The Corporatorium: Excelleration (Episode 10)

I spent most of the following two days trying to avoid Brett; as he seemed to be trying to avoid me as well, this was accomplished easily enough.  Besides, he seemed too busy with Savannah to bother the rest of us.

Watching Brett and Savannah interact was endlessly amusing for while they publicly professed to adore each other—Brett going so far as to announce boldly, “We’re twins separated at birth!”—they seemed to actually despise each other. Publicly, they always had their heads together leaving the impression that they were conceiving The Next Great Thing.  More likely though, they were plotting against the rest of us.  Presumably when they were alone, they plotted against each other.

The Corporation was big on discovering The Next Great Thing.  A year before the financial collapse it had been helping clients win the war for talent.  Now it was Centers of Excellence.  So the search was on for the next Next Great Thing.  They had even formed Innovation teams to answer the Innovation Challenge whose winning entry would be, by definition, The Next Great Thing.

Meetings began each day at 8 a.m. with a “working” breakfast which meant that you were forced to listen to Savannah while you ate.  I attended each meeting fortified with the contents of Nigel’s survival kit, Savannah’s near-senseless words a near-constant assault against the skein of my Xanax-fueled indifference. This indifference had the invaluable effect of sparing me confusion.

Savannah’s monologues were frequently accompanied by stupefying PowerPoint presentations full of Excel spreadsheets, whose tiny print was impossible to read, pie charts and words like “noble purpose,” and “synergy.”

Each day of exhaustive listening ended in a mandatory “mixer.” The stated purpose of said mixers was so we’d each get to know each other better as the Center of Excellence model called for us to function as a cohesive team. 

“To create unmatched teams,” Savannah said grandly, “We will harness all of our diversity.” She opened her arms to encompass the room—a room in which, it should be pointed out, all the faces, save mine, were pale and anxious. And while we were about evenly divided between male and female, the women all looked like boyish imitations of the men, a favored daughter pretending to be “dad,” playing up the slight resemblance between them by dressing like him and adopting his mannerisms.

“Doesn’t she mean ‘mismatched teams’?” someone whispered.  

“These teams,” Savannah explained raising her voice to silence to offending whisperer, “will create for clients a ‘high touch’ experience stressing sharing and understanding a common set of core values that align with each client’s vision. Each team will work to identify and present a mutually agreeable solution that can be achieved by outsourcing HR Administration and set benchmarks and goals that can be monitored.  You’ll promote mutual accountability with focus on having the administrative services align with the pre-identified goals and objectives thus ensuring that the participant experience and performance metrics match expectations.  Any questions?”

There was just one asked by a young woman who was either new to The Corporation or intent on committing career suicide. “Yes, I have one.  What exactly is it we’ll be doing as part of the COE?”

“That’s the beauty of the COE model for us as communicators,” Savannah answered. “We don’t have to do anything.  Under the model we’re provided a global network of resources through a single local point of access.  Each of you will be the local point of access for your particular team.   The Implementation team does all the work through deployment.  We are simply the ‘Excellerators.’ That means your only job is to listen for future opportunities to expand our scope of services and to build a relationship with the client so that you can become a trusted adviser.”

We all fell silent.  Well, except for Brett who was barking into his cell phone, his face aflame, like a beacon of terror.  He must have felt the daggers of enmity Savannah threw his way because, without lowering his voice, he shot her a withering look, and stormed from the room.
“Any other questions?” Savannah asked of the vacuum his exit left behind.

As no laptops, tablets, or cell phones were allowed during the interminable meetings (Brett seemed to hold the lone exemption), you had to do all of your work after the nightly mandatory “mixer.”  Thus it was after midnight when I got the message from Diana.  Characteristically short she said simply: “Call me.”

“Hey,” I said when she answered on the first ring. “What’s up?”

Sleepily she mentioned the name of our biggest client, the eagle daily eating my liver.

The client was the world’s leading purveyor of inexpensive assemble-it-yourself furniture and home accessories of every stripe.  In their stores you could not only design your own kitchen, you could assemble the cabinets, which came in a kit, yourself.  You could buy paint, tile, and appliances.  You could even furnish your new kitchen right down to the pots and pans and dishes, and then buy the groceries to make the meals you’d cook in those pots and serve on those dishes—all without leaving the store! 

