In the early days of Internet, in a large, large technology services company, employing far far too many people in India, the COO (Chief Operating Officer) was often paired up with the CPO (chief people’s officer) for various projects. Needless to say, they hated each others’ guts. Both men reported into the then chairman of the company, an industry veteran, who was a fatherly figure with a single point agenda in life – growing his children’s inheritance.
In the corporate boardroom, the CPO was working on the company’s people strategy when a young EA happened to walk in, accidentally.
[Have you watched one of those episodes of Discovery channel where a rat comes out at night looking for a bite to eat on the North American grasslands only to realize what a colossal mistake he has made by being unmindful of the presence of a large barn owl? The entire episode is filmed using infrared cameras and other advanced technology.]
“Son, I need your help. You see, in this email, I need to show how all the employees of our division 1 that are not being very productive, are also not fitting into our corporate culture. So, can you draw a triangle here on this computer?”
“And make it red please, so it’s clear that they are not fitting at all”
A few minutes later, the COO, the man who hired the EA into the company and managed him at this point walked in bringing along with him the Chairman of the company. In a flash, the CPO had the control of his computer and said to the young EA ”So you see, this is how you make a perfect triangle.”
”Yes, now take control of the computer and get ‘his (implying the COO) inputs and later, let the chairman sahib review it now that he is here. I will be back in two minutes after returning a customer’s call. Sahib, will you please come along?”
As soon as the men left the room, the COO said, “Why have you drawn a triangle to show a set of people? How many times have I told you that the only logical representation is a circle. And please make it blue, red is such a jarring color.” ”Sir? Ok sir.”
The two men returned to the room and immediately the COO declared ”the presentation is done. Let’s review” . On the first slide the CPO said, “what have you done? I asked you to draw a triangle and you’ve drawn a circle. What sort of a trainee are you? (Giving a glance to the chairman). Change it (the EA changed it on the fly)”
“Sorry I have to take another call now” The CPO excused himself.
[Sometimes, just sometimes there’s one more owl]
The geometric badminton rally was at-least two shots long, when the chairman intervened. ”Who hired this guy into the company? ” The EA, about to blank out, looked at his manager in the hope that he’d save his virtue. The COO said, ”Sahib, we have to maintain relations with good MBA schools all over the country. Sometimes we hire too many. He has written quite a few slides though”
Said the chairman – “Three decades ago, I started my career with the public sector and this boy is worse than a chaprasee. Even I have better slides.” Immediately, the COO pounced on the opportunity. ”Sahib, why don’t you show those slides for a minute. let the young man learn something” The chairman retorted, “No, it’s OK, let’s just continue with the review”. The COO said, ”Sahib, let him see.” and then to the EA ”Go, get his laptop from his room”.
Sahib, standing up to his full height looked straight at the EA ”Don’t you dare touch my laptop” and left the room. Close on his heels was the CPO. The COO looked at the EA, ” At least change it to a circle. You young men, just cant get anything right. After all, these people don’t fit and they will be fired in two days’ time, the least you can do is draw a soothing shape so it’s easier on everyone who’s viewing the email.”