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I know where the bodies are buried!
January 30, 2014
2 Min Read
In every job, there are people who have no authority, but who have a huge impact on you. At one company I worked at, a phone operator—call her Helga—was just such a person. She wasn’t just any phone operator—this gravely voiced lady had been there seemingly forever, and no one ever crossed her.
We each had a direct-dial number, and heaven help you if someone you knew dialed the company number instead. One day, I called in sick and I didn’t remember my boss’ number, so I dialed the company line. “Call him on his number, Jack,” says Helga. (You only had to call once and she would remember your voice forever.) “I forgot it,” I say. “Here it is. Write this down. Have you got it?” she says. “Yeah. Yeah,” I say, just to get her off my case. “Then dial it direct,” she says, and pulls the plug.
Her clout really came home to me on an occasion when I was sitting in on a call several of our VPs had made to the president of a supplier. In those days, the company had bought its own dedicated long distance lines, called WATS lines, and they had determined that they got the most for their money if they had employees use the WATS line for short calls and use the regular lines for longer calls. They established a policy that we could only use the WATS lines for calls less then five min. long. In this case, the VPs had used a WATS line, and were talking to the other company’s president, when Helga comes on. “You’ve got one minute,” she says. “This is an important call, so don’t cut us off!” says the production VP. “You’ve got 30 seconds,” says Helga. “Don’t cut us off!” yells the VP. Boink!—the line goes dead. Much unpleasant language, and they place the call again over a regular line.
The company had really nice Christmas parties, and I was at the party that year and happened to be taking to Helga, so I asked her how she could get away with things like cutting off three VPS on an important call. “Jack,” she says. “I’ve been here for 30 years. Nobody messes with me, because, I KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED!"
So there’s the key to longevity: KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED!
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
- General George Patton Jr.
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