A few work vignettes

Since we need distractions to take our minds off the negative news of the day, please consider the following work vignettes. They are all true, but the names have been changed to mask identities.

– The new state president of a company was a smoker, but the headquarters had just instituted a no smoking policy indoors. The HR director swears the new president called him one day, as all he heard was a lighter clicking and a sighed exhale of cigarette smoke.

– Before thinking too ill of this state president, he did have two funny introductions. He was smoking outside, when a female worker said she had not seen him before. He eventually mentioned he was the new president, to which the woman replied “And, I am the Queen of England.”

– While being taken around to the local offices, someone mentioned he resembled an office manager named Bob. Making remarks at Bob’s office to the staff, the president said “People say I resemble Bob, but that cannot be, as Bob is uglier than a pair of old bowling shoes.”

– A colleague and I once were in a meeting with the senior leadership of a company going through some comparative data on compensation. The CEO (who I had worked with for years) could not believe they paid relatively poorly on long term incentive pay and would not let it go. To get the meeting to move on, I took a chance and said, “Tom, no matter how you measure it, you are sucking hind teat on long term incentives.” When he said “I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me,” the CFO said “Well, he’s got a lot of data to back it up.”

– The sidebar to the story is my colleague was telling the story to others in front of me. He said, “Here I am trying to be all serious and Keith is over there talking about farm animals.”

– My friend Marie ran a very successful Health and Wellness program for our employees. During October (which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month), she was promoting our mobile mammogram program (which had helped eleven women learn they had an issue in and could get care). I was telling this story in front of her to a senior executive and referenced “Breast Awareness Month.” Not batting an eye, she corrected me, that would be “Breast CANCER Awareness Month.” Oops. We still laugh about that today.

– One of the better consultants (and mentors) I ever worked with had the misfortune of meeting with a heavy set client, who proceeded to have chest pains during the meeting. The EMTs were called in to help. It turned out to be a needed wake-up call for this man, so he improved his health afterwards. Yet, as teammates tend to do, we never let our colleague forget this episode. He was a perfectionist, so he was consistently making us redo work if he did not like a proposed solution’s results. So, we started feigning chest pains (in the manner of Redd Foxx’s character on Sanford & Son) when he was too demanding on the team.

– Yet, this consultant taught me many things, one of which is to celebrate good meetings or trips. So, as we returned home from meetings up I-85, we would stop at a Dairy Queen and get a Heath bar Blizzard (Exit #70) to celebrate. Unfortunately, the DQ was torn down a few years back. Yet, I love Heath bars to this day and will crumble them on ice cream.

– Finally, speaking of traveling the highways to see clients, one of my favorite guests to chauffeur around, who I will call Patrick, named my two cars. For an old maroon Buick Park Avenue (remember I am not young), he called it the Red Dragon. When I replaced it with a gray-silver Infiniti, he called that one the Gray Ghost. So, he would involve them in conversations as to picking him up at the airport or his hotel, such as “I will be on the look out for the Gray Ghost.”

So, the key takeaways are have fun when you can and don’t forget to celebrate little victories. Heath bars and ice cream are optional. Oh, and it is OK to name your cars. By the way, we name our other cars, which is how he took part in naming my work cars.

A funny thing happened

Work does not sound like fun, but it offers plenty of comic relief. We need to find moments to laugh at ourselves to break the monotony. Here are few true stories to earn a grin or chuckle.

Two people I knew at a client were arguing over an issue. The funny thing is without the other knowing, each one called me to ask for my input on the argument. Through this process, I was able inch them closer together to see the other’s point. “You know Fred, Andy is making a reasonable point.”

A colleague was looking into a past precedence on a process a client was using that did not make much sense. He shared with me what he found in the archived files. I asked “Who would ever give such advice?” He showed me the email, “You did.” Oops.

This story ended well, but it offered an opportunity to tease a demanding colleague who had a high sense of self-worth. Our senior consultant was meeting with a client who had traveled from London. He was a heavy-set man and began to profusely perspire and get red-faced during the meeting. Our colleague felt he was having a heart attack and called the ambulance. The client turned out to be fine, but it was scary. Our colleague was a perfectionist which made him a good consultant, but a demanding one. After this episode, when he was extra hard on us, we would feign a heart attack in front of him acting like comedian Redd Foxx would on “Sanford and Son.” He did not find this amusing. “Elizabeth…I’m coming to join you!”

When I went to work for one of my clients, we had a greatly appreciated employee wellness program including mobile mammograms and health screenings. The woman who ran the program shared with me all the upcoming wonderful plans for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. As I described it to my boss and a few others, I left off the word “cancer” by mistake. She slowly corrected me, that would be Breast CANCER Awareness Month.

