to drink the coffee. I wondered if I was being punked. I get this feeling often at work and figured this time it had to be real.

We turned a corner passed more empty cubicles, and then entered into one of several conference rooms Igor would show me, each larger and more elegant than the last. I finally broke down and asked him if anyone actually worked in this office. He was oddly surprised by my question and exclaimed that people did in fact work in this office…just not on the day I chose to visit.

Not to get too hyperbolic here, but it was at this point that I lost my marbles. This place was like the big deserted hotel in the movie “The Shining.” Similar to “The Shining’s” protagonist who went crazy and tried to kill his family, I was pretty sure Igor had gone crazy and killed all the other employees. Thoughts frantically filled my mind. Was I bound to be next? Did HR know what had happened here? All I wanted was a pleasant visit to what I thought was a normal office location and a stapler. Instead it looked like I might have to actually test out my karate training in the real world. I was definitely not ready for this.

I tried to stay calm as he showed me to my office and hung around to make sure everything was “working alright.” As soon as he left I shut the door and locked it. I figured I’d stay long enough to print my stuff and secure the stapler. After that, I was outta there.

After several minutes the lights started flickering, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. I was certain the ghosts of the slain employees were trying to warn me to get out before Igor came back with an ax. That was it, my nerves were shot. I grabbed my stuff and ran as quickly as I could to the lobby and out the door to the nearest Starbucks with wifi.

And that’s why I still don’t have a stapler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Purgatory (and Appraisals)

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I spend a great deal of my work life creating PowerPoint presentations. In fact PowerPoint is my main tool of communication. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes in PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

I have determined that to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

On a rare occasion, I am able to leave PPP for a day to obtain some insight into company operations. Recently I spent a day reviewing residential property appraisals. While this may sound boring, I assure you there was plenty of excitement to be had. In fact, based on this experience, I learned some important points to consider before refinancing my mortgage:

1. If you want to make sure the staff is awake, don’t flush the toilet before the appraiser comes to take pictures. A good toilet picture will have a more lasting effect than coffee.

2. If you have so much junk that the appraiser cannot physically get into your house, you might want to first consider renting a storage locker.

3. If at all possible, remove the bicycle hanging from the basketball hoop. This may not affect the value of the property but will probably confuse the review staff who will have to figure out which way to hold the picture.

4. If you’ve converted your Home Depot garden shed to a kitchen/bedroom/bathroom, you probably won’t get credit for the additional square footage.

Now, I think I’ll go put these tips in PowerPoint.

Corporate Mentoring Series: Conference Call DO’s and DON’Ts

When leading a conference call, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. If you work in Corporate America, then you know that you have two goals and two goals only: to confuse every participant, and to maximize the number of minutes you steal from everyone’s day. To ensure you stay aligned with these goals, here is a handy list of  DOs and DON’Ts that you can refer to during your next conference call.

1. DON’T tell people what the call is about or give them any background information. After all, it’s your job to keep folks on their toes.

2. DO give out an incorrect dial-in number. After 5 minutes of making everyone question their sanity, send around the correct number. To maximize effectiveness of this tactic, start the presentation on time, so that when people finally do dial in, they’ve missed several key points.

3. DON’T tell people which slide you’re on. This makes for good suspense. When someone finally speaks up and asks, make sure to tell them the wrong slide.

4. If you get the sense that the group is following along too well, DO throw in the term  “overcollateralization” a few times to ensure no one has any idea what you are really talking about.

5. DO concede, when challenged by one or more members of your audience, that your slides aren’t as precise as you led people to believe. When you think about it, you do have to agree that the phrase “formal proposal” doesn’t really mean “idea I had while on the toilet this morning.”

6. DO use the word “paradigm.” Since no one has used that word in over 5 years, you’ll reveal yourself as the douchebag you really are.

7. DON’T admit that you too are overcollateralized and have no idea what you are really talking about.

 

 

 

 

Jump Into That New Job With Confidence

Dilbert New Job

Starting a new position can be somewhat nerve-racking. Not having changed jobs in over 7 years, I was somewhat anxious when I started with my new employer recently. Of course I was also really excited, having left my prior employer for an intriguing opportunity (translation: “more money”).

But, even with dreamy thoughts of the new gas-saving, carpool lane-eligible Chevy Volt I was hoping to purchase with my increased salary, as my first day approached, butterflies filled my stomach. Would I be able to win over my colleagues with my brilliance and wit? Would my office have a couch in it? Would I be able to map the new printers to my computer when the IT guy fails to show up after 3 days of nagging? Would the coffee machines be even less hygienic than the grimy coffee pots I was used to?

Well, rest assured, two months down this new road, I am here to tell you that if you too are contemplating making a leap to new employment, there truly is nothing to fear. In fact, you should be confident. You will soon find that, money aside, there really are some great upsides to the new gig and when it comes down to it, the usual stuff you’re used to at the workplace isn’t much different. Here are some concrete examples, to put you at ease:

New Upside: The travel expense and timekeeping systems are easier to use.

