On returning to my office, I spent the next 30 minutes or so wondering how I was going to handle myself. It dawned on me that I just might be in for a thorough drilling by the GMD, and that it might turn out to be my last opportunity to ever appear before him. I was apprehensive, but I promised myself to make the desired positive impression on him. It only meant getting prepared, and for that I did my best to get as much information as possible on major developments in the group prior to my coming on board.
On the appointed day I set off two hours ahead of schedule. The GMD’s office was on Marina and mine was on the mainland. With Lagos traffic one could never be too sure. Better not to take chances. All through the drive to the Island I took care to avoid BRT lane or break any traffic rule. I am the type that drives fast but not necessarily over-speed. I like to overtake any vehicle before me that slows me down. On this day however I took care not to over-take or struggle right of way with any motorist lest I got involved in a traffic incident. That would be a recipe for disaster on this very day. I had never met the GMD before this day and anything that would give him a wrong impression of me must be avoided by all means.
I made it to the personal assistant to GMD’s office 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I thought I should announce my presence and then wander somewhere else to ease off the tension building in me, but it was not to be. She picked up her phone, muttered a few words, and asked me to go in. That was surprise No. 1
Surprise No.2 came when I knocked on the GMD’s office door and instead of hearing the usual “come in”, the door jerked open and right there at the door was the man himself. He offered a handshake, a broad smile and the words “welcome my good friend”. The last bit was surprise No. 3 but that was okay. Surprise No. 4 came when instead of going to the seat behind his desk; he walked to an extended part of his office that looked like a board room, took one of the chairs and motioned me to sit right beside him. A lady office assistant served coffee which I accepted because I learnt from my background work that in his home country, it was taken as an offence for someone to decline an offer from an elder. After two or three sips of the coffee in-between which I was fairly certain he was assessing me, he shot his first question.
“So what do you think of the memo?” he asked in halting English. I answered that it was about time the memo came and that the HR department’s role in the plan was fully understood.
“You have no misgivings whatsoever?” He asked.
I thought here was an opportunity to point out a weak link in the plan. “Actually, I do have just one area of concern sir”, I replied. “The whole idea is no doubt a welcome development. However, I do think we first of all need to sensitize the divisional heads, the line managers and the workforce. We need to seek buy-in sir. It will require visiting the locations sir. Three to four months would be enough to do this sir, then we can implement. That way we would have done everything to ensure a seamless exercise sir”. Not that there are guarantees, but any change comes with reactions and resistance sir”.
He thought about this for a while and then threw in surprise No. 5, which was simply to ask me to oversee the whole exercise. The meeting was over. As I was about exiting his office, I asked him if it would be okay to ask him a favour, to which he answered in the affirmative. I told him that though I was aware my immediate boss was billed to leave soon, it would be mightily helpful if he was involved from the onset. “I still have a lot to learn from him sir, and this is one more opportunity before he leaves the company sir”. He replied that he would see to that.
Back at my desk, I recollected what a wise mentor once told me. He said “never leave an executive with a long to-do list”. For one thing, it may not get done. But more importantly, he will appreciate your respect for his time and your willingness and ability to get things done on his behalf”. So, after every meeting with an executive, send a brief thank-you, meeting summary, including any decisions and next steps”. This advice came handy.
I did a one-page summary of the meeting, the overall re-organisation plan and the role expected of the HR department. I reduced the HR role to an acronym called SR3T – Sensitize, Review, Re-align, Re-design and Train with timeline assigned to each, in line with the general plan. I avoided using the dreaded word, the meaning of which is all too clear. I sent the draft first to my boss for his review and input. He made a few corrections and sent it back with an instruction to “send”.
About an hour later the reply came from “above” simply as “good, proceed”, followed immediately by another from my boss. It simply said “congrats”. Then I realized I did not fail the test.