A Dysfunctional Staff Meeting

Do you know people like these managers? Have you been in dysfunctional staff meetings? If so, you’ll enjoy my novel, Playing the Game.

Read this excerpt from Chapter 2, which takes place the day after CEO Rick Players was injured in a snowmobiling accident:


Maura Ramirez went to work early on Monday. Kevin had said the officers’ staff meeting would go on as scheduled, but she wasn’t sure what to expect. What was there to talk about, other than Rick? She had planned to bring up cutting labor costs. But without Rick, the group couldn’t—or wouldn’t—decide anything. Should she even raise the issue?

When Maura arrived in her office, the voicemail light on her phone blinked. Her email held a screenful of unread messages. Most were from people wanting information about Rick. She responded to as many high-priority calls and messages as she could.

Before she knew it, it was 8:30. Time for the meeting.

Maura grabbed her headcount reduction file, still not sure whether to talk about it, but wanting to be prepared. She headed down the hall to the executive conference room near Rick’s office.

Alex Draper, the Chief Financial Officer, sat in his usual seat at the conference table, files and calculator and laser pointer arranged in front of him. Alex was a good number-cruncher, his analytics as precisely trimmed as his dark curly hair and bristly mustache. But Maura had never seen him smile at any of PlayLand’s products.

Dewayne Jefferson, General Counsel, loomed over Alex with a cup of coffee and a coconut doughnut in his hands. “Lining your pencils up, Alex?” Dewayne said. “Too bad you can’t get profits to line up as neatly.”

Dewayne, a large African American, wore a dark grey suit, blue button-down shirt and red foulard tie—impeccably attired as always. Maura suspected he used his imposing size and intellect to intimidate his adversaries, in the courtroom and at PlayLand.

As Dewayne twitted Alex about his pencils, Grant Mason, the Vice President of Operations, strode into the room. Despite being one of the older officers at PlayLand, Grant radiated energy. Employees told Maura they were afraid of his furrowed eyebrows and stern mouth. Only those who worked closely with Grant knew that, though he was hardheaded, he considered new ideas thoughtfully.

He was one of Maura’s favorites on Rick’s staff. She smiled at Grant as he sat.

Grant shot her a quick grin back, then frowned. “Any word on Rick?”

She shook her head.

Leo Benson sauntered in about eight forty. Leo had spent his entire career—over thirty years—in the Sales group. He hustled customers, but reacted negatively to his peers’ ideas. For Leo, it was Sales against the rest of the world, and Sales was always right.

Leo settled into his seat. A gold chain flashed around his neck and another shone on his wrist. His right hand sported a heavy diamond ring, an award from early in his career for achieving top sales for five years running.

“Where are Vince and Kevin?” Leo asked. “They called this meeting.”

No one answered.

At 8:45, Kevin and Vince walked in together.

“Any word on Rick?” Grant asked as the others murmured the same concern.

Kevin shook his head. “Nothing new.”

The Players brothers all had the same nose and ears, but whenever Maura saw them together, she noticed how different they were. The injured Rick was the oldest and also the broadest, built like the football player he had been in college.

Vince, the tallest, had not kept himself in shape. The green plaid sweater and rumpled corduroy slacks he wore today emphasized his generous stomach. Maura stifled a sigh as she glanced at Vince.

Kevin’s ready grin made him the most attractive, in Maura’s opinion, though he was the least physically imposing. She also found him the most personable, the easiest to get along with.

Kevin motioned Vince toward the head of the table where Rick usually sat.

Vince cleared his throat as he took Rick’s chair, then said, “Thanks, everyone, for your concern about Rick. We really appreciate it. He’s still in a coma. Doctors don’t say when he’ll come out. We’ll let you know if anything changes.” Vince looked toward Kevin, who nodded.

“Let’s go around the room,” Vince continued. “See what’s happening. If you needed anything from Rick this week, we’ll figure out what to do. Where we can, we’ll wait until Rick’s back. Who wants to start?”

Leo stirred his coffee, diamond ring flashing. “Rick and I were supposed to meet with Toy Mart on Thursday,” he said. “I’ll handle it. Just preliminary. To feel them out about our new action figure line. Rick was only going because Toy Mart’s our largest customer.”

“I’ll go,” Kevin said. “They’ll expect special marketing terms. But we have to be sure we don’t overcommit. We can’t afford much this year.”

