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Board that Baby Up

I used to work for a guy who was the Chief HR Officer for one of the largest professional services firms in the world – an organization that now has more than 180,000 people across the globe. I was under his wings for close to three years and did everything from manage his projects to carry his bags. I didn’t necessarily learn everything about being an HR professional from him, but I learned the majority of what I know today about being a leader. When I was a year into my assignment with him, he was asked to move his entire team to a new building to make room for some other group that clearly had more clout. It was a newer building and it was configured with an open seating plan. The offices were internal, and the cubes encircled the perimeter along the windows. Despite his stature, his title, his pay-grade, and his time-served, he elected to sit in a cube – not an office – with the likes of lowly old me. And that made an impression on me (and a lot of people) that lasts to this day.

What the hell is up with the “executive office suite” anyway? How many companies even still have those? I am actually well aware of a number – been in them recently – that obnoxiously still segregate their c-suite from the “commoners.” And I’m not sure I can think of one single thing that is more inane! What? You’re better than I am? You’re better than all those employees who in essence pay your salary? You preach ‘collaboration’ and ‘team work’ and ‘open door communications.’ Yet you hide in your corner behind that beast of an executive admin guarding your doors. The only time we see you is if we’re standing at the urinals together and god knows how awkward that is…that’s just not a good time to get to know you. And while we’re at it, your office is the size of the local YMCA. What the hell are you doing in there?

I get it. “You’ve earned it.” Blah blah blah. It’s so old school. It’s stodgy. It’s presumptuous. It’s ostentatious. It’s condescending. It’s reclusive. It’s exclusive. It says so much about what’s wrong with corporate America and yet you’re still doing it. Your office does not impress me. It probably doesn’t impress much of anyone anymore. Do something that’s really impressive and board that baby up. Go grab an office that’s the same size as the ones you make your middle managers inhabit. Take one that’s smack dab in the middle of the real world and start mixing with the masses. If you could do one thing to gain instant credibility, respect, admiration, and an overwhelming inclination to follow you, this might just be it.

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  • http://ReThinkHR.org Benjamin McCall

    I don’t knock people for having an office. It is if they use that office to intimidate, show power or un-natural authority; which is probably the real problem people have with what an office has tradionally represented.

    I think it is cool that a few of the executives I work with actually elect to sit in cubes and the others are still out and about on a regular!
    Benjamin McCall´s last [type] ..Hump Day Inspiration- A voice for radio

  • http://www.myhellisotherpeople.com TheHRD

    Most of my fellow board members sit on one floor. I sit on another with my team. I don’t do it to be cool or down with the kids. I’ve looked into their eyes and there is something wrong with all of them….I think its the air on that floor…….PLUS it is easier to play hookey….

  • Matt Jones

    Offices are overrated, people at my firm have been recruiting for 25 years and it’s great to see that our Partners still come into the office, make cold calls, meet new candidates and are extremely accessible. They don’t sit in the corner office and close the door! I love this post!

  • http://www.comstar.com.pk samiullah bajwa

    I am a CEO who has a open door policy; yet I feel isolated in my room, so will board it up, and move in with my team members, thanks for the push

  • https://hrfishbowl.com Charlie

    @Ben – i’m glad to know other organizations have leaders astute enough to consider mixing with the masses…doesn’t surprise me that you’d work for an organization like that.

    @ManBehindtheMask (aka TheHRD) – something tells me your team would rather have you back upstairs with your fellow board members. but what do i know?

    @Matt – again, i’m glad other orgs are doing this. an inspiration.

    @samiullah – thanks so much for your comment and for your commitment to “board it up.” i hope it weaves wonders.
    Charlie´s last [type] ..Board that Baby Up

  • http://www.suedensmore.net Sue Densmore

    I get the need for offices sometimes – there is a “quiet factor.” Sometimes, I have to get away from noises to work. And sometimes, I need to have a truly private conversation with someone. Cubes won’t cut it.

    So what about a balance? Why can’t the office be on the same floor, and more accessible, but allow for the sometime need for an actual office? Or, have some office-type rooms available and set up with wi-fi or whatever computer network and some ciomputer monitors, and make sure everyone works on laptops and knows how to connect to an external monitor when necessary.

    I just think it doesn’t have to be one way or the other – you don’t have to board it up, but maybe it should be relocated or modified.

  • Peter Fanning

    The office doesn’t make the person, but rather the person makes the office. Simply moving into a cubicle in some egalitarian gesture has changed nothing. Even in the most compatible and competent teams, there is a hierarchy of access, and that hierarchy is defined by the person in the lead not the location of the office.

  • http://www.michelledamico.com Michelle Damico

    I’m reminded of our former infamous governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who during his corruption trial was described as using his office to hide from staff, who needed him to make decisions on legislation and other issues. He actually would hide in his private bathroom so folks wouldn’t know he was around! Incredible when I learned it at the time, but now nothing surprises me about him or other executives.

  • https://hrfishbowl.com Charlie

    @sue – balance…probably not a bad idea…actually, a pretty good one.

    @peter – i agree that the office doesn’t make the person…necessarily. and yes a change of scenery won’t right-size the worst offenders. but this isn’t about egalitarianism…it’s about breaking down the barriers to basic human interaction – something that probably means more than anything in the workplace.

    @michelle – ahhhh, blago. what a freakin’ banana.
    Charlie´s last [type] ..Board that Baby Up

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  • mirzam

    for me working in manufacturing company ,we need a quiet office . As a HR staff, we have do need office the managing staffs in a manufacturing company is like working in hell. As many production workers came from different countries. An ideal office is important for for staff working in a difficult place.