Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > holiday humour – FM the way is was

holiday humour – FM the way is was

It’s another public holiday and so another amusing story is due. This one is a true story; it recalls events from over thirty years ago and it wasn’t too funny at the time because back then I was taking myself a little too seriously, but it was one of the things that made me see that flaw and do something about it.

At the time I was an ambitious middle manager in a public sector organisation. I had applied for a promotion to run a project team and I had been taken aside one Thursday and told that I had got the job. My boss took me up to the second floor of the building and showed me the room that I would be occupying with my new team from the start of the next week. It was a standard room with three clusters of five desks each and a small, glazed, box office in one corner that would be mine. At last my own office! The current incumbents were being moved out that weekend

On the Monday I called in at my old desk when I got to work and collected the box of personal items that I had packed and then headed upstairs. I walked along the corridor to my new base and there on the door was a new plastic plate engraved with my team’s title. I opened the door and walked into a room devoid of furniture; even the carpet was gone and the room echoed from the bare linoleum tiles. Two of my new team were leaning on the window sill with an array of personal boxes on the floor surrounding them. “Oh, you’re here then,” said one, “we’re off to join the others in the canteen. Let us know when we’ve got somewhere to sit” and with that they left.

In my box office there was a desk with ‘phone on it, a swivel chair behind it and a single chair for a visitor. I put my box on the desk and picked up the ‘phone, but realised I didn’t know what to do or who to call. As I considered things the door to the main office opened and two porters came in. They came into my office, said good morning, removed one of the four hooks from the hat and coat stand in the corner of the office and then left. Newly promoted to the top level of middle management I might have been, but I was ill equipped to deal with any of this; I didn’t have a clue where to start.

A little while later, on the advice of a colleague and after some searching, I found myself sitting in a similar office to mine down in the basement, the office of the Buildings Manager (BM). He wasn’t exactly apologetic, but explained that mine was a project team and that we were not funded in the accommodation budget. Although he had been told to clear the room of its previous occupants he had not been given an authority to replace the desks. Yes he had an authority to put the team name on the door and my name on my office door (I had missed that). I had the previous occupant’s furniture in my office because they didn’t need it in their new location, but that without the relevant paperwork he could do no more.

Five hours later, having first visited my new team in the canteen and sent them home for the day, I had made the rounds of various senior management and collected a budget allocation, a copy of the documents that authorised my project, and another form that required me not only to gather a raft of information to complete it, but also to re-visit three of the senior managers, explain again why I was bothering them and collect their signatures on said form. Armed with all of this I found my way back to the basement office and presented my papers. The BM read it all through and pronounced himself satisfied. “Right, we will get a requisition raised and send if up to purchasing” he told me. I asked when I would get my desks and chairs. “Well, the order should go off tomorrow and the standard delivery time is four weeks.” The expression on my face must have conveyed what I was about to say for he went on quickly to say that he would have some trestle tables and stackable chairs put in first thing the following morning along with telephones for each of my three team leaders.

The next day we were operational if in somewhat primitive conditions. My team were all keen to get on with the job though and something of a frontier spirit prevailed. Mid-afternoon I had a visitor, my new friend the BM. He told me that the order had been placed and that, as another delivery had been scheduled for the following week, my furniture would come on the same delivery. It would be installed over that weekend and so a week on Monday we would be properly equipped. I thanked him, but as he got up to leave I said that I had a two questions; why was there no carpet and could I have a key to the left hand pedestal of my desk as it was locked?

He sat down again. “When we took the other desks out several of the carpet tiles were badly worn and so we took them all up” he held his hand up to stop my question; “the carpet in this office isn’t due for replacement for another couple of years so we can’t replace the worn ones with new, the whole thing has to come up. Assuming that we have the budget when it’s due for a replacement we’ll do it then. As to your pedestal, well we have a slight problem. Your promotion is only temporary for the next three months because your post isn’t on the establishment until the start of the next financial year. In reality you’re not entitled to this office until then and you should be out in the main office, but there isn’t room and I’m not going to take your office down and put it back up again because it’s one of the old wood framed ones and we’d have to replace the whole ceiling which I don’t have budget for. If this had been one of the new aluminium and glass offices it would have come out. The same applies to your desk; as a temporary promote you shouldn’t have the second pedestal, but I can’t swap the desk for a single pedestal one because I don’t have a spare one”. He looked around; “That’s why we’ve taken the fourth hook off the coat stand; you’re only entitled to a three hook one and it’s also why you only have this one visitor’s chair. Don’t worry, as soon as the substantive promotion is confirmed we’ll sort all of that out for you”. And with that he left me to it.

This was thirty odd years ago and it was very much how things worked in the public sector back then. At the time I was pretty hacked off, but I learned from the experience and moved on. Sadly there are still the odd pockets of this style of FM here and there, but I do what I can to educate people that there is a better way.


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