Monday, February 25, 2008

Chair - Man

Recently while working with a client organisation, I noticed something peculiar, peculiar from my perspective but common across many organisations. I noticed that the chairs in the conference rooms were all the same size except one which was at the head of the table, which was much larger. The interesting part was that the chair was left unoccupied for most of the meetings I conducted with the client, except when the owners of the company were in the meeting. This chair was always left vacant, despite the fact that for a few meetings they had to bring in more chairs from outside.

This reminded me of my first job, where once my chair was broken and I pulled in a chair from one of the managers who was on leave. I was pulled up for the action and reminded that a management trainee could not sit on a manager chair. The big difference being the manager chair reclined and the others did not. Well I argued about the fact that there were no other chairs and there was urgent work to be done and how the hell did it matter, the chair was not being used in any case. But then logic did not work, if logic always worked in organisations, Scott Adams wouldn't have made so much money with Dilbert.

This also reminded me of one manager, who got promoted and was entitled to a bigger chair, but did not get as they were not in stock, he created a huge issue out of it. I assume it was a big thing, he had worked very hard for nearly 18 years with a single minded focus of getting a chair which would recline and now when the time was ripe he was deprived of the most important priviledge he had worked towards which would affect his productivity in a significant manner.

I have always wondered about these visible signs of authority and growth and have never managed to come to terms with those. Having worked in a company for 10 years where the business card did not carry any titles, could never understand the need to have titles like Additional Deputy Assistant Manager. Also the company for a long time tried to provide classless benefits, so nothing changed visibly for most people neither the size of the desk, the car, the cellphone etc etc with a change of job and my guess is we did well.

I sometimes wonder how much time the company would have spent trying to create these minor visible differences in hierarchy which take up so much productive time of the organisation in executing the minor twists.

My personal liking is to having simple common uncomplicated rules and processes, driven more by need than by hierarchy. I would much rather not spend 2 meetings worth of time of very senior people in an organisation about what to name a new grade to be inserted. Which one do you think is better Additional Manager, Deputy Assistant Manager or Additional Assistant Manager.


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