You got your own merchandise off the shelves, wheeled it through the store to the check out where you checked it out yourself and then bagged it yourself—assuming, of course, you brought your own supply of bags.  They employed thousands yet I was never sure what these employees did except “direct consumer traffic.” 

In a stunning example of truth in advertising, the retail giant’s tagline was: I Did It. Myself.

The few times I’d attempted to shop there the expedition had ended badly. I’d fight the scores of shoppers who wandered about slowly yet determinedly, as if sleep walking—looking for the one thing I’d come to buy. I’d find ten other things that had nothing to do with what I’d come to buy, and which I wasn’t sure I actually needed. After hours of walking I would no longer remember what I’d come for, or what I actually needed, and once I saw how long the check-out lines were, I’d abandon my cart and leave swearing never to return.

Yet despite what was hardly a unique experience, the store remained wildly popular and was hugely successful.  Management was also, unfortunately, insane.  To make matters worse, their billionaire owner was a notorious penny-pincher and “sensitivity to cost” had become part of their culture and brand.  The sly old devil had managed to turn penny-pinching into a virtue by embedding it in their Core Values and “Value Proposition.”

We were in the process of helping them rollout their Employee Value Proposition—a proposition so outlandish, and so complex that words had not yet been invented to describe it. That task had fallen to me and my team of mushrooms; we’d replaced words with “graphic representations” illustrating the value proposition.  This worked well for the company as they were known for “universal” instructions which were simply a series of illustrations as clear as hieroglyphics that purportedly “walks you step-by-step through the assembly process.”

I stifled a groan. “What’s wrong?”

“They want to reprint the Employee Value Proposition booklets.”

“What? Why?” I gasped, “Is something wrong in them?”  I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case—as I’d made up everything in the booklet. Still I was worried.  Once we’d printed 10,000 refrigerator magnets with phone numbers for various employee resources for a client.  Unfortunately, the client had transposed a pair of numbers and no one had verified the numbers by calling them as was standard practice within the peer-review process. As a result of the oversight, distraught employees suffering the loss of a beloved pet, or on the brink of divorce, who called the Employee Assistance Program, were connected to a phone sex line.

“Nothing’s wrong with them—except they think they look too expensive.  Remember we used that glossy stock so the cover illustrations would pop? It didn’t cost any more than the matte stock, but now they think it looks too expensive so they want to reprint on dull stock and while we’re at it can we use thinner paper for the inside pages…”

“But we can’t absorb the cost for that since nothing is wrong and they signed off on the stock!”  I sputtered.

“Oh,” Diana said in her typically droll manner, “They’re perfectly willing to pay for both print jobs.”

“We printed what? Thirteen thousand brochures?  That’s going to cost them a fortune—times two!”

“They know that.  They don’t mind paying a fortune; they just don’t want to look as if they did.”

I know nothing if not when to concede defeat.  “Fine.  Let’s call and get the printer to reprint.”

“Already done,” she said crisply.  “It’s a rush job so they’ll run a crew through the weekend and we’ll ship to locations on Monday.  Via Fed Ex overnight so we still make the deadline.”  Her efficiency fairly crackled over the phone line.

“Fed Ex overnight?!  What’s that gonna cost?”

“You don’t want to know!  And again they will pay for it.”

“Thanks, Diana. You’re a Prince among artists.”

She tutted me.  “I’m married now, remember? So I’m officially the artist formerly known as Prince.

Damn!  Her name change screwed up some perfect cleverness.  “Speaking of which, why are you still in the office?  Don’t you have a husband to go home to?”

“Oh, him.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, I’m not sure I remember him.  I’m told he’s very nice though.  Do you find it at all telling that you called me in the office even though it’s well after midnight?”

“Good point.  I’m going to bed.  Oh, do I need to call the client?”

“Nah.  It’s taken care of.  Besides if you call them, you’ll have to bill them—and you know how sensitive they are about money.”  Laughing, she hung up.


On the final day, we were each issued enormous 3-ring binders containing hundreds of pages and multiple flash drives which themselves contained innumerable PDFs, which I would have shipped to me at great expense via Fed Ex as I couldn’t possibly carry it with me on the plane because I was already “over weight” according to the TSA.  No doubt because of all that lotion.

Missed Episode 9, Caipirinha? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Next Episode Friday, August 5.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

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