I was thinking about this story from my ‘old life’ the other day and thought I might like to talk about it.
As you may remember, back in the early 90s, I managed to make the leap from managing record stores to working in our company’s home office. My boss, Dave, who I’ve mentioned in my previous “Music Years” series, was the VP of Merchandising. In other words, his department was in charge of all the merchandise that our store sold, from music to video to accessories. It was definitely the ‘cool’ department to work in. I loved working there and I loved working for Dave.
There was this one time that he needed me to send a request out to the field. I don’t remember the details at all, but there was something we needed the stores to do. He told me to run it by our Operations Manager first, and then send it out.
When I talked to the Ops Guy, he totally kiboshed it. I forget why, but he was emphatic that it wasn’t a good time. I reported this back to Dave and asked what to do. With a twinkle in his eye, Dave said to send the message anyway. I did, happy to be included in the conspiracy.
The next day, the Ops Guy came by my cube and he was most unhappy. He told me to get into Dave’s office, immediately.
I went in and sat down, while the Ops Guy proceeded to tear me a new asshole.
“Damn it Bluz, I told you not to send that out! Why would you do that? I won’t tolerate such blatant disregard for what I thought was a crystal-clear direction.”
I was feeling a bit shell shocked… I mean, why wasn’t Dave setting the guy straight? Direct disobedience was definitely unusual for me and I didn’t like anyone thinking otherwise. But then I had a thought…
What if Dave was testing me? Maybe he was checking my character… maybe he wanted to see if I would crack or if I would roll over on him to get myself out of trouble. Or maybe this was something that could hurt Dave politically within the company.
Right then, I decided to say nothing. If Dave wanted to see if I could take the heat, I’d take it all. I figured; he must have his reasons. And after all, Dave was my boss, not the Ops Guy. My annual review and my paycheck were in Dave’s care, so if he needed me to take the fall for this, he could just call me Fallzdude. I understood the Code of Silence, or as the Italians call it, “Omertá.”
The Ops Guy continued his tirade. I don’t remember what he actually said but he was being very harsh and very critical of my character. I just lowered my head and took it, saying nothing.
Then after another minute or so, (which seemed like an eternity), Dave just said, “Oh, calm down, I told Bluz to do it.”
Thank you Jesus! It was over, and if it was a test, I figured I passed. Dave told me I could go back to my desk. I fairly dashed out of the office, while the two of them hashed it all out. I never heard any more about it.
So as I was pondering this story earlier this week, I thought I might like to provide a better ending for you. Dave and I had been Facebook friends since last year so I thought I’d write to him and see if he could provide any insight for the story. Was he really testing me? Or just screwing around with the Ops Guy?
Good idea, right?
Wrong. Dave had no recollection of the event I described. I admit that it was a long shot. Not only did it take place about 18 years ago, I bet he had dozens, if not hundreds of dicey office issues he’d addressed over the years. I just had the one there, so it was easy for me to remember.
History does repeat itself though; you know that.
About 5 years ago, when I was with my current company but in a previous department, I got into deep doo-doo with a Department Manager from one of our facilities in another state. His unit had to research files on retailers that we were trying to set up with our finance program and they often had quite a backlog.
When checking into a particular file, I emailed a good friend of mine in that department who used to work closely with me here. She told me that the file I was looking for, along with a stack of others, was languishing on a desk somewhere until someone could get to them.
This pissed me off, because this particular Department Manager had been agitating for some time to take on more of the retailer set-up process, (which would take it away from my team!) So not only did he want OUR job, in my opinion, they were likely to do it poorly. Dude was “empire-building,” plain and simple.
Director’s DVD Commentary: That did indeed happen. The day my boss gave up the fight to keep Retail Setup in our house was the day I began posting out for other jobs. When they did take over Setup, they promptly ran it into the ground with time delays and errors. They didn't have nearly enough people allotted to do the job properly.
Sometimes it sucks being right all the time.
So I called my friend to confirm what she emailed me. The files were not being actively worked, despite the fact that my team was being pressured daily regarding the completion status.
As luck would have it, some of the sales guys that had submitted these files happened to be in the building. I went over to where they were and mentioned what I’d learned, and that they might want to call up and “shake the tree.”
Oh, that tree got the living shit shaken out of it. The Department Manager went absolutely ballistic when he found out that I’d told the sales guys that his group wasn’t actively toiling over their files. He had one of the sales people bring me over to her cube and over a speakerphone, called me out and threatened my job. He was dropping F-bombs all over the place that could be heard from several cubes away. He was like, “Do anything like that again and I’ll have your fuckin’ job.”
He wanted to know how I got off saying these things about his department. I could have told him right off that one of his own people told me, but I knew that he was a vindictive SOB and he would have initiated Witchhunt 2006. So once again, I clammed up and gave nothing but 1-word non-answers. I didn’t mention anything about my inside intel.
After we hung up, I went straight to my boss and told him what had just taken place. I told him everything except for the identity of my source. I said I’d have to keep that part to myself because I wouldn’t risk my friend’s livelihood. But I guaranteed him that I had not gone off half-cocked and I was not throwing around unsubstantiated charges.
My boss just thanked me for dropping this giant turd in his lap and sent me on my way. OK, he didn’t really say that, but I’m pretty sure he was thinking it. Anyway, he hashed it out with the Dept. Manager and unfortunately it had to come out that I did indeed get my info from his team.
The aftermath dragged on for months. The Dept. Manager conducted his witch-hunt after all, but it never turned up anything.
“She turned me into a newt!" (I got better.)
Neither my friend nor I ever said anything further to anyone. We stopped emailing each other at work, for fear that he had IT set up a net to catch all my correspondence. Instead, we spoke on the phone from home, where I assured her that my lips were sealed. I had other friends in the unit that kept me up on the goings on too. The dude held a big staff meeting where he tried to coerce the information out of people. It ended with his forbidding anyone on his staff from talking to me.
That was truly laughable. I mean, my department and his department had to work hand in hand. Luckily, no one listened to him about that and business went on. And when the Dept. Manager’s boss found out about it all, (via complaints from the other employees there), he became most displeased. He and the Dept. Manager had a long talk about effective managing. I got the last laugh when he was canned a couple months afterwards, during a widespread reorganization.
I felt like, “No, I’ll have YOUR job, motherfucker.”
No, it’s not like he got axed because of me. The guy ran his team like a tyrant and a bully long before this incident. This thing just brought it to a head. He made his own bed.
But once again, keeping my yap shut paid off, not only for me but also for my friend.
Such is the value of Office Omertá.