Lessons from the Past 93: Fooling People at Work
If you have not set values and a design for the kind of life you wish to lead in the corporate world (and outside it), you can end up having very flexible standards. This can even mean no standards at all! As you go up the executive ladder, keep looking around you at the people who have different standards and values. 
With some of them, you will be able to quickly shred the veil and identify the real person. There may be others who are more adept and able to fool you and others. I have come across many from both categories. But we cannot allow them to make us pessimists. We must opt to choose optimism instead of pessimism. 
The medical director’s secretary Mr Smith was a fine, kindly man coming close to his retirement age. He had worked in the company for 37 years and was referred to as one of the ‘old timers’. Unfortunately, the medical director did not have much work and Mr Smith really had enough typing for just two hours a day. Yet, he did not want to give the impression that he was idle. So, everyone in the office found Mr Smith busy the whole day—adjusting paper on the roller, readjusting it and then readjusting it again. 
When enough was really enough, he began typing recipes from Femina and Eves Weekly. And when he had finished with that, he just typed whatever was on the next page and the page after that. It did not matter if the page said—continued from… All that mattered was that Mr Smith kept typing—and everyone saw that he was ‘gainfully employed’. He kept his secret for many years and succeeded in fooling most of the people, most of the time. 
Suri, a junior officer in the law board office, seemed very hard-working. It seemed so strange to see someone in a government office work with such dedication and zeal, where official business only began at 10am and closed at 5pm. Many employees strolled in at 10.30am and rushed out by 5.15pm. But Suri was different. He came in at 9.30am and was generally there till about 7pm. 
He was jeered by other officials, who did not appreciate the kind of example he was setting—a wrong example for a government servant. Few admired him and admitted, ‘This boy will go far’. The others just wondered—what makes Suri tick? 
No one really knew that Suri owned a printing press. He ran the press from his LB office! He came early and made his phone calls; he tried to find prospects from among the people who came to the LB office to solve their problems; he spent the afternoon doing his press accounts; and wound up for the day finishing some of the unfinished business. It was a good arrangement for Suri. It was even better that no one really knew his secret agenda and hidden motives.
Sitting late in the office was a favourite ploy in the organisation where I worked. The chief executive officer (CEO) had no other interests. He played no games, was not interested in music, had few friends, read an occasional novel, was a teetotaler and seemed not to like to even go home. He was a workaholic who sat in the office from 9am to 9pm, and put on a lot of weight himself! 
This CEO imposed his value systems on everyone else. If he found the marketing manager’s cabin light still on when he left for the day, then the marketing manager was perceived as good and hard-working. This was the yardstick used for everyone—how early they came to work and how late they sat in the office—not how effective they were at their jobs or how much work they put in. Managers competed with one another at the ’sitting game’. Sitting late in the office became a part of corporate culture.
‘He’s in a meeting’, the secretary of this CEO told you sweetly. He can’t be disturbed. It is a long meeting. This CEO seemed to have meetings after lunch on a daily basis, until I realised that it was his scheduled time for a short siesta. It was the old story of ‘before lunch, his mind is irritable, and after lunch, his stomach is irritable‘. He got into the work system only after the 3.30pm cup of tea. And, all the time, everyone thought the poor man was going through a grueling meeting while he relaxed in his deep executive chair, mercifully without a snore! It was another ploy to fool most of the people some of the time. 
And do not miss the bulging briefcase of the seemingly busy manager. To project an image of ‘I’m a simple man’, he will carry a salesman’s bag. On the other hand, salesmen in the company hanker for executive briefcases from VIP, because they do not want to appear in the marketplace as ‘just salesmen’. The bulging briefcase contains old issues of BusinessWorld, Harvard Business Review, and assorted files. The bag goes home and comes back unopened, then goes home again. Everyone around is suitably impressed—the boss, colleagues and staff, except if some of them are adopting the same technique themselves! The bulging briefcase does help to fool most of the people some of the time. 
It is often said that you cannot fool all the people all the time—and this may well be true. However, in the corporate world, you can manage to fool some of the people some of the time, or even a lot of the time.
(Parts are extracted from Planning for Executive Success by Walter Vieira/ Published by Sage/ Available on Amazon)
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
4 months ago
Hilarious one. Enjoyed reading it.
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