It is not rocket science; everyone in business knows that you don’t have to be mad to succeed but it helps. I work in a business, like many other humans now do. Being civilized means that we work in offices and seem to have developed a beasty comportment of our society.
Part one: Welcome to the Corporate Jungle!
At Jungle Inc., everyone is a bit of an animal. Take Mary for example, on the reception desk. Everyone visiting for the first time thinks that she is the epitome of warm greetings to any person entering the premises. If, however a visitor teases her just a little above her threshold of acceptable pleasantries, they will soon find out that beneath the sweet smile and perfect attire lies a dormant hyena.
First, the spout will form, slowly, lips curling slightly over movie-star teeth. Then the head will tilt backwards and inevitably her cruel, crystal-clear laughter will ensue.
“Well, Sir, if you think you can come here, play the gentleman and insult me by thinking I would welcome such pleasantries then you are seriously mistaken. No one calls me love or dear or any such patronizing epithets, no one dares ask me on a date presuming that I would answer with a sweet and spontaneous yes to any such nonsense. No, Sir, no one dares treat me with no less courteous respect as I have shown them! I will now ask you to take a seat, right over there in the far corner and wait patiently, without uttering a sound until some poor soul comes to rescue you from my dangerous company. Not a word, not a sigh, not a breath from you or I shall truly show you how my anger could turn into a personal attack on your person, at which point, no one could rescue you from the grip of my resentment.”
Mary is not cruel, but like every other individual in the office environment, she knows and shows her limits when pushed over the edge. There is nothing stopping her once she has circled round her prey and the only escape route is to remain utterly silent and withdraw from her attention.
Part two: The Grizzly Bear
Tom is in facilities and his job is to ensure the smooth running of the office, enough coffee, plenty of milk and sugar, and everything working as it should. Except it never does. Invariably visitors come in the office and often in large numbers. Milk runs out for various reasons but mainly due to the unexpected volume of visitors (or so it is for Tom as nobody bothered to inform him of the 50 guests coming to the product presentation) and especially the perfidy of employees.
The milk is provided free by the company for all employees for their tea and coffee needs but abusing elements in the ranks perniciously use it in their incongruously large bowl of cereals. Here goes another pint of milk in Jane’s humongous travesty of a plate. Jane is overweight, verging on the side of obesity and she has followed the same routine for the last fifteen years, since she joined the company. In. Kitchen. Cereals. Fridge. Milk and bowl. Tom secretly believes that she would be better off with celery and cucumber but he can hardly tell her without risking being called in for weight discrimination. On many occasions he placed notices in the kitchen stating that company provided milk is solely for tea or coffee but NOT cereals. Jane has totally and completely ignored these, time after time.
One morning, Tom having had enough of running to the corner shop to replenish the supply, got in the office a little earlier and waited for Jane to arrive. As soon as her car pulled into the car park, he made his way to the kitchen looking, he thought nonchalant, although to anyone else, Tom always looks harassed. He started making himself a cup of coffee. A new notice had been pinned to the fridge door, big enough for anyone with even serious myopia to be able to read it: “Milk is for Tea and Coffee only. Should you like to have milk with your cereals, BRING YOU OWN!”
Jane appeared at the door, walked in, took her very large bowl out of the cupboard, reached for her even larger box of cereals and opened the fridge to grab the milk. As Tom was watching, not quite believing what he was seeing, she perniciously (there is no other way to describe such behavior) poured half the milk over her cereals. At that very moment, Tom turned into a grizzly bear. He grabbed Jane by the shoulder and barked: “Have you got too much fat on your brain that it has clouded your judgment? I tell you what Jane, if we run out of milk today, YOU are going to be the one running to the corner shop to buy some more. I’ve had enough of you lot, larging it and making my job impossible.”
Tom stormed out and went back to his desk. After a few minutes, he turned back into his normal self, amazed by what he had just done. He sat there, wondering, disbelieving until another emergency took over. But from that very day forward, Jane never used the company milk for her cereals and she was even known to say that Tom was a great asset to the company.
Part three: Alexandra and her Gang
You would like Alexandra. She is pretty, slender, witty and charming. She is also a good laugh, whatever that means. She holds what is called a senior position, one that demands a lot of energy and a good sense of humor. All that, she has but when it comes to the real crunch of the business, alas she turns into a mad grass hopper, fleeting in one direction and then the other unable to decide where she should be heading. It is a tragic situation but fortunately for her, she is surrounded by a clique of quite capable if sometimes erratic individuals.
