Monthly Archives: May 2012

Meeting Villains on the rise


Wouldn’t it be nice if that meeting that you got a request for an hour ago was canceled after you sat in the conference room by yourself for five minutes?  As you swiveled steaming in your chair to leave and go tell somebody off, the door opens and people walk in with ice cream.  They say ‘Way to go, Buddy.  Keep up the good job.  Here’s some ice cream to make you happy!’  Well, the chances of that scene happening are very slim unless you work at Ben and Jerry’s and even they don’t give their employees the good flavors.

Meetings are like arthritis, the older you get in an organization the more meetings you have.  When you’ve got a nice day of productivity planned they pop up and even ice cream doesn’t always offset the chronic pain that meetings can cause.  Remember when you were new in your job and you got invited to your first meeting?  You had gotten past filling out W-4 forms and having the interns show you how to access the network.  Now you’re in a room with the pink shirt guy and the lady who looks like she’s perpetually about to sneeze and the crusty coffee mug dude.  All these people who were anonymous for the first few days are pulling into focus.  This is good.  You actually have a mission in those early days to learn who these people are and what’s going on.

In every group there is the Mad Questioner, we’ll call him Mark.  Mark asks relevant questions in meetings usually somewhere between minute 30 and minute 45. Statistically (because massive research has been done on this) after minute 45 Mark’s questions become…well, they’re absurd.  So, for example at 10:32 Mark asks ‘So you’re saying the numbers are down because consumers aren’t really picking up on the connection between the vitamins in our food and the health of their dogs?’ But at 10:52 it has devolved into ‘Has anyone actually thought of tattooing our brand logo onto the dogs? Or not tattoing, but giving the dogs free t-shirts or something?’  The lights should flicker at the point when Mark asks his first borderline question.  You feel like a judge in The Voice when you think ‘Yup, that’s the one’ and you look around to see if anyone else is rolling their eyes.

The problem is that Mark is often the only one who asks questions.  For a couple meetings the new people will ask questions, but eventually Mark is king of the mountain and the competition fades away.  Ironically Mark is often a very poor presenter.  Technically it’s because he lacks in focus, hence the questions all over the board.  In reality, though, it’s likely that people have just learned to tune him out over time.  You’ve got to figure that 20% of people in meetings don’t really need to be there unless you count the guy who’s a modified gopher.  He has very little idea what is going on and since he’s spending parts of the meeting sweating over paper jams and picking up lunch for everybody, he doesn’t stand a chance of capturing much, but he needs to be there.  Plus he has no fear of standing on the table to adjust the overhead projector and other maneuvers featured in OSHA filmstrips.

Then most meetings have at least two people who know basically everything that’s going on before the meeting starts: the presenter, obviously, and the Wingman.  If you don’t have a wingman in your meeting you are risking certain doom.  The problem is the Wingman is usually one of the keener people in your little organization so they get invited to a lot of meetings.  On Outlook the Wingman is optional, but in reality your thinking ‘Please God, show up to my meeting.’  Why is the Wingman so important?  It’s not necessarily for their knowledge.  It’s because when, as a presenter, your laptop decides to freeze up and, while staring at it, you’re drooling feverishly the Wingman can stall for you.  They’re like a clown in a circus.  For five minutes they are a happy clown keeping everyone occupied, but then the Wingman sees this meeting is screwed and they become angry clowns threatening to leave until the presenter finally relents, ‘OK, I’ll just send everybody an email.’ Wingman out.

Who are the other people in the room?  Well, some of them understand what’s being presented.  Most of them don’t, but they’re really good at Angry Birds.  There’s a Chicken Little ‘What if there’s a snow storm and IT can’t get the network working and the President of the company is sitting right next to me waiting for this report – the company will have no choice, but to just close operations completely!’  Maybe there’s a savant who slides in late with no paper or pencil and spends the whole meeting staring at a wall only to make a comment that is so startlingly insightful that you would follow him around the rest of the day to figure out where he comes up with this stuff.  That is if you didn’t have four more meetings to go to.  You’ve got Buda who just sits there always looking serene and you can’t figure out if he’s really tuned in to what’s going on.  You’ve probably got a Jim Jimmy-Legs who can’t sit still, a Heavy Thinker Face lady who’s obviously considering hard what’s going on, but she’s also the first one out the door and to the bathroom.  Maybe she just really has to pee.

