Secret CIO: The Case Of The Cubicle Conundrum

Treading on the turf of building services can be very humbling.
It seemed like a simple-enough request. Tony, who heads up our hardware evaluation, was asking for more space to plug and play with the gadgets we test in our never-ending quest to satisfy our users--who always seem a step ahead of us in wanting this or that latest whiz-bang gizmo. I was puzzled, though, as to why he or Sue, his boss, hadn't dealt directly with Building Services.

Sue tensed as she related how she had gone to see Ted, manager of Building Services, asking that four cubicles be combined into two so that Tony and another person on his team had room to work without leaving their desks. When I shrugged my shoulders (I knew we had the empty space available), Sue looked annoyed, as if I were questioning her ability. "Herb," she said, "I tried to handle it myself, but he turned me down cold."

Acknowledging that Building Services guarded its turf with the intensity of a mother lion protecting her cubs, I compounded my gaffe with another mistake: "Don't worry," I said. "I'll take care of it."

My first stop was a "just happened to be passing by" stop at Ted's office. Company etiquette dictates that when a senior officer pops into the office of someone lower on the organizational chart in another department, it's for a favor, not a social chat. "Ted," I said pleasantly, "I understand there's a potential problem with Sue and Tony's request."

Five minutes later, I was dissuaded of any possibility of quick resolution. Ted, who is a retired Army quartermaster, had no intention of making an exception to cubicle-size standards. I nodded and said I recognized that he was just following the rules, but that if he didn't mind, I'd bring it up with Stephanie, since I now knew that only she could take the responsibility for that level of decision. Ted got up, walked around his desk, and shook my hand, thanking me for being so understanding.

With the beginning of a large headache forming behind my forehead, I walked down the hall to Stephanie Stone's office. Stephanie, our VP of human resources, can sometimes be the world's largest pain; at other times, her underlying concern for employee welfare produces rational business decisions. No such luck this time. Our conversation was even less fruitful than the one I'd had with her subordinate. She did offer, though, to have Ted build a separate, enclosed workroom for Tony's evaluations. We parted with Stephanie telling me that I, of all people, should understand the value of standards, and with me saying it was silly to spend extra money when a more effective solution was obvious.

My next stop was Phil, our CEO. The next time he and I were together, I casually brought up the problem. Since both Stephanie and I report to Phil, who is as cheap as he is vain, I figured he'd mention to her that he's on board if she wants to save money by combining the cubicles. Phil listened carefully, nodded, and then said it's between Stephanie and me, and he isn't getting involved.

So I trotted back to Stephanie and said we'll go for the new room. She smiled and was happy. I wasn't. Not only did I have to tell Tony and Sue that I didn't get what they wanted, I had to eat the cost of building the room. Because I have to stay within my budget, the result was less money for something useful--such as some equipment we want to test.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at [email protected].

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