See me in my office

The stories about Peter Mandelson, George Osborne and David Cameron jetting off to meet bankers, media tycoons and Russian oligarchs on their yachts got me thinking.

You can tell a lot about power and hierarchy in an organisation by who goes to see whom. If you stay put and other people come to see you in your office, the chances are, you are the more powerful and the more senior in the pecking order. If other people have to come to see you, then you can play other power games with them, like making them stand around outside your office until you are free. I’m reminded of CJ, Reggie Perrin’s pompous boss, who used this little rhyme in response to a knock at his office door:

One, two, three, four, make them sweat outside the door.

Five, six, seven, eight, it always pays to make them wait.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, COME!

We learn the importance of offices in the hierarchy when we are at school. At my school, after every period, the teachers would stay put and the pupils would move from room to room for lessons in different subjects. Keeping the kids where they were and having the teachers move around would have created far less disruption. OK, some lessons had to be done in specific places like science labs but for the majority of classroom based work, it didn’t matter which room we were in. But leaving the pupils in one room while the teachers moved round would have undermined the school’s power relationships so, as far as I know, it was never considered.

Perhaps the attachment to territory and the symbolic significance of having their subordinates come to them accounts for the reluctance of so many managers to get out of their offices. Although the importance of ‘management by walking about‘ has, for years, been stressed in numerous business articles and there is good evidence that the visibility of senior executives improves morale, getting managers to come out of their offices and go to see their staff can be like trying to prize whelks out of their shells.

There is, I suspect, still a sense that, if you want to be seen as important, they should come to you rather than you go to them.

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8 Responses to See me in my office

  1. Robin says:

    Another little historical note. When Hitler went to visit Mussolini in Italy he was ushered into a great room where, at the very far end, Mussolini sat behind a massive desk. Hitler walked half way down the length of the room and then stopped. Mussolini then had to get up and walk the same distance to meet Hitler in the middle.

    It’s not by accident that senior people have large offices with a lot of space between them and the door. The longer you have to walk under the gaze, the smaller you become. If I get into one of those I stand well back and keep my peace. They always get up and come around the desk then.

  2. CherryPie says:

    O/T I love the poppy at the top of your page.

  3. Jo says:

    Interesting. I went to a school where the teachers moved and worked in place where the boss always went to the workforce. It’s cultural too.

  4. Nora says:

    I had a black male line manager who used to use all kinds of domineering behaviours. The worst was to get his assistant to call me to present my self immediately at his office. This I would do only to discover that he made a big issue of taking someone else into his office for a ‘little chat’ whilst I was supposed to wait outside. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the floor was open plan, and housed the organisation’s legal department. My response to this could clearly be heard and I never got called like that again. Needless to say, I had no respect for this person at all. He had the to ‘power’ to get me removed from the organisation but frankly, an organisation that supports people of his make are not worth working for.

  5. jonathan says:

    Probably told this before but I once worked in a large rectangular open plan office with 2 doors – one at each end of the “long sides”.

    Last day before Christmas eve or whatever and general merriment abounded. This was instantly stopped by the Director who (had never been seen out of his enclave before) was doing his meet the troops bit.

    He opened the door (it went VERY quiet) and he did his, “good wishes to you and your families” bit and went – conversation had quietly started when he opened the next door and did exactly the same again…

    He went away with that “I think I know that place but I am not sure” confused look on his face.

    We didn’t laugh… much

  6. jameshigham says:

    Making people wait is a control freak thing. Agreeing a scheduled time is far better.

  7. jonathan says:

    come on Rick – bit late with a Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross joke aren’t you?

    You have until 4:00 today or see me in my office🙂

  8. Rick says:

    I’ve only just got back ffom a meeting Guv! Give me time.

    Actually, I can’t understand why Gordon Brown and David Cameron are getting involved. It’s a trivial showbiz issue and with all the other stuff going on, senior politicians should have better things to do.

    That said, if it was me, I’d sack both of them. Brand and Ross, that is, not Brown and Cameron. But then again……

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