Dear Mr Vadukut,” began an email I received earlier this week from an exasperated employee. (Out of modesty I will remove the bits where she spoke of this column being “awesome”, “erudite” and “like Harry Potter for office goers”. This is absolutely not that kind of boastful column but we like the ring of Cubiclenama and the Half-Yearly Appraisal.)
She continued: “Till earlier this evening my professional life was proceeding very nicely. As I work in the Delhi office of a financial firm headquartered far away in Mumbai, I had got used to an office culture that was laid-back. Because top management is seldom seen in these parts, our office functions on the critical virtues of movable targets, managed expectations and a diligent security guard who swipes all our ID cards well before we reach office after lunch. Therefore our Delhi office has high levels of employee morale, low attrition and spectacular terrace parties. Yes, our revenue targets have not been met since 2001 March, but that is because of the economic recession, Lehman Brothers and the US housing slump.
“However just a few hours ago we were told that the CEO would be visiting the Delhi office tomorrow. Apparently he has some meetings with government regulatory authorities.
“So? He should stay in some hotel, no? Now everyone is running around getting new potted plants and refilling coffee machines. A search party is looking for three missing fire extinguishers that we once used as wickets. But the worst thing is that now all of a sudden the Delhi admin guy wants everyone to stick to dress code. Do you know what it means to wear a full formal sari in Delhi in summer? This is nonsense. Why should employees have to suffer just because the CEO wants to drop in?” she concluded.
My first thought when I read this letter was: “Oh God! I TOTALLY know what it feels like to wear a full sari in Delhi in summer!”
But we will not go into that now.
Instead we will focus on the aspect of sudden top management visits that tend to throw branch offices into turmoil. Now, before going into too much detail, I must tell you that not all companies treat their far-flung branches with lack of intimacy. There are industries such as consumer goods and cellphone services where the network is the very essence of their business. So here the branches are normally well maintained, well staffed, often photographed for the in-house magazine and frequently involved in company-wide decisions. So in these places, when vice-presidents, presidents and chief executives drop in, the element of surprise is much lower. Visits tend to be announced well in advance and the local admin guy, that under-appreciated fellow who is the only guy who wears “smart business casuals” on weekdays, is not caught unawares.
Then there are the companies where entire Lok Sabhas come and go between management visits. Here the branches are there because the top management was told to have a ‘national footprint’ by their consultants, opened branches in every state capital and now have spectacularly busy-looking letter heads.
If you work in one such frontier outpost, I sincerely wish that the CEO never pays your branch a visit.
This is because in frontier outposts the CEO is often a hallowed, godlike figure only seen in annual report photos and email forwards: “Please see picture of Sir accepting award for Best Young CEO Between The Ages of 48 and 49 For First Quarter 2009 from the Honourable President of the United States of America Exporters Association of Ernakulam North.”
Seldom heard and almost never seen, the CEO takes on mythical proportions among the staff. So when his secretary sends a one-line email intimating the Rudrapur branch that His Eminence will be arriving shortly for a meeting, utter chaos ensues.
Where will he sit? What will he have for lunch? Does he eat non-vegetarian? Should the welcoming committee meet him at the railway station? Or wait for him at the factory gate? Whose office will he use? What do we give him as a memento? He always drinks green tea in the evenings is it?
But these are really logistical issues. One can throw money and labour till they go away.
The real tragedy is the impact on the people of Rudrapur. The good folk who minded their own business, seldom emailed anyone and used the little server room for afternoon siestas. The visit completely throws their life into the tumble dryer.
And after the local admin goes all the way, even replacing the soap water in the bathroom with real liquid soap, the CEO drops in, accepts one garland and then rushes off to the local Taj hotel for his meetings. Everyone dejectedly walks away, the special lunch, with pineapple jelly, being the only glimmer of hope in their eyes.
What chaos ensues when the CEO visits your office? Send us email and photos on the address below.
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org