Corporate Monkey Cult

Exec Coach

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent in October 2004

Corporate Monkey Cult

All through my college years I’d had crappy student jobs: picking strawberries in Germany, picking my nose at Pizza Hut, picking up condoms off the floor of a New York hotel. No matter how boring or disgusting these jobs were or how snotty my spotty supervisors got with me I’d always known that in a matter of weeks I’d be saved by the bell of the new college term.

But inevitably I’d run out of summers and semesters. I’d finally had to get what every student fears with every fibre of his being: a (italics) real (close italics) job. One where instead of a nametag and a polyester T-shirt I needed a shirt and tie. After four years of minimum wage for maximum effort I might have been expected to rejoice in the respectability of it all but to me ‘a career’ seemed like a life sentence with possible parole for good behaviour at sixty-five.

To this day I’m still not sure exactly what I was meant to be doing. After three months I became vaguely aware it had something to do with stocks and shares and moving money but by that time it was plain to all concerned that I wasn’t cut out for the job. My main problem was that as soon as anyone mentioned trading, liquidations and the like I instantly and utterly tuned out. Their lips moved and I nodded and furrowed my brow in feigned comprehension, but I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t. It was as though I had the business equivalent of dyslexia. Or possibly autism. Together these disabilities meant that I often made rather spectacular mistakes. I might transfer 22 million Euros into a bank’s account and then have to ask for it back, causing massive fluctuations in the share price. But then, while correcting my error, I might forget it was Euro in the first place and move it the other way as Yen. The time between such calamities was spent perched on the corners of my co-workers’ desks sipping coffee and shrieking with laughter. Had my first job been at a nuclear power plant we’d all be glowing green by now.

But of course, this being Ireland, I couldn’t be fired. And so, as part of my bosses’ revenge, I was sent to the company’s equivalent of a special needs class. This was a ‘training and motivational’ seminar. Our teacher for the day had been brought in especially from head office – in America of course – to whip us into shape. Cindy, we’ll call her, had a helmet of blonde hair and permanent rictus grin (which she expected us to emulate at all times, even on the phone – ‘people can (italics) hear (close italics) you smiling’, she told us, ‘so it might be an idea to check in a mirror before you answer a call’). She seemed to think that we would make fewer mistakes if we viewed the company as some kind of cult and ourselves as its loved-up followers. And so, to my disbelief, she led us in standing up and chanting letters of our employer’s name (‘Gimme an A!’ etc). As she did so, like some crazed cheerleader she pantomimed the letters with her hands in the air and encouraged us to follow suit. Just when I thought things couldn’t get more ridiculous, she came to the hyphen between two words. ‘Give me a squiggly!’ she shouted and made herself into a human “squiggly” by shimmying her hips.

Once we’d all caught our breath from this little display there was a one-on-one session. After confirming with me that I had a law degree Cindy gave me crayons and asked me to draw a picture of what I thought ‘co-operation’ should look like. My drawing of people handing buckets to each other had nothing to do with stocks and shares but Cindy gave me a beaker with the company logo on it anyway as a reward. It was like being in play-school again. Next we moved onto language therapy. One of Cindy’s ‘concerns’ was that the rest of the world – our clients – might not understand the garbled dialect of English spoken in Dublin. Words like ‘craic’ or ‘gobshite’ were obviously completely out, but ‘grand’ was a grey area. ‘I’ll have to check if it’s an acceptable cultural alternative to ‘ok’’ she told me earnestly. Finally it was decided that grand was grand as long as we ended each call with a perky, champagne-sweet ‘have a nice day!  Like a proud mother she blue-tacked our pictures to the wall of the office, where to the best of my knowledge, they still hang.

Unfortunately, however, Cindy’s valiant efforts to reprogram me were in vain. No amount of chanting or crayons would turn me into a competent corporate monkey. I was still about as effective as a desk ornament and wouldn’t know a balance sheet if it bit me. And so the very next week, I did the decent thing and finally resigned. My boss nearly fainted with relief. I was relieved too. I knew I’d never be cut out for a life freshly starched collars and rounds of golf. And at least, I reasoned, nobody cared if I flipped burgers with a scowl on my face.

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~ by Donal Lynch on March 25, 2008.

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