Sandra is all good heart, willing and strong willed. She knows when to stand her ground and has done quite well for herself. Occasionally her emotions get the best of her and when she can no longer control them, everything grinds down to a halt and Sandra transforms into a fluffy and scared rabbit.
Kathleen on the other hand is all red. She also wears a lot of red. She is hungry for power but manages to discreetly hide it under a professional appearance until a conflict situation arises. Kathleen then forgets her cool and jumps at everyone’s throat in a moment of bloody mist and little Miss Professional turns into nasty, can’t get rid of, gremlin-like wild boar.
Philip is Mister Congeniality. He binds all the elements of the group together like glue. As far as his colleagues are concerned, Philip is a swell guy and gets the best out of everyone. That’s not the Philip I know. This excitable, salivating puppy you-can’t-get-angry-with, does not know when to stop. Over-excitement turns excitable puppy into frothy mouthed, barking-mad, beware-of, wild-dog.
This is nothing compared with cool Elena. I’d myself prefer to call her cold but most people are blind to the true fabric of others. Elena does not get excited, she does not bark, she won’t run for you, neither will she run away. No, Elena is at all times a snake but her bite spits the venom with clearly measured and focused words. With her at least you always know where you stand; on your guards.
To complete the circus, I now have to introduce you to Elisa. She is probably the fakest of them all for she never reveals her true colors. Sweet as a bonbon, polite as a vicar, faithful as an enamored lover, she dispenses her charms without ever revealing a nasty streak. Elisa discredits others by simply highlighting their wonderful personality. A victim she is certainly not but pretending is so gloriously good.
Part four: The Gorillas
Gorillas are extremely common within the corporate arena and easily spotted. By nature, they will use terms like bananas, bunch, swing, branch out, jungle and territory. They are often found in positions of relative power and will come out in their true colors when they detect that their patch is under possible threat.
In meetings the gorilla raises its arms above its head with both hands joined until they rest at the nape of the neck as if stretching. In the real jungle, the gorilla is known to use this tactic when confronted with another male. By showing the amount of hair under their armpits (probably producing pungent sweat aromas by doing so) the hope being that this will discourage any confrontation and demonstrate their strength and power. What is most amazing and slightly amusing is that many of the office gorillas are actually women.
Watch the scene develop next time you are in a strategy meeting. One idea, not necessarily a good one, is discussed and one by one the gorillas around the table will perform this magical ritual. The most senior person kicks off and all the other would-be gorillas follow. Note that not all participants in the meeting will show this disposition and display their superiority this way. Non-gorillas may not even notice this strange ceremony, but believe me, once you’ve seen it, you’ll spot the dance a mile away.
The meeting started at exactly 9.30 am. It lasted well after lunch. As with all strategy meetings, there is an agenda, loosely followed, and a list of action points that no-one will follow up. Why bother? Simple, this is the opportunity to establish boundaries, re-assess the situation and confirm everyone’s status and role. It changes nothing but it proposes focus on one aspect of the business, the definitive list of who is in charge.
The first hour or so was quite useful and presented a view of the current situation with the now unavoidable SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). The meeting was in reality quite boring after that as no one took a clear lead or felt in an uncompromising situation. For a while I was disappointed and thought that this was going to be a gentle debate as everyone seemed to agree with everyone else. Then things changed when I mentioned that a bundle package offer would be welcomed by the sales team and I am not in charge of sales. Sales ears, all six of them, pricked up and they took it in turn to start the gorilla game. I was delighted to see that Renee one of the most senior persons in the room and in charge of overall sales took the lead. Renee is a beautiful gorilla, slim, lean and self-assured. Sure enough, the gorilla talk started:
“So, we are thinking of promoting the whole bunch of items together and offer an attractive price. I think we need to be careful not to lower the value of the individual products by doing so. If our bananas are less expensive than those of the competition, does this mean that our bananas are not as fresh or have suffered in transit? The price needs to be right and perhaps the best thing to do for now is to have a more aggressive selling technique.”