It’s funny how people fall into these caricatures in most meetings like they’re bad guys from the Batman comics.  They’re not bad guys, they’re our co-workers!  The reality is that we often act differently in meetings than we do at our desk.  Why?  Because meetings can be a burden and we really haven’t been punished for our lackadaisical behavior.  Maybe we are bad guys; Meeting Villains.  Tortured by half hour meetings that take an hour, a shortage of chairs in the meeting room, turkey sandwiches when we asked for roast beef.  We’ve taken to the dark side and we might not ever come back (but we’re very pleasant at our desks so please stop by and chat later).

What do you think your co-workers see you as in the meeting room?  Do you have a hard luck meeting story that you have to share? Do you think Charlie Hawkins works at your office (Meeting Ice Breakers)?


What we can learn from unwanted office chairs


I once had a colleague who said “Be your own boss, but make sure you use somebody else’s desk because it’s going to get messy.”  I would never advise someone to infringe on somebody’s personal space, especially in a work environment.  You can certainly stink up the office with microwaved fish, dial up the heat and get everyone angry, but when you start grabbing pens out of the little cutesy jars that people have on their desk or you borrow their chair and change the settings – have you no conscience? Here’s how I would calculate the No-Fly Zone in my cubicle.  If you disagree please chime in.  If you are sitting in your chair facing your monitor stick your arms out to the side (because it looks silly).  I would say everything from your fingertips to the back of your desk is a No-Fly Zone for cube guests, meaning they need serious permission to touch anything in that area.  It goes both ways.  Your guests probably don’t want to encounter your germs or crumbs or anything else hiding in the Zone.  IT, of course, has an exemption from the No Fly rules because they are taking their own lives into risk by touching your keyboard and mouse.

Where’s the troll head pencil topper? (picture courtesy of

The pen thing is bad, but there are a lot of pens in this world.  There’s only one office chair.  You invested two hours in sliding things up and down, there’s casters rolling, cranking lumbar supports,  flapping ailerons.  You even watched a video on how to use your chair.  You are certain that the office looks strangely brighter from your new perch.  With your armrests cocked in that particular position the computer actually runs faster.  Glory, glory hallelujah!  It’s not a pretty place where they take your old chair (but I have a feeling that it will return).  You don’t care.  You’re like Mary Tyler Moore throwing papers into the air (then you pick them up because your boss is a little concerned that you’re losing it).  “It just so pleasing that the company spent $750 for a nice chair to help guide me through the coming years,” you think.  And you go home that day telling everybody how you got the sweetest chair. “It’s an Aeron, it’s got like 36 settings!”  Like your boss, your grandma’s a little concerned with your sanity, but as the months go by your relationship with your chair matures.  You’re just a good match.

Then one day you come in after a long weekend and something seems not right about the office.  You call over the cube asking around to see if they notice it too, but it seems to be you.  You go to reach for a pen out of your Staples Supreme Desk Organizer and you realize your arm has shrunk since Friday!  No, it’s the chair.  You try desperately to reset it, but it’s statistically impossible to get it back to where it was.  For forty-five minutes you’ve been hitting levers and rolling dials, but it’s not the same.  You coolly ask your neighbors whether they used the chair employing the phrases ‘any chance’, ‘possibly’,  etc.  OK, before you start terrorizing your neighborhood, let’s think this through.  Why would the people around you who have chairs of their own mess around with your chair?  Either they are playing a joke on you, in which case they should have hidden your cell phone in a ceiling tile and then repeatedly called the phone, or the neighborhood watch fell apart.  The third option is that they do know, but they’re not telling.  And I guess there is the outside chance that you’re just paranoid, but that couldn’t be it.

Ironically enough you had noticed the previous Friday that Barney Finklestien’s name plate was no longer on his cube.  Talk about a paranoid guy.  You wrote something a inappropriately mushy on his going away card, but hey, you were feeling good that day.  The good old days.  Anyway he had one of those rear view bike mirrors affixed to his monitor.  That would work really well to make sure nobody’s creeping around looking at your chair.  Unfortunately Barney’s cube now looks like a Dollar Store for used office electronics.  The 21 inch widescreen flat monitor is now a clunky old 17 inch.  Forget about the mirror.  There are like three keyboards all in various stages of rot, a couple of mouses, a printer that seems to missing a power cord, a bunch of pentab folders.  It wasn’t even a nice adding machine that he had, but it’s gone.  He had a serious scanner.  IT might have grabbed that one for their black market list.  You know, the list of special equipment that you need like eight signatures to get approved? Not because they don’t have it in a closet downstairs, but really just because you’re not allowed to play with really cool stuff until you have proven your worthiness by being on The List.  And, wouldn’t you know it, Bernie’s nice Aeron chair, the one he got a doctor’s note for, gone and replaced by your old chair.  Here’s your chance to bring that old beast of a chair out of the minor leagues for one last callup.  You’re like ‘Ugh, no.  I will stick with my new tainted chair.”

