Mr A, my boss, was in an unusually pensive mood. He had recently faced a serious reversal in his ongoing warfare against Mr X. The new water dispenser that both of them were coveting, had been issued for installation in the room of Mr X. It was clear, pointed out Mr A darkly, that the head of Admin had assisted Mr X in this vile act.
Admin was an astute man, who was aware of his powers, and carefully followed a policy of non-alignment. He was primus inter pares among the department heads, and occupied this position by virtue of the rumour that he was distantly related to, or at least knew, the CEO. That he never confirmed or denied this fact, and that no other department head could produce evidence to the contrary, kept him firmly in the saddle.
Admin’s throwing his weight behind Mr X in such a delicate matter as water dispenser was understood by all to be an indicator of a change in alignments. My friends in HR darkly hinted that if Mr A let the matters drift, it was only a matter of time when the colour printer from our unit would be withdrawn, and our office assistant would be replaced by a dictation software. I told Mr A of these rumours.
One cannot but admire the spirit of Mr A in times of adversity. He smiled bravely, and declared that it hardly mattered whether he got an assistant or not, that he was above petty politics and that he valued his peace of mind more. But my concerns remained and I offered to snoop around and gather intelligence. Mr A said that I was free to do what I liked, but he could not care less what other people were up to. With that green signal, I began my career in corporate espionage.
Dude, the office assistant of Superboss is generally the best person to tap for intelligence. I have been inviting him for occasional tea and snacks for some time now on the advice of Mr A, and it was time to extract some profit out of the investment, I thought.
Having covered the topics of his health and children, I broached the subject of list of employees shortlisted by Admin for bonus for the year. Lower staff has a running feud with Admin over this list, and this topic was most likely to draw Dude into a conversation regarding Admin.
Dude, although close to Superboss, is a simple man. He fell for the trap. “The bonus policy of Admin is dictated by the staff of HR. Even Superboss is annoyed, but does not want to interfere,” he grumbled. I got the hint that he was either not on the list or was in a low bonus bracket. I went for the kill- “I heard Mr X has been advising Admin these days,” I suggested vaguely.
“Mr X has been asked to attend the zonal conference of CEO also. I heard the two have started playing golf together,” he said. I could not imagine those two misfits playing anything other than office politics. There was little that was useful in this data, and I changed tracks.
“Are more water dispensers being bought? We need one, and I think I will go and ask Admin,” I said.
“No use,” he shook his head. Admin has not placed order for more, although they have funds.”
“Why?” I asked, looking suitably surprised.
“Admin feels your boss is growing too big for his boots, I heard. The other day when he told Superboss that Mr A is doing a fine job on the new project, Superboss had said that Mr A was pretty hardworking. That is bugging Admin I think,” he said.
Hardworking is not a particularly sought after praise, but had ‘bugged’ Admin. The project on which we were working was not going well, so why the praise in the first place. Nothing seemed to fit. But I continued with my data collection – “CEO’s conference is important, so why is Superboss not going?” I asked.
“I think Admin suggested that he would talk to CEO for more funds, and that Mr X was the right person to project the case. Superboss fell for it,” he said shrugging his shoulders and shook his head. This indicated that he knew no more.
Mr A listened to my report with interest. Something must have fallen into place, for he smiled.
“What?” I asked.
“David, if we had been in a jungle, Admin would have been a fox,” he said approvingly. “I also made my enquiries. Admin is worried over the CEOs conference and does not want Superboss or me to attend. He is insecure. He tried to go but Superboss is not sending him, so he has planted X for the conference. Not only does he have full faith in the incompetence of X, he has also bribed X with the water dispenser,” he explained.
“But that is wrong,” I said, meaning dangerous.
“Not really,” he said thoughtfully. “Superboss will soon realize this alignment and will neutralize any ill plans hatched by Admin. In any case, I do not worry about such politics, it is your work that counts,” he concluded.
Later, Dude told me in one of his chatty moods that he had overheard Mr A telling Superboss that X and Admin were really doing well at golf and spent a lot of time honing their skills. Dude also said told me that Superboss had asked Mr A whether CEO’s conference was important enough for him to attend. Mr A had said that it was for boss to decide but it was always better to put ones best foot forward on such occasions.
The next few months were uneventful. Superboss went and returned from the conference a happy man. We received an electric kettle from Admin – we had asked for it a long time back. Our faltering project was given an extension and Dude got into the bonus list. The delicate balance of power in our office was restored and everyone looked forward to approaching Christmas holidays with a sense of peace.