revealing picture of what it is like to be managed... a chuckle on
almost every page... many uproarious scenes... something for everyone
involved in an office culture...Financial Times
and those of the people he met, are far more valuable than fashionable
theorists. Anyone who has ever worked in an office will find the book
hilariously funny. Punch
Why do people work? What
makes them happy? What makes them productive?
John Mole was the
general manager of an international bank – with an MBA from INSEAD,
Europe's most prestigious business school, an MA from Oxford University
and considerable knowledge of the textbooks of management theory
Then he took a series of
temporary jobs to see for himself how the grass roots reality of
business culture matched up to the theories about it. On his first day
he was fired for incompetence from a job he had frequently hired people
to do himself when he was a manager.
constantly surprising, often hilariously funny, it gives a mole's eye
view of a slice of life that occupies most of the waking hours of
millions of people. Anyone who needs to know about the management of
people will find much to learn and to laugh at in this unique book.
When I was ten years
old I sent sixpence off to the Rover comic for a booklet on 'Learning To
Swim At Home'. First you practised treading water in front of the bedroom
mirror. Then you did the arm movements. For the leg movements and
breathing you lay on the bed. Having mastered the basic techniques you lay
on your stomach on a dining room chair and put it all together. The
butterfly was the hardest to do without falling on the floor. Theoretical
swimming had many advantages apart from not getting wet. Twenty lengths on
the chair was good exercise. It was enjoyable. You learned something. It
improved your self-confidence when you went to the beach. But it was no
help at all when you went in the water.
When I worked in a bank most management books I read and courses I went on
were like this. Theories of organisation, motivation, planning,
influencing, assertiveness and leadership did not seem to fit the real
world. Some years ago I quit my job as General Manager of a branch of an
international bank to write full-time. But I still wondered what it was
like to be on the receiving end of the management techniques I read about
and tried to put into practise. So I went back to work at the lowest level
of the kind of businesses I used to manage. The result is a kind of travel
book, a journey through another country with its strange peoples and
'What do you do?' asked
'Clerical. General office work. Anything really,' I said.
'Yes, but what do you do?'
After a business degree and fifteen years in international banking I
wasn't qualified to do anything. It came as a shock. I thought I could
just pop down to the employment agency and start work. I was a decent
chap, a reliable sort of fellow. I could keep a conversation going about
the dollar and the oil price and the American budget deficit. I knew which
knife and fork to use, how to read an airline schedule. I could chair a
meeting and make a speech and write a memo. But I couldn't do anything
that would get me a job. Outside the organisation for which I used to work
I counted as nothing. Knowing the alphabet was the most useful thing I
could think of.
'How about filing?' I asked.
Jenny gave me a form to fill out. On the bottom was a list of about thirty
occupational skills. You ticked what level of experience you had. I had no
idea what some of them meant. Bought ledger? Life claims? Some of the
names I recognised from the bank I used to manage. I had read job
descriptions and signed evaluations and given pep talks to reconciliations
clerks and foreign exchange settlements clerks and payroll clerks, I can
see their faces now on the other side of the desk. I made decisions about
how many we should have and what they should be paid and who should
supervise them. But I had only a hazy idea of what they did all day. I
ticked that I had some experience in the job titles I recognised and hoped
I could muddle through.
I had no machine skills either. I had signed capital investment approval
forms for computers and word processors and microfilm equipment and
interviewed operators and sent people on training courses but I wouldn't
know where to find the on/off switch. Half a dozen yoga lessons didn't
make me proficient in Lotus. A couple of novels on a word processor was
the extent of my keyboard experience. I converted forty thousand words per
month into words per minute but it didn't seem worth mentioning.
I went through this ordeal with nearly twenty agencies. Some were part of
chains that advertised on the tube and in the papers and were smart and
modern. Others were up narrow flights of stairs, a couple of tatty wooden
desks and bare boards. The smartest were those that specialised in
secretaries, the scruffiest those that specialised in accountants. I was
impressed with all the interviewers. They were sympathetic and polished
and professional. Some of them had remarkable memories for names and where
their clients lived and what sort of work they did.
'What were you doing before, John?'
'Ah. This and that.'
I thought it would look suspicious that a former general manager of a City
bank, out of work for two years, claiming to be a writer, should be
looking for a job as a temp. At the first couple of agencies I played down
what I had done before, making it sound as if I had led a careless,
reckless life, bumming round the banks of the world, a cashier here, a
reconciliations clerk there, troubleshooting in payroll, a hired gun in
the post room. I made it sound quite romantic and implausible. I didn't
get anything from these agencies. Then I told the unvarnished truth, that
I'd given up a good job to write novels. They thought I was crazy and
harmless and hard up and found me work.
Educational qualifications too were a problem at first. I wasn't sure if
it was as unethical to leave out academic achievements as it was to make
them up. But I didn't want to be thought overqualified. And it was
perfectly true that I had five '0' levels, just as every month in the year
has twenty-eight days. Again I needn't have worried. A degree in French
and German makes you neither under nor overqualified for a career in
commerce. It is irrelevant. And a Master's Degree in Business Studies from
the European Institute of Business Administration sounds like something
they send aspiring executives in Bombay from a PO box.
By the fifth interview I was getting desperate. I sat opposite Jenny in a
little windowless room with furry wallpaper. (Jenny is a popular name for
recruitment consultants. I was on the books of five Jennies, which made my
weekly phone-round very confusing.)
'You can do wrecks, can't you, John?' said Jenny.
'Absolutely, Jenny. Wrecks, no problems. A speciality you might say.
Shipwrecks, train wrecks, you name it.'
She laughed. Fortunately for my clerical career she thought I was joking.