What is your best pickup from the employees who have gone to a better place?  Was it willed to you or did you have to sneak in ninja-style to get your prize?  Why do co-workers who should have more respect break the no-fly zone in a cubicle?

The remote office


Yes or no on used deli meat?


There aren’t a lot of picky eaters in finance.  Yes, there are probably some vegetarians/vegans who are more discerning, but I’m sure they make up for it by drinking all day at corporate outings.  For the rest of us free food meets three essential characteristics:

  1. It’s free
  2. It’s edible (usually)
  3. It’s potentially in a common area that doesn’t have a sign on the door describing gender

Now you’re saying to yourself, ‘This is all well and good, but what if it’s a trap, or, at the least, a test.’  Of course it’s a test! You’re testing the boundaries of your own stomach by noshing on that empanada or philandering with that deli turkey.  You know where that turkey’s been?  Of course you don’t.  They don’t put a chip in the turkey to track it.  That would be a disgrace to a nice animal like a turkey.  Let me tell you where it’s been.  It had a deli spa treatment.  Then it got slathered with mayonnaise and listened to a presentation about why our product is going to revolutionize the marketplace if we can just get the accounting rules changed.  Despite the warmth of the laptop sitting next to it for a half an hour, that little turkey sandwich stood tall ready for a big time exec to go dancing.  Then a miracle happened that saved this turkey for the greater public – those wise executives could not tell the difference between roast beef and turkey.  Meetings all day, every day apparently make you blind and destroy other senses like taste.  Anyway, around 1:00 a special delivery to the kitchen has brought us all face to face with free food.

 You are older and wiser and probably a touch disgruntled.  You say ‘Bah! I already ate lunch and now they bring sandwiches. Nice.’  You are not Steve Stasher.  Steve is 25 and every time you see him he’s eating something.  You hope it’s food, but you’re not really sure.  Steve’s motives are two-fold – he’s trying to save money by utilizing free food and he’s obviously running a homeless shelter in his free time.  He marches into the kitchen to throw out his McDonald’s bag and then he is stopped. “Oh dude, sandwiches.”

Steve has a fairly well established procedure down, we’ll call it the 33/66 plan.  He eats one sandwich on site to ensure high quality and then he takes two for the road.  Strangely enough Steve is very chipper in the mornings, but by 4:00 he looks kind of like Grimace.

While Steve is a nice guy and everybody likes him, there is a more insidious creature among your ranks, isn’t there?  Sara Stickyfingers.  We don’t know for sure that Sara is the one stealing microwave meals out of the freezer or a sandwich here and there out of the fridge, but the circumstantial evidence starts to mount:

-She doesn’t eat lunch in the kitchen

-She swipes handfuls of candy from desks, but only when the owner is not there

-She drinks her coffee with milk she didn’t buy

-When you try to have a conversation with her it strangely ends with you disclosing what food you have in your desk drawer.

I am not trying to stereotype that this type of colleague is always a woman.  There a lot of sketchy guys that you probably work with too, but they are often too busy ogling the busty newbie to have time to plan out a massive food snatching operation.

They say that bonding employees does not prevent theft of cash.  Similarly, putting your name on your lunch does not prevent it from being eaten by someone who is not you and not Steve Stasher because God knows, he’s building sandwiches with yesterday’s executive meat.  How do we catch these people?  First we need to think like them.  They like to prey on the people that are most hungry and aren’t carrying a lot of extra cash.  Who am I talking about?  The people who get to the office earliest.  They come in early to avoid the commuting traffic to save the little bit of gas money and leave early to be able to pick their kids up from day care before getting charged late fees. They are organized and planned out with a good substantial lunch.  These folks are rabid by 11:15, but they fight through the hunger until 12:00 so they can eat with everyone else.  Wouldn’t you know it, they’re thinking about that lunch bag when somebody else is walking off with it.  Then our poor colleague struggles for the strength to open the fridge at 12:00 only to realize the bag with their name on it is gone.  They have no cash on them so now they have to borrow and go out.  Oh, the horror!  The irony is that while they’re out feverishly looking for food, Sara Stickyfingers only ate half their lunch because she’s on a diet. And, as a double-whammy the executives have left a tray of salad and pepperoni in the kitchen.  You haven’t even gotten past lunch and your day is quickly suffocating.

