Today is my 49th birthday. That might seem like a big number or a small number, depending on your perspective. Right now it means I’m slightly on the younger side of the 20 people in the strategic planning meeting that I am sitting in at MegaCorp.
Today’s a Tuesday. Tuesday is a terrible day for a birthday, because if there are important meetings scheduled, you’re generally ‘forced’ to spend all day at work. I’m not the sort that tells anyone at work or friends that it is my birthday. I prefer to fly on the down-low. So here I am – sitting in a boring all day meeting.
Today’s strategic planning session comes two months before our strategic plan gets presented to our CEO. At times, the discussion in the room today feels like it could only be described in the Sunday panels of Dilbert, but as my time at MegaCorp is beginning to wind down I am oddly starting to savor the utter ridiculousness of it all.
Here’s the scene …
My Birthday “Party”
There are more than 20 people in the room today. That’s 20 people doing their best to satisfy whatever their boss told them they wanted said in the meeting. Everyone in the room today has already spent hours getting ready for this meeting and discussing what should and shouldn’t be said if certain issues arise. Some people are in cahoots with each other, others are playing the good cop/bad cop game, and still others are looking to knock rivals down a peg in front of the boss.
If you count them up, we have five levels of management in this meeting. I understand that everyone has a boss, but it’s not very value-added to have that many levels of management in the same room at the same time. Looking around the conference table, we have new-hire MBAs all the way up to the EVP of our group. We all work within a few departments that encompass thousands of employees around the world, so I guess the 20 of us should feel grateful to be involved in discussing where the group should go in the next 5 years. Still, there are too many people involved today to have a productive session.
The discussion topics today span from major organizational restructurings to the mundane formatting of presentation charts. People are talking about new departments to build, other departments to eliminate, and new processes/business practices to implement. Mostly, the executives are ‘pitching’ the EVP for the chance at tens of millions of dollars in new investments that they hope to get the EVP’s support for. If he includes their ideas in his strategic plan, they have decent chance at expanding their groups and power in the organization.
While these conversations are very important, they get hilariously interrupted by heated discussions break about the way slides look – red charts or blue? line chart or trend line? circles or squares? After a few minutes of this, someone sanctimoniously notes that they followed the ‘official’ PowerPoint template – but others did not. Oh the disloyalty!
Our MegaCorp EVP, who reports directly to the CEO of our $30B+ company, prides himself on being ‘authentic’ and a ‘straight shooter’, but he is often viewed as being rude and disrespectful to people in the room. One senior manager, who he counts on as his right-hand man, is treated especially rudely today. I’ve always observed that the higher one goes in the organization, the less polite people become, but our EVP seems like he might never have been respectful, at any level.
My Birthday Mindset
My career has been in general management, marketing strategy, and product innovation. I’ve worked for three different MegaCorps over 27 years and these are the kind of meetings I’ve always enjoyed. Strategy. Planning out where we can go – imagining the future – putting action plans in place.
That said, against the backdrop of my planned FIRE escape next year – 51 weeks from now – today’s discussions are awfully slow. As usual, everyone is trying to paint themselves as a brilliant strategist with an amazing view of the world in 2020. Execution. Analytics. Operations. Efficiency. Headcount. Structure. Process. Collaboration. Important to MegaCorp? Yes. Important to me? Not so much.
Now our EVP of Marketing, Sales, & Service – who has little background in strategic marketing – just called the 4Ps of Marketing (product, price, promotion & place) “a made up idea” and says that “we shouldn’t use them anymore.” He goes on a ten minute diatribe errantly alleging that “they make no sense” because he says he heard that a conference speaker originally invented them out of thin air.
He is apparently unaware of Jerome McCarthy’s 1960 textbook Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach – and that McCarthy is considered one of the foundational thought leaders in the field. I find it deliciously entertaining when the EVP makes comments that even an undergraduate college student would know to be false, but still no one bothers to speak up. They know him well enough to know they would likely be childishly berated from disagreeing him. That has been the case to frequently already in this meeting.
My FIRE Escape
I’m likely the only one contemplating an early retirement that will leave my chair empty in less than a year. They will all be back at another strategy meeting a year from now – likely repackaging many of the initiatives from this year that will go unfounded. I continue to work on my plan for FIRE in secret – full financial independence and retiring early several weeks before my 50th birthday. That means I will have zero accountability for the 5 year strategic plan that we are discussing today.
Next year, my birthday is on a Thursday. The good news is it definitely won’t be a work day for me as I enjoy my first full month in early retirement!
Image Credit: Pixabay