Usual Stuff: In theory this is true. In reality, you have no idea, since it takes weeks to actually get access. To avoid wanting to throttle someone in IT at your new company and winding up explaining your violent actions to Human Resources, don’t go on any business trips or get sick for at least a month.

New Upside: The Human Resources Department has a direct support line staffed with helpful, internal employees. 

Usual Stuff: When you finally get access to the timekeeping system, you realize after running a few calculations that your vacation isn’t accruing correctly. The external, non- Human Resources staff who are responsible for fixing the issue, argue with you that the “computer isn’t wrong.”

New Upside: You work with a really friendly group of people who take time out of their day to teach you the ropes.

Usual Stuff: You still have no idea what the statisticians are saying. (Tip: just complain loudly about “data quality” and shout “chi-square” (pronounced: kīskwer) every few minutes, and you’ll make it through the discussion.)

New Upside: You hear about an exciting new project at the company.

Usual Stuff: You find out the project is staffed with consultants who get paid obscene amounts of money to put together colorful presentations with “swim lanes” (complete with “swim sprints”) and made-up words like “ideation.” When you look more closely, you find they were too busy doing important consultant stuff to worry about spell check or slightly racist undertones in their “user profile” slides.

New Upside: You get a huge new office with a couch. Wow, you’re really moving up in the world.

Usual Stuff: Facilities can’t seem to fix the overhead light which makes a constant loud buzzing noise. It looks like there will be no napping on that couch after all. Besides, it’s easier to work from home than sit in traffic for an hour.

New Upside: Working from home means you get to see your kids more often.

Usual Stuff: Your kids find every opportunity to interrupt you. You consider padlocking your office door and investing in a noise cancellation headset.

New Upside: Once you have access to the travel expense system, you travel across the country on exciting business trips.

Usual Stuff: Your last flight home is delayed by two hours, because no one can figure out how to fix the plane’s coffee maker.

 

As you can see, there really is no reason not to take on that new opportunity that recently presented itself. In addition to the many favorable things that await you, you won’t be pushed too far outside your comfort zone, because you will still get to deal with the same crap you’re used to. And if you have an extra bit of luck like me, the germy coffee pots will have been replaced by a Keurig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Quiz – Which Corporate Employee Are You?

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Need an objective view as to how you’re holding up in the workplace? Take this quiz to find out if you’re on your way to the top or if it’s time to retire.

1. During a meeting where the logic of your idiotic process is being questioned, you:

a) tell the group that you agree the process stinks, but you are just doing what you were told. You then take this opportunity to hijack the meeting and spend 20 minutes complaining about how no one listens to you.

b) confuse everyone with a long-winded, somewhat incoherent explanation of how the process came about. You get so wrapped up in the history of the process that you forget what the group actually wants, which is that you agree to change the process.

c) pretend that the CEO is calling you on your cell phone and leave the room immediately.

 

2. Your boss needs you to work on an urgent assignment. You:

a) tell him that you’re too busy and will not be able to take on any new work until Q1 2017.

b) agree to do it but forget to ask him what he wants and when it’s due by.

c) zealously agree to help him out, because, after all, you’re always there for him when he’s in a jam. You then secretly pawn the work off on your lower-ranking colleagues who are too timid to say no. In the end, you make sure to take all of the credit.

 

3. When meeting with a manager at least 2 levels above you, you:

a) take the opportunity to loudly voice that you are overworked and stressed out. It’s hard working 40 hours a week.

b) fail to understand what exactly the manager is asking you. Rather than request clarification, you just ramble on about a topic of your choosing.  This makes sense, since relevancy really is subjective.

c) make witty jokes and compliment him/her every five minutes.

 

4. Your co-workers need your subject matter expertise. You:

a) tell them they’ll have to hire a consultant to answer their 3 questions, because you’re busy reviewing training materials.

b) happily agree to help. After an hour on the phone with them you’ve managed to take them down at least 3 rabbit holes without ever arriving at an answer to the first question. It was a “yes” or “no” question.

c) refer them to someone who works for you. Since you are a manager, you don’t really have to have any knowledge. That’s why you have a team.

 

5.  Your boss makes you in charge of a project already being worked on by 5 people, you:

a) put together a project plan but don’t have time to figure out if anyone’s actually adhering to it.

b) do the same work the others had already completed, since you forgot to ask them what pieces of the project had been checked off before you joined the team.

c) make one of the 5 people your “team lead”, have him/her put together a project plan and report back to you regularly. While you wait for status updates, you drink coffee and make vacation plans.

Scoring:

1. If the majority of your answers were a) then it’s time to throw in the towel. You’ve been working too hard for too long and need to be put out to pasture. Find a job at an ice cream shop during the winter months and at a ski resort in the summer.

