Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cage the Eloquent


I finished my early morning pre-work preparation by affixing a pair of polished silver cuff links to my black button-up dress shirt. That was the last thing I did that required zero thought that day (although it did take a considerable amount of dexterity). The CEO of my multi-billion dollar, 12,000+ employee company was scheduled to visit my office, and I needed to be mentally prepared for any interaction that could occur. For those of you who have not sold your soul and accepted a job in Corporate America, a visit from the CEO is equivalent to a Catholic meeting the Pope (or a Protestant meeting the President of Chick-fil-A).

This particular visit also to included a pair of of the CEO's minions. They were the VP of Eastern Operations and the VP of Marketing. Our CEO is a man of average height, with average male pattern baldness, and an above average mustache. The VP of Operations stood about 6'6” tall, and walked around in the standard “Obama casual” ensemble (button-up shirt, no tie, and a sport coat). The VP of marketing (aka the “Salesman in Chief”) was not what I expected. His eyes seemed too close together, his hair was thinner than I anticipated, and he didn't smell of Axe body spray. All that aside, I already knew this day would not be filled with joy and revelry. The stars had aligned and we foresaw one of the busiest days on record for our office. I had already prepared for the inevitable unwinding session at my favorite watering hole that evening after work. Keep in mind, it was only 7:15 am and I was already looking forward to a tall glass of blended scotch (I'm a sophisticated gentleman, but a gentleman on a budget).

The morning went just as expected. The “big wigs” sequestered themselves in the conference room for the better part of four hours. While they were in the room discussing revenue projections, profit margins, and the future-state of our company; we handled our daily business out on “the floor.” As previously stated, this was not an average day. Our clients flooded the phones with calls, overloaded the email server with correspondence, and mounted an electronic assault on our fax lines. Nothing was beyond the realm for which we had prepared our mouse-clicking troops. Or so I thought.

Our team of twenty some-odd payroll specialists keyed in hours, salary amounts, garnishments, and every other form of wage or deduction that day. Unfortunately, one of the incoming calls brought with it the voice and personality of a very angry “gentleman.” He was not having a glorious experience with our service, and his business was in dire straights. After he had expressed his discontent to one of my specialists at great length and volume, he requested to speak to a supervisor. The lucky recipient of the escalated call was yours truly.

Just as the call was transferred to my extension, I overheard the pitter-patter of executive loafers coming my way. It had been nearly two years since I last had the opportunity to converse with my CEO, and it seemed as if the perturbed client would possibly thwart my chance to end that streak. I listened intently to the client as he vented about his struggling insurance business, and the perils of the current market. It is a market that has a new player, and that player is my company. His concerns were valid. He is a small business owner that is being outmaneuvered by a multi-billion dollar corporation. I continued to listen and express my empathy for his plight, all while explaining the benefits of our service to the payroll side of his business. We carried on into what eventually became a mutually complimentary discourse. Once he felt as if his concerns were appreciated and alleviated, he thanked me for my time and understanding. I hung up the phone, and looked up to see the CEO and the two VPs staring at me through the glass window of my cubicle. They nodded their heads in recognition of my efforts. I felt like a zoo animal that was being observed by a tour group dressed in professional attire. I didn't know whether to return their gesture of approval with a head nod of my own, or by rubbing my feces on the glass. Luckily for my career and the office cleaning crew, I chose the former.

It was one of the most stressful conversations to which I had ever been subjected. Knowing full well that the “Payroll Pope” was within earshot, I had to ensure every word that escaped my mouth was both eloquent and free of negative tone. My manager would surely hear of any missteps or verbal stumbling I let slip out during my dialogue. At that moment, I was representing my entire company to the client and my collective branch to the CEO. My cubicle does not have a door, but there was still no escaping the enclosure for safer surroundings. I was a cuff-link clad, caged animal. Luckily, I was spared any further ogling, and the group of executives made their way to the next group of cubicles.

