Once in a while CEO visits our zone and holds a meeting with the staff. The preparation for this meeting begins from the day the date of the visit is announced – sometimes up to six months in advance. During this period of preparation, everyone is expected to focus solely on the task of making it a success. Superboss normally kick-starts the preparation with….yes, you got it, a meeting.
The inaugural preparation meeting did not have an auspicious start. A few department heads came late as they were busy attending to some important clients. The air-conditioner stopped working and a mechanic had to be called to check the wiring. And, as if this was not enough, tea was served lukewarm and in cups that Superboss took an instant dislike of.
Superboss began on a somber note. “If this is how we are going to hold the CEO’s meeting I may as well fire the whole bunch of you and resign. No use getting humiliated in presence of the top brass and then get fired.”
Dude came running and glared at the caterer. Admin glared at Techie, who in turn ‘shhh-shhed’ the mechanic. The mechanic, who was pulling a red colored wire jutting out of the wall, paused. Mr A shook his head sadly at the display of such monumental inefficiency. Admin hung his head in shame, for he is notionally responsible for anything that goes wrong – infrastructure-wise.
Superboss was not to be placated with this display of grief. He demanded to be informed immediately of all the steps that had been taken so far – beginning with a report from Admin.
Admin, and in fact all of us, had expected the preparations to gather momentum slowly, starting with opening statement of intent by Superboss. A short-circuited start threw Admin off, and he faltered. “Umm..err..” he said.
Since I was deputed to take the minutes of that meeting, I can recount the proceedings of the meeting with a fair degree of accuracy. After another round of generalized observations by Superboss regarding the overall competence of the departmental heads, we finally got down to the main agenda of the meeting thus:
“This meeting hall is in shambles,” Superboss said. “It has to be renovated – new blinds, carpets and sofa-covers. I want the samples to be brought to me today. All wiring works have to be completed by this weekend.” He glared at the mechanic, who had a feeling that he was not wanted. He also glared at Admin, who also had the same feeling.
Admin coughed and tried to introduce an element of prudence in the proceedings – “The covers are new, maybe dry-cleaning them…”
But Superboss would have none of it. “Samples today,” he said curtly and continued. “Mr X will supervise preparation of all folders and documents that are to be placed in the meeting, and also the presentation. Show me the presentation on Monday. Do not repeat last year’s.”
It has been our tradition to repeat the standard presentation, made ages ago by some junior (we have forgotten name of the author of the masterpiece), in all the meetings. Where would he get material for a new presentation, Mr X thought, and it showed on his face.
“All computers and projectors are to be in working order. I do not want the repeat of last year,” he said, looking ferociously at Techie. Techie thought it prudent not to remind the boss that the CD brought by the CEO on that occasion, the one that had failed to work, was later discovered to be a blank. He nodded humbly.
“Mr A will supervise the catering,” Superboss announced. It was the domain of Admin, and this was a major shift in traditions.
Mr A did not have a good feel about this. He avoided jobs as a policy – important or otherwise. He knew jobs were trouble, and never worth the effort. Admin, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. He disliked catering and was glad to be rid of it, but he also disliked so public a demotion.
Superboss assigned other tasks to relevant persons, called for more suggestions, finally gave his concluding remarks, and ended the meeting by asking me to circulate the minutes with clearly assigned action points.
When I reached the office of Mr A, I found him waiting for me. “David,” he said, “let’s finalize the minutes.” I said I was yet to make it. He thought over it and said that we might as well prepare it together and finish the job.
The document that came out of the hard work put in by Mr A shows the truth behind the old adage – ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. In the paragraph titled Catering was written the following text – “Selection of caterer and finalization of menu – Mr A. Overall coordination, manpower deployment, supervision – Admin.” This masterstroke had a potential to sow seeds of bad blood, but Mr A took the calculated risk. “Admin might object,” I pointed out. Mr A was however sure of his move – “He cannot. He cannot just wash his hands off important administrative functions,” he said.
Whatever misgivings Admin may have had about the minutes, he did not protest. Although I sensed a distinct hostility in my dealings with him in the next few months, the matter of was never raised by him.
The preparations began in right earnest. Mr X drafted a lot of juniors in his team to prepare a new presentation. In a review meeting to finalize the power-point, Mr X showed us a 45-slide comprehensive presentation, in which it was difficult to decide whether the slides were worse or the presentation of them. Each slide had a different colour pattern, lots of text and many had music and video links. Techie had a hard time making the computer perform all the tasks simultaneously, and Superboss gave his frank opinion about Techie and his department.
Civil engineering work in the meeting hall started in full swing, and it looked that a miracle was needed to get the work finished in time. The look of the meeting hall, where all the review meetings took place, kept Superboss in a foul mood during this period. The silver lining on an otherwise clouded horizon was the activities of Mr A. He started with a proposal of sixty item heavy-weight menu that impressed Superboss. If approved in toto, it had the potential of causing financial ruin for our office, and this was pointed out by Admin. Reluctantly, and after much resistance, Superboss and Mr A agreed to pruning of the menu, but they did not compromise on hiring a particularly costly caterer.
It would be difficult to recount the details of the D-day. Suffice to say nothing unexpected happened. CEO is a cheerful roly-poly man, who appreciated the snacks and even asked to be introduced to the caterer for a private function. During the presentation he was mostly busy on his mobile phone, and was overheard telling his wife that he would shop for her later in the day. The fact that music did not start during the presentation on two occasions, was hardly noticed. The recently redone meeting hall looked simple yet elegant, and the taste of Superboss was appreciated by one and all.
“Remember David,” Mr A told me later, sharing his wisdom, “the key to hosting a successful meeting is having a well thought out agenda. One must anticipate, and have alternative plans for everything. And in no case, must one panic.”
I will surely not remember these wise words later in my life, but when confronted with tough times, I would ask myself – “What would Mr A have done in this situation?” And I knew that by answering this question, I would be able to manage.