Tales from The Vault (1)

There is a saying that gets peddled by people far wiser than me that goes along the lines of “it’s not the destination that counts, but it’s what you learn on the journey”. Well I’m not so sure about that. If the destination involves a nice house high up in the hills, with an infinity pool and sweeping views, surrounded by people you love and being able to actually take the time to enjoy it all, then the destination is good enough for me. What I do agree with though, is that the journey is full of wondrous high spots and shocking lows, that are great to reflect back on from a distance, perhaps whilst sat on the destination patio in a pair of speedos with a G&T in hand (Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast anyone?) and have a damn good laugh about. That is exactly the intent of this section – and the more follow on stories the merrier!

Let’s take it right back to the start of my executive journey. My first “proper” career job. It took a while, a year or two “off”, a second degree, and a whole stack of rejections before I even got to first base on the career front. In fact 12 months before I signed on my first dotted line I had been rejected for the exact same management training scheme that ended up being the launchpad of my career. Bizarrely I had been interviewed by the same HR woman in the same office a year before, and even more bizarrely, when this came out at my interview she actually asked me the question “how did you get on?”. I politely pointed out that something had obviously gone wrong in their recruitment process, as I was here again the following year. I’m pretty sure I only got the job because she developed a morbid fear of me turning up year after year to make her feel as daft as she was. Never underestimate shame, guilt and fear as potent weapons to harness to help get your own way. They certainly played a part in finally getting me on the ladder.

Which brings me to the first big boss – a departmental head no less. Among the many pearls of wisdom this tie twiddling, upright plonker spewed, one has stuck with me more than most. An early taste of a closed minded leader who only saw things and people in his own narrow terms. Anyone that did not conform to his view of how people should be, act and behave, he would describe them as a “strange fish”. Early on I started to develop a tiny fragment of individuality, and late one evening overheard myself, hirtherto one of his shining stars, being described on the phone as a “strange fish who won’t get on”. Early lesson in office politics, but the phraseology stuck with me.

It was through this same first boss that I was introduced to that wonderful biannual February event (annual in these days of disruption) – the large corporate restructure. My first experience of this was as a lowly underling in a strategic “think tank” cell. Boy, the thinking was focussed on one thing and one thing alone for the weeks and months leading up to and following on from that particular exercise. Talk about wasted productivity. Everyone knows it’s coming, everyone talks about nothing else, and at the end of the day everyone seemed to know that by the time this elaborate game of musical chairs had wound on to its painful conclusion, there would in effect be very little actual change. Which was exactly what happened. At the end of months of chaos, we were one mildly psychotic administrative assistant called Rachel, less than we had been pre Christmas. She would have probably left for a couple of packets of fags anyway if anyone had bothered to ask her. This pretty much set the pattern for every post Christmas corporate cull I’ve seen ever since. A woeful waste of everyone’s time and effort, playing on fears, and delivering little other than a thickly buttered slice of Boardroom bravado. I would suggest an entirely different approach if ever in the very top seat. Some sort of combination of a Big Brother-esque popularity show, where the masses get to vote instead of the top brass, and a simple tick list – “If offered some money, do u want to go? Y/N – delete as appropriate” – would be my idea of a restructure. All done in 24 hours flat.

The final homage in this primary The Vault section is to the bar of the same name. Yes, I was lucky enough in my formative working years to stumble upon the now defunct combo of a piss head laid back immediate boss and a cracking local boozer – The Vaults bar. Friday lunch hours flowed seamlessly into full Friday afternoon sessions most weeks, with formative broad work based discussions starting over a pint or three and quickly morphing to sport, music, trivia and chip and cheese butties. And you know what, I reckon I learnt more and delivered a better all round performance in my job because of these enticing detours. Amazing what a happy workforce will do on the other four and a half days of the week. Who says the data driven new ways are smarter?

All in all I look back very fondly on my first dip into the icy waters of my career. Sure, it was packed full of what would be described today as “dubious workplace practices”, but it gave me the grounding to recognise the difference between live to work and work to live. It also gave me a lifelong set of prompts to identify and call out the inane and the ridiculous as I traversed later, more serious, hurdles along my career path. Keeping grounded, treating people like people, and not taking it all too seriously is what it’s all about.

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