First Line Managers: Your Office, Beware
I managed the Ramada Inn South Restaurant from a desk in a hallway. I managed the night shift at the Timme Plaza restaurant from a desk in a small closet. I managed the Ramada Downtown restaurant from a desk in the storeroom. So, as General Manager of the Admiral Benbow, I got my first real office. The owner had purchased a yellow chair to go with my desk. I thought it did not exactly fit a person of my status. I order a high back chair from a school supply company. I hung special artwork on the walls. This is my office: it will show my new status. I was the General Manager after all. My new office will be about me and who I am. I was somebody, at twenty-four, one of the youngest General Managers of a major hotel in Birmingham.
In February of 1974, fired the day before, I walked into the hotel to get my personal stuff out of my office. What a shock, no one seemed to recognize me. They employees behind the front desk did not greet me as usual, “Good morning, Mr. McGriff.” I walked in front of my secretary to get to my office; she did not acknowledge me. I saw my great green chair I had purchased just a few months before, I sat in it one last time to clean out my desk. Then it hit me. This was not my office, my employees, or my hotel. What an impression this had on my future thinking. No more would an office by mine.
After forty years of management and many offices latter, I came to understand what I did not know then. I own nothing at any company, when I leave I leave everything behind. The employees are not mine, I do not pay them. The office is not mine I just occupy it on good conduct. This attitude changed the way I look at an office. It is just a tool for me to do my job.
Over the years, I observed new managers doing just what I did getting their first office. They set up a little “this is my space and this is mine.” The person who took my place at one office, phoned me asking questions like; what kind of office did I have; and what kind of company truck did I drive. I knew this was his first office. Sure enough, I came back to the office, I think he had every ball cap and trinket the company gave him over the years displayed in his office. When he left he probably had to rent a van to carry every one of those personal mementos out of the office.
I received a phone call from the team leader in the new dispatch center our division was setting up. He asked me to become his supervisor for the dispatchers. This was a great challenge to me. I agree to become part of his team. He then said, “What do you need for an office?” My reply was, “Just a computer and a desk any where in the center.” He laughed; I meant it. I carried my office with me, in my head, my experience. All I needed was a company computer to get to my emails and to my files.
If you walk into my office in the dispatch center, here is what you will see. My office has a mishmash of used furniture. My chair is old, ragged, but comfortable. My desk is against a wall, no wood between me and visitors. I have a 4 x 8 dry erase board on one wall, used to map out processes. I have a computer on a small computer desk. There are no file cabinets; all my files are in the computer. I have a Toughbook computer and remote set-up that is exactly like the units in our service trucks on and old credenza. This I use to test orders between this computer and our customer service system. On the wall is our companies mission statement, an IBM “THINK” sign, and the Jaycee Creed. I do have a framed American eagle my mother embroidered for me. This is not my sanctuary; this office is a tool to help me do my job. Every thing in the office has a purpose, and that purpose is not to impress people.
First line managers, Beware. Your office can become a trap. It’s main purpose is to help you in the tough job of managing your department. It is not your space, it is the companies, your den is in your house.