Thursday, May 26, 2011

Please excuse me, but could you leave?

My autumn last year was extremely odd, and extremely busy. On the one hand, I was hands down busy. A host of initiatives, changes on all side to the function I managed, and the setting of plans that would fundamentally change the way the business was supported. It all felt like it was going well.

On the other hand, my interaction with my senior colegues was slowly degrading. Just not in the same way. One of the men I was closest too started dodging meetings. Yet I knew he was also madly busy as well as travelling, so annoying as it was I understood it. Another, located on the other side of the earth, wasn't returning calls. Even though I was in deep discussion with his team about a staff re-organisation and interviewing new hires. My own boss never talked to me, but then he never did.

It all added up to a smell that wasn't particularly nice. I did gently probe with people I trusted, but was getting back positive, not negative noises.

Since then I found out that something else was going on in the background. My dear boss, an old school manager who understood my function not at all, but felt it important enough to have me report to him, had a little quibble with his boss, the chairman. It seems that in a board meeting the chairman asked him what the strategy for my division was, and he mumbled an answer. This wasn't because there wasn't a strategy, I'd talked him through it many times, I just don't think he understood it.

And so ensued a little power struggle of the sort those two frequently got into. Other non executive directors were involved, highly paid consultants were consulted, and my boss threw his hands up in the air, had the chairman's hand inserted up his backside into his mouth, and a 'strategy' was born.

All this I believe took some time. It happened with more and more people being talked to, and amazingly none of them talked to me. Very unusual in as leaky an organisation as mine. I like to believe this was primarily due to embaressment. That it was generally known I was doing a good job, and that everyone was a bit shame faced about what was to happen. Then again, maybe they are all self absorbed egoists and cared not a hoot about a collegue they'd worked with for years.

The end result was that I had a meeting with my boss put into my diary some weeks in the future. My understanding this was to discuss strategy, and I spent considerable time preparing.

When I got to his office and we sat down, the conversation when essentially thus, "I'm terribly sorry, but I've just done a strategic review of your function, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to re-organise. There won't be a position in the firm for you going forward. We'll be generous in recognition of your valuable contribution. Shall I call in our nice HR lady?" Then he scampered.

I paraphrase, but not much really. If the conversation took more than two minutes I'd be shocked. He really did scamper too. Got out of that room faster than I'd ever seen him move. At least he had the grace to look ever so slightly embaressed, but not much.

To put it lightly, I was gobsmacked. Here I was, in a glass walled conference room and it felt like my world had exploded. Given the stress of the previous six months I stood there, and had to physically pull my emotions into check.

The nice HR lady, who actually is nice, and I considered a friend, took one look at me and asked if I still needed a few minutes. I nodded, unable to speak for fear I'd burst into tears. It actually took me about ten minutes before I felt enough in control to walk the few paces down the hall to her office.

I got tea and sympathy, well, she is HR, then the cold hard facts. They were generous... enough. Not generous as I would term the word, but generous enough that it was not worth my while to fight. So I took my few scraps of paper, made some mumbled excuses to my PA and team, and did my own version of scampering. Then I walked, called my wife, walked, walked some more, found myself miles upon miles from the office and finally found it in me to get on the tube and train and got myself home.


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