Leo shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said. “No need. But if you want to go, I’ve leased a jet. We leave at seven thirty Thursday morning.”

“I’ll be there,” Kevin said.

Alex tapped his pencil on the files in front of him. “Haven’t you seen the financials, Leo? No money for jets.”

“The plan was for Rick and me and a couple of Sales guys to go. Toy Mart’s in a podunk town in Wisconsin. If we fly commercial, we end up spending three days out of the office for a three-hour meeting. Our time’s worth something.”

Alex stood and passed copies of a spreadsheet around the table. “Kevin’s right about not overcommitting. We can’t promise Toy Mart or anyone else anything this year. These projections show the trouble we’re in.”

Alex turned on a projector displaying a PowerPoint slide of the spreadsheet he had distributed. He flashed his laser pointer at the bottom line. “We’re losing money. Cash flow is eroding every week. At this rate, our whole line of credit will be used up by June.”

He showed another slide. “Every division needs to control costs until we negotiate a bigger line. Rick and I have—or had—a meeting scheduled with the banks next week. What do we do about that meeting? How will the banks react if they think Rick is incapacitated?” Alex’s diction was as precise as his sculpted mustache.

“Vince will work with you and the banks until Rick is back,” Kevin said.

Vince looked up from his hands. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s talk later this week, Alex. You can show me specifics. Even if Rick wakes up today, he can’t travel next week. Not with broken bones.”

“Okay,” Alex said, his head bobbing up and down. He peered around the room above his glasses. “Does everyone understand? We can’t spend any money this year.” He tapped his pencil on the table to emphasize his words.

“Oh, come off it.” Leo waved his hand dismissing Alex, his ring flashing. “How can I sell new product without marketing dollars?”

“We have some ideas to keep the marketing costs down,” Kevin said. “Isn’t that right, Vince?”

“Got my staff brainstorming,” Vince replied. “Both the New Ventures folks and Jennifer Scott in Dolls.”

Leo snickered. “That sweetie’s a doll herself. But what does she know about action figures?”

“Give her a chance,” Kevin said. “She’s pretty sharp.”

“Okay, Alex,” Vince said, “Anything else we need to know from Finance?”

“Keep costs down, and let me know ASAP about budget overruns.” Alex turned off the computer screen and went back to his seat.

“Grant?” Vince asked, turning to the Vice President of Operations.

“So far, we’re on track with production planning. We’ve only seen specifications for the first few action figure SKUs, but we should get the others soon from Product Development. I assume we’re still on schedule?” Grant frowned at Vince.

Vince nodded.

“Everything else is in good shape,” Grant continued. “Costs for raw materials are up, but we’ve switched to some cheaper vendors. I think we’ll hold product costs level with last year.” He scowled. “But labor costs are up. That’s the weak link in our projections.”

That was her cue, Maura decided. She wished Rick were there to back her up. She leaned forward. “Both salary and benefits costs are shooting up. We’ll probably need to reduce staff this year. But as a first step, I recommend we don’t hire anyone unless absolutely necessary.”

“But I have open sales territories,” Leo said. “Turnover in the field is sky-high. I need to fill those jobs.”

“If you have to, you have to,” Maura said. “But if we lay people off later, you’ll have a bigger mess then. Better to hold the territories open.”

Alex tapped his pencil nervously. “Maura’s right. Labor is the fastest growing item in our budget. Why would we hire more employees, given our current projections?”

Grant glared, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed. “Leo and I have the most people. I hear what you’re saying, Maura, but sometimes we have to fill open jobs.”

Maura shook her head. “I’m not telling you to cripple the business. Just be careful. My staff’s working on a headcount reduction plan. We’ll have it ready soon.” She wouldn’t present the plan now. If they wouldn’t even agree to stop hiring, no way would these guys lay people off. Only Rick could make them do it.

“Can we agree to be careful?” Vince asked. “If it seems like we need to get tougher, we’ll revisit the issue. Maybe when Rick is back.”

Maura watched in disgust as the rest of the group nodded. Vince had cut off the debate without reaching resolution. Leo would do as he damn well pleased. Grant wouldn’t add employees unnecessarily, but he would run Operations the way he thought best. Only she and Alex seemed concerned about the rising labor costs. Typical.

* * *

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Playing the Game, Workplace, Writing

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