What is the worst thing you’ve had stolen at work?  I actually heard about someone having their breast milk stolen.  Sorry folks, Steve cannot replace breast milk (let’s hope), but he will console you with an ‘Oh, nasty.’ and offer up a half a muffin that came from a breakfast meeting this morning.


The Elusive Link Between Worker’s Comp and Bad Corporate Outings


Cubicle Envy has a ring of being slightly negative about this life of ours in the office.  Traffic, food snatching, printer malfunction, etc. are small encumbrances to trade for what we want to do (until that lotto ticket has us taking space shuttle rides with Richard Branson).  If we were trained musicians we’d complain about cell phones.  Complaining is actually a form of showing affection.  If you really did not like the daily hokey pokey in the office you’d probably leave and become a violinist or something.

How do you show affection to your co-workers?  Well, hugging your boss every time you see him might not be healthy unless you are constantly wearing one of those fake sumo wrestler suits, in which case  sorry for bringing it up.  For the rest of us we commiserate by talking about experiences.  It’s pretty much the same as what we did on the playground in the old days except more confusing.  You’re thinking, how can seven year olds with sticks be less confused than thirty-seven year olds with smartphones?  I think you’ve just answered your own question.

I took a Dale Carnegie course a number of years ago.  Their suggestion for relieving stress within a situation was to calculate what the worst case scenario was and confirm to yourself that you could live with that outcome.  On the playground the worst that was going to happen to you was that you’d be tackled and the others would stick dirt down your pants.  “I am going to use this dirt, suckers!” you’d yell to prove to everyone that, yes indeed, boys are dumb, but their stress levels are often low.  In the office it’s harder to clean off dirt.  Instead of dirt mongers you’ve got CC Deville cc’ing the world to let them know that it’s not his fault an account reconciliation isn’t completed.  He/She, of course, doesn’t actually invoke your name because that would be over the line.  CC just uses the power of the org chart to help deduce who is at fault.  Usually your boss is wise to CC’s antics, but his bosses’ boss only reads the juicy emails.  Hopefully the MegaBoss is not the kind that starts congressional investigations over small things like a late account rec, but probably by the time you realize CC has gotten you in trouble others have been implicated in much worse stuff.  So it’s dirt.  It washes off, but if you throw it back be careful.

Commenting on your office CC could be dangerous so we’ll talk about a subject that’s a bit brighter – motivation.  Everybody’s got stories about how their company has tried to motivate its employees.  When I worked in public accounting we’d have grueling tax seasons lasting from the middle of January through April.  One firm I worked at liked to take one night in February and bring us all to a casino down in Connecticut.  It was nice to collectively get a break from work and just hang out – motivating.  One year I lost all my money and feared for my life driving back up in the middle of the morning through a snowstorm only to be expected in a suit and tie at the client’s office at 9:00 AM – demotivating.  Luncheons, ice cream socials, Beer Fridays, trust falls, and quarterly meetings can all be positive, but their motivational powers are suspect.  Well, Herzberg had a thing for beer so potentially he would subscribe to beer events as being motivational, but it’s all potential motivation.  You’ve got to find a meaningful factor within the employees to flick the switch.

My friend Jen, told me a story once that is so silly I vowed to take it on the road with me.  She was working for an organization that, at the time, was being run by new people who didn’t quite get the culture of the organization.  Anyway, long story short there winds up a group of grown adults sitting in a cardboard box being implored to pretend to row a boat to show that collectively they all will be rowing in the same direction to reach the organization’s goals.  I hope for her sake that moment is not captured on video anywhere.

My goals as a professional have been to learn individually and share my knowledge and skills with my team to make everyone’s life easier.  The most motivating event that I can recall happened recently and it was simple.  You can do it at home!  Somebody from a different team that I helped thanked me and praised my knowledge over email.  Wouldn’t you know it, he CC’d my boss and the MegaBoss.  It felt damn good.  I think I like email again.

Have you been part of supreme motivation?  Have you been part of motivation gone horribly wrong? Are you concerned that a decrease in the world’s chocolate supply could have an impact on your motivation?  Tell us about it!