That’s it, the whole gorilla dance has started. Renee both arms in the air, straight up, then behind the neck. Wonderful, what a sight, and this is just the beginning. Who is next, I wonder, someone else from sales? No, it is editorial coming to the rescue because editorial always knows best. This is a feast!
“Personally’ said Debra “I think that this is quite an attractive deal. We have good quality items but we can afford to throw in a few additional bananas to key customers to retain their loyalty. They know and like what we do, we just offer more value. We can swing it and make sure we remain kings of the jungle.”
Wow, now this is a treat. The vocabulary is excellent and, wait a minute, now the full swing of the arms, highly, slower than Renee, so beautifully executed! This calls for confrontation and surely it should be the MD now taking suite… or could it be the sales director?
Part five: The Lion
The lion is the ‘über leader’ and no-one competes with him. He arrives last at the meeting making sure all the fauna is in situ before making his majestic appearance. He sits at the top of the table, watches and listens whilst the presentations and arguments unfold. He does not say a word until the meeting is due to finish.
He stands up and slowly circles his congenerate, as an eagle would its prey, almost languorously. Then in a roaring tone he barks his impressions of the proceedings. “Why am I surrounded by idiots? You are all very good at criticizing all new ideas but only one of you can suggest; it is like watching a political debate. And the sorry side of the story is that I am paying you to make such a show of yourselves. You are just a bunch of imbeciles!”
No one dares breathe, you could hear a fly move its wings. Time is suspended for what seems like minutes but it lasts only a few seconds. The gorillas have lowered their arms, the hyena is no longer laughing, the snake seems made of stone and the grizzly bear has shrunk. The lion sits back down and shouts; “GET OUT! ALL OF YOU!” As everyone stands up in total silence, gathering their papers and phones, the same voice airs in a more amicable tone; “Except you Hanna, we have business to discuss that this band of morons is incapable of comprehending.”
I am surprised. Firstly, to have been invited to the senior management meeting and secondly that the managing director even knows my name. He invites me to sit back down next to him, a privilege only granted to the most senior managers and I am only a marketing manager. My lovely colleagues call me ‘The curious manager’ because I. analyze results, research opportunities and most of all, I am not British. That makes me different and different is dangerous. They don’t trust me and now after this ‘Coup de Theatre’, I am going to be even less popular with the animals. I wonder what George Sinclair wants to discuss that the sales and marketing directors couldn’t…
“Hannah, I’ve been watching you for the last few months since you joined the firm. I know what your colleagues call you behind your back and I also know that you have worked intelligently to make your proposal today. I have eyes everywhere that see what I cannot spot all by myself. I too, seek opportunities to make the business more profitable and I understand where you are coming from. I must admit that there is disappointment in me that the very people to do the job are not the ones we employed as sales or marketing directors but a marketing manager working for them. What would you say to a little promotion?”
“I don’t know Sir. Yes, I mean I would be very grateful and I am flattered that you like my work but I am afraid that a promotion may antagonize my superiors against me even more, so I must refuse.”
“This is very noble of you, Hannah and that confirms my decision to promote you. I am confident that you will be the missing link in our development strategy, therefore as of tomorrow you will be the new strategy director with responsibility for sales, marketing and business development reporting to me directly.”
“What do you say?”
“I don’t know what to say Sir.”
“Say yes, and stop calling me Sir, from now on, you’ll be Hanna and I’ll be George.”
“Yes, Sir, thank you Sir. I mean George.”
“I will make the announcement after lunch at a general meeting so there will be no disputing my decision. There may be a few unhappy faces and perhaps even some resignations but none of these fools would be missed and everyone who remains will be on our side.”
And so, a new era commences; my colleagues, the most wonderful team in the world. But, what about you, you may ask, what kind of beast do I like to turn myself into? I am the evil writer. I take notes and write wonderful stories about incredibly interesting characters. Where would I be without such helpful sources of inspiration? And now I will be able to spot talent among the staff and reward the merit where it lays instead of witnessing promotion amongst mates, as it happens frequently in corporations. I have always wanted to be Robin Hood or Zorro, an aficionado of the deserving and now with all this power in my hands I can just get the best, happiest team in the world; no beasts just individuals willing to be happy at work and outside, willing to do lunch when we can and work when we must. Not slavery but building something together. I am the fox!
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