2. If the majority of your answers were b) then you’re faking. Anyone who truly would answer b) is too confused to take this quiz. Find the b) people at your job and give them a hug. It’s hard to live in such a haze.

3. If the majority of your answers were c), then congratulations. You are a successful corporate douchebag who knows how to make yourself look good while forcing everyone around you to do your work. Watch your back, though, since all of the little people you stepped on will be looking for opportunities to run you over in the parking garage. Don’t be surprised if when you go to an ice cream shop in the winter, your scoop of chocolate chip tastes strangely like pee.

Corporate Mentoring Series: 6 Business Terms Every Elementary School Kid Should Learn

learning

As a parent, I am concerned that kids in America are graduating without sufficient skills to be successful in the business world. Actually, this concern is probably better described as downright fear, since I see the results of our country’s sub-par education system every day at my job on the corporate hamster wheel.

When my daughters embark on their careers, will they be capable of using first-grade addition and subtraction to calculate time zones when setting up meetings with employees in different parts of the country? As I have learned from the numerous invites I receive to conference calls before 8 am, this is not a skill that has been adequately taught.

If my children choose a career in marketing, will they know how to spell the name of the company they work for? This is also not something that can be taken for granted…at least not where I work.

Since according to the self-evaluation portion of my latest performance review, “I excel as a true driver of change,” I’ve decided to take action here too and have compiled a short list of key corporate words and phrases, which kids should study. While this won’t help with time zone calculations or spelling skills, proficiency with every term on this list will at least promote a child’s ability to successfully communicate with their corporate peers and managers when the day comes.

Add some color:  to provide additional details. This does NOT mean you should add more blue and red to your art project.

Example: John, can you add some color to why your team’s results are in the toilet?

Appetite: level of interest (as opposed to level of hunger).

Example: There was no appetite in management to get us the resources for good results.

Throw someone under the bus:  to blame someone else. Do not take this literally…no one is actually tossed under a moving vehicle.

Example:  John threw management under the bus. He is now looking for another job.

Stakeholders: other people affected by your brilliant ideas. This is not a reference to your history lesson about gold miners claiming their territories.

Example: Beware of Sales; they have been known to hide their plans from the Company’s stakeholders.

Harmonize:  to ensure your thoughts are accepted by stakeholders; the opposite of hiding your plans. This has nothing to do with forming a choir with the other students.

Example: Sales didn’t harmonize with the Legal Department before launching their product; the company is now being sued by the government.

Mission statement: your stated purpose. Do not confuse this term with the opening sentence in your fourth grade report on the California missions.

Example: The Sales Team’s mission statement is to make as much money as possible and leave for the Bahamas when the company gets sued by the government.

11 Signs Your Co-Workers Have Lost Their Minds

coworker crazy

If you work in Corporate America, you have certainly asked yourself “Is it me?” It’s often hard not to wonder if you’re the crazy one or if everyone else is crazy. In all honesty, it seems unlikely that 95% of the people you encounter in the workplace are completely nuts. Therefore, you begin to ask yourself the next question in this journey of self-analysis, which is “Am I being punked?” This is often followed by a quick sweep of your office for hidden cameras and bugs.

While these situations tend to occur in meetings or when reading e-mails, you may find that you are either questioning your sanity or looking around for Ashton Kutcher during any activity at any point between 8am and 5pm. Rest assured that you are neither insane nor the subject of an office prank. Instead, your co-workers have lost their minds. In case you are still not convinced, here are some signs that they, not you, are the ones who are cray cray (as the kids say):

1)  Your colleagues in another time zone force you to attend a meeting at 5 am.  Then, at 4:45 am you receive a notice of cancellation, after you have forced 2 cups of coffee down your throat to ensure you can communicate intelligibly.

2) Your company does not believe it is necessary to spend resources training employees to do their jobs and tries to convince everyone that osmosis can also be telepathic.

3) Department meetings turn into an episode of Ellen, with surprise guests, comedy routines and sometimes dancing.

4) Senior management is confused by what you thought was a simple concept. (If this has happened to you, do NOT let your statistical team anywhere near management or you will end up forfeiting your next 3 free weekends in an attempt to bring your boss’s bosses up to speed on how all of this stuff works.)

5) You are given top secret assignments, but in order to complete the assignments you need the help of the people you are supposed to be spying on.

6) You regularly find a half-eaten donut (with bite marks) in the box on Donut Friday.

7) There’s a “lunch thief” who steals people’s turkey sandwiches.

8) Your company spends thousands of dollars paying consultants to do a project and no one reads the results. When you take a look at their work papers, you realize even the consultants didn’t read the results.

9) The audit team is auditing processes that were discontinued 5 years ago.

10)  They’ve never found an error.

11)   Their breath smells like turkey.