This week we start our discussion with a riddle:
Q: What is the difference between an inguinal hernia and Citibank customer service?
A: One is a crippling ailment that makes you want to kill yourself to somehow stop the pain and misery. And the other is an inguinal hernia.
Therefore, you will forgive me for having tremendous feelings of schadenfreude whenever something bad happens to Citibank. Every time I read a headline such as: “Citibank to lay off several million employees as part of restructuring efforts” my heart leaps for joy hoping that these millions include everybody in their Indian operations.
Mind you, this is nothing personal. I am sure most of the people working for Citibank in India are perfectly harmless, hardworking types. So, if you feel outraged by my blanket hatred, feel free to call on my phone number, enter your TPin, followed by the square root of your QPin. Sorry, all our columnists are busy. Your estimated wait time is “Ha ha. Go die.”
Still, I was disturbed by the recent turbulence in Citibank’s top leadership. Out of the blue, and that too shortly after the bank had announced some uncommonly good financial numbers, CEO Vikram Pandit announced that he was resigning with immediate effect.
The New York Times (NYT) now reports that “Even though Mr Pandit and the board have publicly characterized his exit as his decision, interviews with people close to the board describe how the chairman manoeuvred behind the scenes for months ahead of that day to force Mr Pandit out and replace him with Michael L. Corbat, the board’s chosen successor.”
For all cubiclists everywhere, this is a matter of grave concern.
Much like Vikram Pandit, we go about our daily professional lives trying to do the best we can. But, unbeknownst to us, a vile game maybe afoot. Our coworkers and board members may well be trying to stab us in the back when we least expect it.
This chicanery must stop now. This week, let me share some simple ways of making sure that you never get Vikram Pandit-ed.
The first strategy is a classic: “Offence is the best form of defence”.
I don’t mean to say that you should go around the office blaspheming or making inappropriate jokes. You should. But that is not what I mean.
What I mean to say is that you should build a web of conspiracy that includes EVERYBODY in the office. For instance, casually ask the head of marketing if “he too is getting a bad feeling about the head of sales”. Then go to the head of sales and wonder “if it is time to think of some fresh leadership in marketing”.
Then summon the office boy and casually ask him if the office would be more spacious if you removed the cubicles for both the heads of sales and marketing. Say this just loud enough so that the three or four people sitting closest to your cubicle can hear.
Weave this web well and soon everyone will be too insecure to worry about dethroning you. Excellent.
Next, cultivate a habit of popping into meeting rooms or over cubicle walls suddenly. Invest in a pair of formal shoes with soft, supple rubber soles for this purpose. When people seem startled, laugh insincerely. This chills the blood.
NYT tells us that a conspiring board member and Pandit’s successor often travelled together on work. It also says that “Discussions among the board members accelerated while Mr Pandit was in Japan at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
The implications are clear: The World Bank will always find a way to screw you.
But also: Keep a close watch on “competitors” travelling together or, even better, abolish official travel altogether. The best way is to set up a travel desk and staff it with people who work for Citibank telebanking.
The most important learning from the NYT story is that Pandit did not have a tight watch over people. He simply had no idea till, on 15 October, he was asked to choose from three pre-prepared news releases: “One stated that Mr. Pandit had resigned, effective immediately. Another that he would resign, effective at the end of the year. The third release stated Mr Pandit had been fired without cause. The choice was his.”
The strategy is simple: surveillance. CEO and other business leaders must keep a close electronic and human eye on their board members. Many people think of board members as benign, friendly, chauffeur-like chaps who will drive you around anywhere.
Mistake! Your board is a den of vipers.
Thankfully there is one easy way of doing this: Twitter. Proactively ask all staff members to use Twitter. Get them addicted. Make Twitter the only social network available in your office. Give your board members smartphones with location-enabled Twitter clients.
Then sit back and wait.
“@IndependentDirNarasimhan: Bored. Waiting for you know who to leave before secret meeting. ROFLMACEO.”
I wish all cubiclists the best of luck.
Note to Citibank: This entire column could have been avoided if you’d only listened to my business proposition.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama