Ah, the idealism of youth! I was (still am) very idealistic. It took me a long time to distinguish between lip service and the unsaid, but real agenda. Since I was that idealistic and naive, I took quite a few knocks in corporate life.
The first lesson was when I spotted an error in the F&B night log book of a leading luxury hotel I began my career with. Bored on a night shift, I began flipping over previous pages when suddenly I realised that the cumulative revenue totals were all wrong. Minus and minus is a plus. Simple mathematics, right? Yet, what was happening is that a loss was being deducted from the previous day’s loss and so, instead of reporting a growing loss, the month-to-date total was showing a far reduced loss. Flushed with my discovery, I went to the Manager and pointed out the error. I thought I’d be praised. Instead, I was given the cold shoulder for a long time. Puzzled, I spoke to a friend who turned around and said, “You really don’t get it, do you? You showed the manager up. The log was being signed daily by the manager and sent onwards to senior management. Now, by your action, the manager has to explain how the log was being signed without checking!”
Over the years, I learnt to think before rushing off to point out a problem. You will just have to believe me that I operate from the principle that a problem when spotted needs to be solved in the organisation’s interest. But the messenger always just gets shot and looked at as a smarty pants or with suspicion. Or worse, as someone with a negative outlook. It has always bewildered me. Till I realised that few people care about budding problems that will affect an organisation in the long run. Mostly, it is about managing the personal career rather than looking out for an organisation’s interests.
There was this time when I was managing a large multinational account for an advertising agency. We were doing great work. This particular company had an annual award for the best advertising agency they worked with. We even won the award. But the Head of Marketing there didn’t like me. Whatever the reason. He once complained to the agency’s top management that the current team on the account never made an effort to deepen the relationship through socialising and that he missed the days when my predecessor would organise an evening of beer and table tennis.
I was duly summoned and asked to invite the client and his team over for an evening of games and beer. I remember protesting with anger and being summarily told that I had to do it. Furious I called in my team and recounted what we had to do.
Magic happens in corporate life when a group of like minded people work together. Those years were magical. We were passionate about our work and had great fun on work and otherwise. We were known as the unit from where peals of laughter were always heard. We also did great work and as a result won almost every account we pitched for, besides doing award winning work for several clients. I heard that we were envied but that’s for other people to say.
Anyway, coming back to the famous game of table tennis, the team was as pissed as I was that instead of being recognised for our work, the client was complaining about the relationship. Being given no choice, the client was duly invited over. I will never forget that evening. Sulky, thunderous faces playing ping pong and desultorily swigging from bottles of beer. Do I need to say that the client and his team must have been uncomfortable? I know I was but I just couldn’t control my colleagues. I hope my demeanour was neutral. I am told I have a very transparent face and so, I can’t be sure.
The relationship never improved and though I can never prove it, I was removed from the account at the end of the year on the client’s request. I was offered a transfer to another unit. But I quit because I felt that I was being punished instead of being rewarded for what I absolutely knew to be the best performance across SBUs that year.
The only evidence I have that the client had a hand in my being asked to transfer out was that the guy actually called me when he heard I had quit the agency altogether to sort of apologise. Well, I guess you could say he was human enough to feel a twinge of guilt.
Game over! Well, at least for that stint in my career. I should mention that I have the deepest regard for the agency and consider it as the organisation I was happiest in. But well, what do they say – shit happens!
Featured Image Credit: Balls of Fire by Harsha K R (Flickr.com under Creative Commons license)