Chair games

It's spring in Boston, and there's a certain smell in the air. No, it's not pollen, though my car has turned a lovely shade of yellowish brown again. And the apple blossoms smell lovely, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the sharp, salty tang of reorganization!

Yes, it's time for the corporate answer to spring cleaning: the reorg. I've been through far too many of these in the past few years, so I recognize the signs: everyone looks extremely busy, but even less seems to be getting done than usual. Directors and managers find excuses to go visit their VPs three or four times a day, just to let them know how well everything is going on their projects. Unless, of course, they go to tell them how that guy in the other department -- you know, the one that does the exact same thing we do, only not as well -- keeps dropping the ball and delaying everything. Or at least, that's what they would say, except their VPs are nowhere to be found. They clearly have been in their offices -- you can tell by the sandwich wrappers scattered around their monitors -- but they've been in all-day meetings with the head of their divisions, or else in an off-site with other VPs in their functional areas from other divisions. Budgets are "under review," and contracts are "on hold for now," except in key areas.

As a manager in my old company, I hated these times. Everyone knew something was coming, but no one was allowed to admit it for fear the strange guy who always wore a fedora, even in the middle of summer, would finally go off the deep end and bring his gun collection to work for show and tell. Because then, "reorganization" was a euphemism for "thanks for playing, but we just sold your desk on eBay." Now, though, I'm a consultant at a large company, and times are better. This reorg probably won't involve anyone getting laid off, except maybe the grossly redundant and incompetent. Now, reorganizing doesn't cost people their livelihoods, just their hard-earned political capital. If Director A gets moved to a new division, he has to start building up his influence all over again and prove his worth to a new boss, and that's a lot of work.

A corporate reorganization is like a grown-up game of musical chairs, but with slightly modified rules. In this version, some people have enough power that they get to save some seats for their friends, and some seats are more comfortable than others. The trick is, you can't always tell who the Chair Savers are, or how many seats they can save. If you're next to the wrong person when the music stops, you may both find yourself fighting over a three-legged stool.

So right now, while the music is still playing, people are running around trying to figure out who the Chair Savers are and who has the cushiest seats next to them. Other people are pretending that they have a couple of seats saved just for their closest buddies, while at the same time desperatley hoping that they don't come to work one morning and find that their own seat has moved.

Round and round the mulberry bush,
the monkey chased the weasel.
Round and round the mulberry bush,
Pop! Goes the....
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