Today is Friday. Or, as you like to think of it, Pointless Meeting Day.
Normally, Pointless Meeting Day consists of an hour-or-so-long conference with the other members of your division as you address such blistering topics as revamping file structures and shredding old documents. (In one particularly juicy instance, the issue of “Who needs bigger computer monitors, and who gets them first?” dominated the conversation for an entire month.)
Today’s Pointless Meeting, however, is something of a different order: the quarterly company-wide meeting, wherein The Big Boss gives a breakdown of the past fiscal quarter and sets his goals for the next.
For three hours.
As always, you take a seat toward the back of the room. You prepare to settle in for the protracted and maddeningly familiar spiel … but this time, there’s a wrinkle.
“With so many new employees,” The Big Boss intones, suddenly straying from his time-tested script, “I thought it would be a good idea that we had something to make sure we’re all working on the same page. This,” he says with a flourish, cueing up the next PowerPoint slide, “is the pledge.” He eyes his audience, you and the rest of the other trapped animals, with gravitas.
“We spent an entire afternoon on this. It was a lot of work.”
You take another look at the pledge. You have ample time do so, because The Big Boss has just mandated that everyone use the next few minutes to do exactly that. It’s pretty standard fare: Work to the best of your ability, do your utmost for the client, that sort of thing. Hardly worth all the fanfare, you think, but whatever.
The following Monday, you get an e-mail from The Gap, your division supervisor and immediate boss. The Gap is one of those managers who prefers to manage entirely by e-mail, even when the people he’s e-mailing are seated directly opposite him and are inarguably within speaking range. He also enjoys using random boldface to emphasize just how serious the topic at hand is.
“As you all know,” The Gap’s e-mail begins, “The Big Boss unveiled the pledge at our last company-wide meeting. For our division meeting this Friday, I would like you all to prepare some comments about how the pledge directly applies to your job, both how you have been using it and how you can use it going forward.”
You read the e-mail a second time to make sure it says what you think it says, then walk over to the next cubicle where Cat sits.
“What does this even mean?” you ask Cat in English. Cat spent several years overseas, and the two of you have made it a rule to speak mostly English at the office; that way, anyone in earshot will simply tune out whatever it is you’re talking about (namely, badmouthing this job).
“How we have been using it? What, we’re supposed to apply it retroactively?” Cat merely shrugs. “This is stupid,” you assert, sure of its stupidity.
“It’s hard. How are we supposed to ‘use’ this?”
“Exactly,” you agree. “I don’t think it’s meant to be used. It’s more like a … guide, a point of reference for doing our jobs. This sucks.”
Fast forward to that week’s Pointless Meeting Day. No one has prepared any thoughts regarding the pledge, nor do they seem very eager to discusss it. Sir Jacket is asleep in the corner, and Captain Combover is looking disinterestedly out the window.
The Gap, however, will not be dissuaded. This is a man for whom all pegs must be inserted into all holes, squareness and roundness be damned. He will have suggestions on how the pledge can be used, and the rest of the afternoon can go screw itself until he gets them.
“You know,” pipes up The Angry Librarian, a man several years The Gap’s senior and well known for having little tolerance for his bullshit, “it seems to me this ‘pledge’ isn’t so much something to be applied as it is a point of reference for making business decisions.” You and Cat exchange glances, an ocular throwing of hands into the air in vindication.
Later that afternoon, once the hellish meeting has finally concluded (having produced negligible results), you run into The Professor, your senior in another division and one of the few individuals in this company you genuinely look up to.
“John Turningpin,” he says, “we still haven’t gone out for that beer yet.”
“I could sure use it tonight,” you reply.
A couple hours later finds the two of you drinking several pints at a knockoff British pub down the street from your office. In between waxing poetic on the fact that, perhaps because he is Japanese, he prefers his Kirin Ichiban to your Kilkenny, The Professor mentions offhandedly, “Actually, I was one of the ones that worked on the pledge.” That certainly gets your attention.
“Really? What was that like?” you ask.
“It was sort of fun. Hammering out ideas, putting them down in writing.”
“You know,” you begin, “there’s been a bit of discussion recently about what exactly the pledge is for. Like, if it’s meant to be directly applied or…”
“Applied? No, it’s just meant to be a point of reference for when we’re doing our jobs.”