Rigorous Relationships

March 15, 2000

Today my department has a meeting scheduled in Lotus Notes as “Proposition Development Conclusion Meeting” – in English, this is supposed to be the meeting where we learn what it is our department actually does.

My department is called “Consulting” and we have an identity crisis. We are not a new department; we have just lost our way. We are in the business of communication, yet our product is ill understood. Even the departments adjacent to us have no idea what we do; yet all unanimously agree that we are very clever and fun people to go to the pub with.

This malaise began when a new director was appointed to “turn us around” – J is an experienced consultant with over twenty years in the industry. He drives a brand-new Jaguar and has one of the largest offices in the building. His office features an Aeron Chair and life-size cardboard image of Elvis with J’s own face. None of us know what he actually does, although we all agree that he is very clever and generous with his Corporate Amex card in the pub.

For the last month or so, many of the senor and middle ranking consultants where I work have squirreled themselves away in hushed meeting rooms; applying their mighty brains to this problem of defining just what it is we do. This introspection has taken priority over billable work, the theory being that once we know what exactly it is we do we will be able to do it much better and for a higher price. The company’s senior management believe in this sort of thing and encourage it.

The culmination of this great work took the form of an hour-long powerpoint presentation. J concludes his arcane lecture by saying what we do is “Define Rigorous Relationships”. Those of us still conscious at the end continue to stare in disbelief or defeat.

I imagine that if a stranger had been watching this presentation they would have no idea what it was about, nor even that the company is actually an advertising agency. I doubt that any of the clients who later saw the presentation felt any differently.

Later that night, I discussed the presentation with a colleague from my department:

He: Did you understand any of that presentation?

Me: No, did you?

He: Nope… So do you `Define Rigorous Relationships’?

Me: Err… I don’t think so.

He: Me neither… this is a load of rubbish.

Shortly after this meeting I took a much needed holiday. When I returned I learnt that J had made us all redundant; 5 Months later J announced that he had been `Head-Hunted’ to work for an exciting new-media agency.

Later I found out that he was on a 6-month notice period. His contract had been terminated shortly after my own. Later still I discovered that the company that he was supposed to have been appointed to had only ever engaged him on a part-time basis; and that as far as we all knew he too was unemployed. The ex-colleagues that I still keep in touch with all agreed that the man got what he deserved. One friend quipped:

“J has the Midas Touch in reverse: Every thing he touches turns to shit.”

Sal

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