Musings From The Padded Cell

How To Commit Career Suicide

Immersed as I have been in The Trumpit for the last few weeks, it’s time to take a leaf out of the BBC’s book and rehash a few old repeats from the archives.

Perhaps you’ve never read my books – few have – so here is Ch.22 entitled “Dead Man Walking” from It’s Only A Game.

Introduction

Those of you who have worked in sales organisations will acknowledge that you don’t have to be talented to rise to the top; small, evil and borderline insane are far more useful.

And so it was that, just as the banking world was about to implode, the irrelevant bit of Barclays that I worked for was about to become even more irrelevant.

The powers that be had fallen for the claims of their new star man – The Kilt – who was going to raise our business to heights never scaled before. What goes up…

The Great Off Shoring Cock Up

Our business had hit on the novel idea of off-shoring just about the time most UK businesses were realising what a bad idea this was, especially for a customer-focused business.

Announced at a national get together, soon our customers were about to be greeted by cheery sounding “Peters”, “Rogers” and “Harrys” with a “…and how is your day going today, sir?”

The operations were based in Chennai, India. None of us had anything against the people in India other than they were simply clueless as to what we did – which was not their fault as most of us were – but they very quickly conveyed that impression to the customers they dealt with, something we always hid well.

The whole experiment was a disaster.

The Kilt

The first year of The Kilt’s grand plan was total chaos, despite all the bluster and spin straight from Alistair Campbell’s New Labour “Guide to Lying Through Your Teeth”.

Dozens of bodies were thrown at the sales effort but, in reality, we employed some right dross. If we were aiming down market, that’s where we were surely going and quickly.

Our rapidly expanding salesforce also came with a new layer of hopeless management who were little more than messenger boys. Heads would have to roll but not The Kilt’s.

Despite clear signs that dark clouds were circling in 2008, a combination of reduced levels of good, experienced staff at Head Office – replaced by cheap kids – meant that our service levels plunged.

Chaos In Chennai

For decades we had prided ourselves on our people and our service. Out in the field we had the backing of mature, experienced backroom staff. Now we had a stripped bare, dumbed-down operation backed up by Chennai.

There was barely a day went by when a customer was not on the phone, justifiably irate at some pathetic “service” endured. It became apparent that doing less business would mean a quieter life. The more we protested up the line the more we were simply met with a wall of silence.

That the business did not lose a raft of customers was entirely due to the conversion of us on the ground from salespeople to counsellors and mediators. As ever, there was nobody at the centre who seemed either willing or able to take responsibility for this total and utter shambles.

We were crap.

All Is Well!

So, with Christmas looming and precious little good cheer about, we received notification that The Kilt wanted to address us all via a conference call from his Basingstoke bunker; his “State of the Nation” address.

Most of us worked from home and the drill for one of these calls was to register, put the iron on and crack on with a few shirts for the weekend.

This particular day the England cricket team were on tour in India and playing a test match in Chennai of all places, the match having been moved following the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai.

For a change, things were going well on the field, en route to a decent first innings total. With the conference call about to begin, my iron spurted out a blast of steam and off I went determined to at least keep up my rate of one shirt an over and avoid a self-imposed fine for slow shirt rate.

Spin

As I concentrated on my crease my ears started to prick as The Kilt was coming out with much more spin than the Indians.

“Bugger me, Tony Blair should employ this one”, I thought.

His general theme was that all was rosy in the garden – sure we had had some “wee” problems but everything was now great – bollocks – our customers loved us – crap – and senior management were delighted with the staff survey – read it with sheer horror and quickly binned it .

And what had our almost invisible senior management team been doing all year whilst we had been copping all this flak out in the marketplace? They had been working on a new strap line that in one fell swoop would cure all our problems, make customers happy again and solve the Middle East crisis to boot.

“Our Customers Will Recommend Us Every Time”. Not in my life they wouldn’t.

Alongside The Kilt sat his sidekick and heir apparent plus the guy in control of Chennai.

The normal process was for the messages to be off-loaded and then to open up the lines for questions. This was generally an opportunity for some smug arse to butter up The Kilt and another cuppa for the rest of us.

An Outer Body Experience

So when the facilitator said the words “if you have any questions please press 1” somehow an outer body experience began that was both career defining and simultaneously career ending. My jaw dropped as did the iron when I heard those words “and the first question is from Steve Wilson.”

Had I lost my mind? Still with time to cancel the call and save my career for some reason I was too far gone.

“Having just listened to what you have said over the last twenty minutes (and ironed five shirts) I think I must have been working for a different business for the last couple of years.”

There was a stunned silence from The Kilt punctuated by the ping of emails landing on screen and the bleep of text after text, all in support, most thinking “been nice knowing you!”

And The Crowd Went Wild

Staff down in Head Office were apparently cheering at their desks but I said what I said simply because I cared about a business I had spent my working life with. They claimed they wanted open and honest feedback and they got it.

After attempting to placate me, The Kilt did what he did better than anybody else and passed the buck to his sidekick who did what he did best and floundered, lamely attempting to offer me an explanation of the credit crunch. This really hacked me off.

“Look I am not a bloody numpty!” I said causing the email and text traffic to ramp up.

Clearly sensing he was losing, he tried to hand back to The Kilt but his Teflon coating was having none of it. He tried to convince me that Chennai would be wonderful next year.

“The only good thing to come out of Chennai is that England are 173 for 2!” I countered causing uproar. “I’ve said my piece and now it’s time to stop hogging the line. Besides I’d better be off down to the Job Centre before it shuts!”

This prompted an instantaneous and helpful email from a great friend of mine I hear they are looking for Santa’s about now, although I think you may look better in an elf suit!!! Priceless.

Time For A Change?

I had no idea how many people were actually on the conference call and had reckoned on no more than a hundred or so. When I was told that there were closer to four hundred, I began to realise that this may not be the usual quiet Friday.

It surprised me when people suggested that I had been brave, reckless, mad or simply nuts to say what I said.

The Kilt did not have a leg to stand on, always bleating on about being open and honest, just as long as you did not say anything off message.

The modern-day, multi-tasking bank employee

It was time to start planning to do something else.

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