Our firm bought another with some highly paid consultants. My boss, who I have written about before, looked over the compensation data and uttered one of his folksy sayings. “We sure are peeing in the tall grass with the big dogs now.”

Finally, I had a colleague who was getting final quotes from various insurance companies for a bidding process for a client. He had not heard from one, so he called around 6:30 pm to see if they wanted to improve their quote. Apparently, the night janitor picked up the phone. After listening to my colleague explain what he needed, the man uttered, “I told you as much as I know when I said hello.”

Let me know of some of your funny stories at work. Please change the names to protect the innocent. I might throw in a couple of more in the comments.

A few vignettes to make work fun

I have shared a few of these work vignettes before, but I think we could all use a laugh these days.

– A friend and colleague left for a meeting 90 minutes up the road. After about an hour, the client showed up in our office for said meeting. Can you say “uh-oh?”

– A couple of colleagues were meeting with a woman who had pictures of Don Knotts all over her office. After trying to make small talk about the pictures, she finally said she just loved Barney Fife. Better not tell Thelma Lou.

– Two of us were meeting with a prospective client at their office at the plant. Since we drove awhile, we asked for the restroom, which was just inside the plant. My friend went first and as the door shut, the sign said “Women.” Just as I noticed, a line started forming. My male friend walked out and said he thought it was pretty progressive to have a tampon machine in a unisex restroom.

– An old boss told the story of a very sad and funny insurance claim he handled early in his career. Apparently, this company had someone clean the toilets with gasoline. When one of the employees snuck a smoke break in the restroom, he unfortunately tossed his lit cigarette into a toilet and the explosion propelled him off the throne. Not, the way to go, so to speak.

– Speaking of cigarettes, my boss and his boss, who were smokers, were interviewing a medical doctor, who they did not know smoked. So, our two guys chose not to smoke, as did the doctor, and this lasted for a couple of hours. When they got back together for a follow-up interview, the doctor said, “I must tell you, I need to have a smoke especially if we meet for two hours again.” Relieved, our two guys pulled out their cigarettes as well and conducted the smoky interview.

– An old boss was meeting early one morning with prospective client. Since the man’s AA was not in yet, he waved my boss back and proceeded with small talk about an easement infringement on a piece of property. When the guy asked my boss what he should do, my boss said “I think you should hire a lawyer.” The guy looked at him and said “Who are you?” Apparently, he thought a lawyer was his first meeting. My boss did not make the sale that day.

– This same old boss was near San Francisco with a colleague and they were driving this windy, mountainous road trying to locate a manufacturing plant pre-GPS. When they came upon a bicyclist pedaling away, they slowed and asked him for directions. While telling them, the bicyclist ran off a ledge. They stopped the car and looked over the ledge scared to find out the bad news. The man was on another ledge ten feet below, lying on top of his bicycle, still telling them directions. They said “Forget that, are you alright?’ He was, but he wanted to be informative.

– I once had a client, where the benefits attorney in their Legal Department would often argue with the Benefits Director in HR. For some reason, I was on good terms with both, so each would call me separately for ammunition on the same argument. When I realized what was happening, I was able to coax them toward resolution, helping them to see the other person’s argument, which I had help frame. Talk about arguing with yourself.

– I had colleague who was late for a meeting with a client’s Board of Directors about two hours away for an unusual reason. A cattle carrying truck had overturned on I-95 and, unfortunately, several steers did not survive the wreck and were littered all over the road. When he returned to his office and flipped on his desktop computer, his screen saver opened up to a Chick-Fil-A screen complete with cows saying “eat mor Chikin.”

– Speaking of Board meetings, I was taking this colleague’s boss to one for a prospective client and I had a flat tire. So, rolling up my sleeves, I changed the tire while he called our main contact. We made it on time, but I had to run to the rest room to get cleaned up. We got hired, as I guess they were impressed we could change a tire, as well.

– We were attending a major finalist meeting for a client for a new project. Two of our key folks had personal family reasons they could not attend, but could join by phone, pre-Skype or videoconferencing. So, we made life-size torso shots of each and sat them in chairs by the phone, so the client could see who they were talking with. We got hired and my contact said the committee was impressed with our improvisation and fun.

– Let me close with a story about one of my favorite consultants, who stood less than 5 feet tall, but whose subject matter and industry knowledge was far larger. Proposing to do business with one of our larger clients, we went last for the finalist presentation. My short friend was asked what she thought about what they were doing and, as per usual, she was very frank, with necessary diplomacy thrown in. My main contact told me later after we were hired, when the committee discussed whom to hire, one guy pointed at my friend’s vacated chair and said “That little fireball who sat there will tell us what we need to hear.”

I would love to hear some of your funny work stories. Please feel free to share.