When I read April Munday’s post about the signs of status in the middle ages, I wasn’t really surprised to learn that laws once governed what people could wear. April mentioned that “status was everything” and in so many ways, this hasn’t changed. We may not have laws, but we have business practices in every market that are designed to reward to people with so-called status – i.e. the people who spend more money with a particular airline, hotel, restaurant, etc. Our world is still very much about status. April’s post did bring back an interesting encounter from the early days of my career.
I was a manager in the consulting practice of then Peat, Marwick, Mitchel & Co. (now KPMG), and I was assigned the task of reviewing security and controls in place at various company data centers. The thought being that if our firm’s auditors were going to rely on computer generated reports, we had to know if the reports were trustworthy. In some cases, I conducted the review myself, in a matter of hours. At the other extreme, I managed a team of professionals who spend months crawling through every operational aspect of a giant data center.
If we found something bad, we made recommendations. If we were lucky, the client might engage us (that’s how we spoke) to remedy the situation. If we found something really bad, we had to work to verify that there weren’t “mitigating controls” in place, before we issued a recommendation that could impact the comfort of the audit team. One such really bad thing was found at one of the large insurance companies under review.
In our effort to flesh out this finding, people were added to the team, and we worked into the evenings and throughout the weekend. No one was happy – not me, not my team and certainly not the employees who had to work on Saturday while we looked for those mitigating controls. One of those employees was offended by the way a member of my team spoke about the system he was reviewing.
On Monday, I was summoned to the office of Mr. X to discuss this great offense. In my opinion, it was a minor misunderstanding. A remark was made, but it was not personal, sexist, racist or even targeted at a person. My team member had offended an automated process. Still, the process had been developed by a human and that human was offended. That human complained to Mr. X and Mr. X wanted his pound of flesh – my flesh.
I apologized for the remark. I offered to have the employee apologize to the offended person. There wasn’t much more I could do. Mr. X wanted more. He thanked me for addressing the matter, but said:
“I’d like to say that I accept your apology and we can leave it at that, but I’m afraid I can’t let it end here. I need to speak to your supervisor.”
I called the Audit Manager. He wasn’t really my supervisor, but he was my point of contact. After I informed him of the situation, he asked me to answer a few questions before handing Mr. X the phone:
“Are you in his office?”
“Does he have a desk lamp with a rectangular brass shade?”
“Does the lamp have a green finish and two bulbs with fabric shades?”
“Does he have a walnut and brass two-level inbox?”
“He’s a nobody, put him on.”
During his conversation, the Audit Manager dropped the name of a person several levels above Mr. X in the organization. He offered to have that person look into this matter. Mr. X decided to accept my apology.
I’m not generally a fan of status and certainly not a fan of people who treat people differently based on real or perceived status. On the other hand, I really don’t like bullies, so…
This post is part of Linda G. Hill’s fun weekly series One-Liner Wednesday. If you have a one-liner, I’d encourage you to join in on the fun. You can follow this link to participate and to see the one-liners from the other participants.
Since my conversation took place before cell phones had been invented, I have no photos of the meager office accoutrements. Instead, I offer scenes from my morning commute.