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January 28, 2008

Kicked Upstairs; Better Than Kicked Out the Door


I should have seen this coming. Our longtime client contact got promoted to Director of Corporate Transformation.


Curtains for him. Probably curtains for us.


This is one of those accounts of which every company probably has a few. You’ve had it forever, and if you’re to be honest, you’d have to admit that you’re basically coasting on it.


That may not be your fault, entirely or at all. It takes two to make an engagement work for both companies, and if the client isn’t optimizing the value of your services, your ability to make those services pay off for them is going to be limited.


But it’s amazing how long you can sometimes coast on one of these accounts. And when it happens, it’s usually because the person in charge of you on the client side has started phoning it in. Frank’s been doing this for years. I knew it. He’s got 45 years with the company. He still gives stuff to a secretary to type. Then he asks her to print it and route it to people in manila envelopes.


I didn’t even think they still made those things! Actually, I don’t think they do. The ones Frank uses smell like 1971, and that’s not exactly mint and patchouli.

Frank does what he does – the same things he’s always done. And one of those things is signing off on my invoices. He also approves the work we do on his company’s behalf. Whether he actually looks at any of it, I can’t say for sure. He hasn’t made a specific comment about any of it in the 12 years I’ve worked on the account – which predated the founding of my company by four years.


We just e-mail the material to his secretary, who prints it out and puts it on his desk, then he calls me to tell me it’s OK (unless he has her do it). I honestly don’t know if Frank has taken any of our recent work and done with it what we intended him to do with it. I just know our bills get paid.


Or they did, until now.


“Mr. Krause? This is Beth Thompson from Owens,” said Beth Thompson from Owens. “I’d like to sit down with you and get caught up on what your company has been doing for us.”


Oh boy.


“Of course, Beth,” I said. “I’d be glad to. Did Frank ask you to call me?”


Now, I may be dumb but I’m not stupid. I could already tell what was up, and I had seen this coming. Frank had taken to complaining about how he wasn’t invited to management meetings anymore. (I would kill not to be invited to management meetings!) It wasn’t hard to see they were squeezing him out. I just hoped they didn’t send security to watch him clean out his office and escort him from the building.


“Oh, Frank has been promoted,” Beth explained.


“Really. Promoted. After 45 years? To what?”


“Frank is going to be our new Director of Corporate Transformation.”


I could have pushed it and asked, “What does that mean?” but I already knew what it meant. It meant the company doesn’t want Frank around anymore, but they don’t have the heart to kick him out the door, so they kicked him upstairs to a bigger office where he can twiddle his thumbs.


Conventional wisdom is that this is the chicken’s way out because it doesn’t save you any money. Conventional wisdom is wrong.


“Yes, well, Beth, I’ll be glad to sit down and bring you up to speed on what we’ve been doing for you,” I said.


“Good,” she said. “Can you bring any activity reports, actual work output and the corresponding billing records?”


“Absolutely!” I said in an excited tone of voice.


“Great! I’m very excited to work with you!” she said.


We were toast. I knew it and she knew it. I thought about just skipping the formalities telling Beth to just go ahead and fire us, but out of respect to Frank, I went through the motions.


There were probably 10 vendors just like us that got the axe. So don’t tell me they didn’t save money by kicking Frank upstairs! I stopped by to see him after the meeting with Beth.


“Frank! How’s the new director of transcendental meditation job?”


“It’s fine, I guess, but I can’t get anyone to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do, D.F. They want me to learn e-mail. Right now I’m just trying to get that down. How do you think you’ll like working with Beth?”


“Well, Frank. It just won’t be the same.”


Transformations never are.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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