My mind wandered as the adrenaline subsided. I envisioned an entire zoo filled with assorted professionals in a maze of enclosures. I pictured a Boiler Room-style cage of sales monkeys shouting “buy, sell!” as they jumped around in a frenzy. Their pressed pinstriped coat jackets snagging on the branches, causing them further angst and fury.

In an open air enclosure, the IT geeks would sit quietly at their cubicles. Pausing their coding and Mountain Dew sipping whenever they heard a sound. They would peek over the walls like Prairie Dogs, look around for a spell, then return to creating a log-in page or adjusting the search algorithm.

A reinforced glass window would separate the administrative assistants from the onlookers. They would require 100% soundproofing, so they would not be interrupted. This is mutually beneficial; because they can not be expected to type 100 words a minute whilst being interrupted by every zoo patron, and the spectators' safety could be at risk if they happened to disturb their focus (Minesweeper is intense).

The interns from the mail room would roam free and aimlessly, but only because the zoo cared not about their health and well being. Plus, nobody really comes to the office zoo to see them anyway.

In the distance, a sawdust-covered plain would be inhabited by the free range trainers and project managers. Their constant squawks would be arrested by the occasional sip of coffee or tea. The open area where they roamed was seemingly endless, but they would always been seen congregated in one small area, for they are a social people.

Betwixt a jungle of wires, cubicles and assorted decorative desk adornments would sit the payroll specialists. Each would have staked a claim in the organized chaos that was the centerpiece of the zoo. For the most part, they would be busy with assigned tasks, but they monotony would be broken up by occasional outbursts. Those would manifest themselves in any overwhelming emotion that came over them. This was why they were the most entertaining species in the office habitat.

Spread evenly and strategically throughout the jungle, you would find the supervisors. They were similar to the specialists, but you could tell by their markings and the size of their jungle claim that they were slightly different. They were also the only ones you would find wandering from one area of the jungle to another. Their wandering would seem aimless, but there was a certain purpose to the zig-zag patterns they followed. They would also be the only ones with permission to leave the jungle for any significant period of time. Their trek would normally lead them to the conference cage, where they would spend hours at a time barking and spitting at one another. That show occurred every Tuesday at 9:30, but sometimes would be repeated throughout the weekend unscheduled.

There would also be executive suite cages for upper management types. Inside of which; there would be an uncomfortable couch, a sectional desk, and it would be strategically covered with paperwork that was really only for aesthetic reasons. They would spend their time staring intently at laptop screens. The patrons would assume something very important was going on, but really they were just watching videos on YouTube of monkeys peeing into their own mouths. Occasionally, they would find their way into every other section of the zoo to just “check-in” on the other animals. Once any interaction would get too intense, they would retreat to their suite to read the paper or watch the monkey video again (it really never gets old to them).

By the time I awoke from my day dream about the office zoo, I was startled by the ninja-quiet CEO standing behind me. He had made his rounds about the entire office at that point, but he made sure to double-back and come see me. He wanted to shake my hand and personally thank me for my efforts on the call he overheard. I was taken aback, but eventually I was able to summon up a few words. I explained the situation to him, and we discussed the client's concern for a few minutes. I am sure he had some poignant points, or at the very least, a few words of wisdom for future interactions of that sort.

However, all I could do was picture him as a lion in his own zoo enclosure. The space would be vast, and filled with many leather chairs and perhaps one of those globes that opens up into a small single malt whiskey-filled bar. I imagined he would sit regally in his swivel chair behind a desk made of rich mahogany, with his pride of VPs surrounding him looking up in admiration. As they gave status updates of their respective business divisions, he would ask pointed questions and challenge their reasoning. He would do all of those things whilst licking himself intently for the meeting's entirety. He can do that because he would be a true titan of industry, ruler of the masses, and a master of self-reliance. From under his majestic mustache he would announce confidently with a roar, “It's good to be the king!” Yes, it is (but it is ever more rewarding when the royal tongue can reach the crown jewels).


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