Monday, February 13, 2012

The Business of People

I'm in the people business. Communication, getting your message across and all that jazz. To some it's the crux of all business, to others it's fluffy stuff. The reality is this though - how you communicate your message decides a lot more than just the message. There are those who will tell you interpersonal communication is a nuisance. They wonder why they have to humour people when the message is xyz, crystal clear and who cares what the person receiving the message thinks? Others will argue that the message itself is irrelevant, it only matters that you know how to deliver it in a clear and motivating manner.
Me, I believe in a bit of both. But it's not as easy as that. When you work in a large corporation, especially an international one, there's more than just the message and how you deliver it, there's also corporate culture, political correctness and trying to say something in one sentence that will appeal to the mindsets of the 29 cultures you work with. And you need to do it by lunchtime.

But there's something else. There's being human. As a rule, I believe that we all have moments when we believe ourselves to be a culmination of the three wise men and Jesus combined and that our word is the last word and we need to spread it. And sometimes those wise people break all the rules that the business gurus preach, and even if they normally end up sounding blunt and pedantic, there are times that it's so damn human it's just that bit better than all of the gurus combined advice.

I worked for a nameless corporation once, where, as in most big corporations, the place is run by the tea ladies. One morning I was down for my early morning life advice combined with a cuppa from a nice safe plastic cup that passed all health and safety regulations when tea lady one informed me that someone on the night shift had stolen two pieces of corned beef from the fridge. (There were two tea ladies, and they operated a bit like a weather house. If tea lady one was in good mood, tea lady two would remind you that life was all fire and brimstone, but if tea lady two smiled at you whilst you were buttering your scone, tea lady one would shout across the canteen that didn't I tell her I was on a diet so why was I eating that scone and that she's only telling me for my own good.)
Well anyway, back to the missing two slices of corned beef. Tea lady one reckoned she knew exactly whodunnit. So she ignored all corporate guidelines with regard to processes and procedures in order to take immediate action. It involved a piece of paper, a pen and some sticky tape, and this appeared on the fridge:

You couldn't blame her. The fridge in question contained milk and butter that was a free for all, but if you took two pieces of corned beef that some day shift person had left for their lunch the next day, well let's face it, you were nothing but a nasty thief (at least in the eyes of the tea lady, and don't forget the power of tea ladies.) Some people philosophized. Could you be a nice thief? Maybe leave a thank you note or be a bit of a Robin Hood? Who cared. There was no more nasty thievery after the note on the fridge.
But then something happened. A manager in the organisation with an eye for politically correct signage, took offense, and it ended in a battle of corporate procedure versus one humans view of justice. He wanted the sign removed. She didn't. They met somewhere in the middle, which to me, always means they both lose. The sign was replaced by this:

It reads: Only Milk and Butter are for common consumption, everything else contained within fridges is the personal property of your colleagues. Please do not take or partially use other peoples belongings.
I'm not sure what the communication gurus of the world would say about all of this, I can only tell you what I think: if you ever work for a huge international corporation that is politically correct, values people, is driven by policies and procedures and also treats employees to free tea, coffee, scones and toast; don't go taking other peoples corned beef from the fridge. There'll be serious words...

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