Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tearing Down the Walls at Work

The Federal government is all about status. Who you know. What committees you sit on. Your title. And the size of your office. If you're really important (or have just been around for a very long time), you also get a good view from your office, something very coveted in this city of monuments. It's a daily reminder to them that their the boss, and you're the peon. And its a daily reminder to the peons that they need to find a new job. A job where you get an office.

So it was very refreshing to read this:

You know those scenes of the big-city mayor's office you see on television? A supplicant climbs to the top floor of City Hall, appeals to a stony-eyed secretary for a session with Mayor Important, then gets deposited on a stiff sofa for a long, fidgety wait. Finally the massive wooden door swings open, the supplicant crosses a cavernous stateroom and stands meekly before His Honor, who is sitting as serious and confident as a king 10 feet away in his plush high-back behind an acre of a desk. The nervous supplicant clears his throat and begins: " Excuse me, sir. . . "

Well, not in Washington. Not now. Not under Adrian M. Fenty (D). Here's the new reality:

It's lunchtime. Fenty whizzes into his "executive office" carrying Caribbean takeout in a plastic container. This "executive office" is a cubicle. As in, Dilbert.

The cubicle is surrounded by 32 cubicles with 32 government officials and at least 35 BlackBerrys (of which Fenty has three).

The Mayor of the District of Columbia, the city with more self absorbed ladder climbers then anywhere else, works in an open cube surrounded by everyone he needs to manage.

I think it's bloody brilliant. The more you empathize with your boss and the mission of your organization, the more likely you are to put in the extra hours, to care about the details, to love what you do, and to stay there for the long haul.

If you're a manager of any type, the urge to give yourself additional perks can be overwhelming. Lavish trips, the best hotel rooms, a big office, an extra large bonus, your own secretary, a fancy company car and a private parking spot, whatever. But whatever it is, it really just makes the people who work for you resent you. Meanwhile, the manager who drives a beat up car, parks it with everyone else, and then sits in the same space as everyone else, has a much easier time of telling folks what to do, especially when annual reviews come around. Then he quietly pockets his million dollar salary and goes home to his mansion.

Americans don't hate wealth. We love wealth - everyone secretly dreams of being rich. But we hate status. We think that all of us are created equal, and deserve equal rights and treatment. So even if someone really is our boss and really is more important then us, we like to think we're the same. Keep that in mind the next time you get a promotion.

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