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August 1, 2007
Machiavellian Skin: How I Nearly Got Hoodwinked by a Guy Who Knew Too Much

I’m sort of embarrassed to tell you this, but my mission with Devil is to tell the truth.

A typical bigwig or drunk-with-experience supervisor would embellish here and make me look good. I guess I’m a bit of a glutton, or, hey, at least not willing to be cliché.

A couple months ago, a young man employed by me e-mailed a few days before his promised Quarterly Employee Review and insisted it be held on the 3-month mark and over a meal (yet). Normally I ignore e-notes like that but acquiesced, since he had worked diligently, almost to a fault, for 3 months to prove himself. During the meal and drinks, however, I told him without fail how well he had done.

Then he kicked me: for inspiration every day, including this one: he claimed to have carried around a "Welcome to RLM card" I’d handed him as he started (standard—the giving, not the carrying). In his I had scribbled something over the top, since I don’t turn to the trite, which was “Time to take over the world, guy.” He showed me the card and, shocked, it didn’t occur to me how superb his buttering-up technique was.

During the brief evening he coyly asked for a contract (not standard) and a giant raise, and while the kid had less then 2 years’ life experience, his dealings with our most difficult clients had been good…so I considered tossing some money. Truth be told, the dude was already overpaid, but the wine…

Since negotiations are given over to my beloved general manager, that’s when the crap started, even with the card burning a hole in his pocket. Oh, and what a piece of work I discovered, one an actor Olivier would have been envious of. It took 3 months and 2 days for the audition to wear thin.

Before you read any further, read what my Dad once told me.: “Problem with the world is that everyone thinks they are right.”

So opinions aside, the following weeks of Little Actor Face’s work was stock-filled with the worst account management I have seen in years, a weird turnaround at best. Oh, it occurred to me that he had only done the 3-month good job to prove a point. Still.

Like a lot of the “new young,” he had learned it all and at age 24 saw no reason to be taught a wee thing. I wanted him to do better, and said the clients were calling to see if anyone was in charge, and I was aghast because I figured when push (or hunger for cash) came to shove, he proved he could do it. And when the pros in our midst pointed out he had become a ridiculous passer-on of the work to underlings, he got defensive, uppity and teary-eyed. There are no tears in the service businesses!

He was angry that he didn’t get a super-cali-fragalistic raise. He was upset that I called him out publicly when he didn’t do a thing. And he even said what no one should ever (ever, ever!) say to a boss: “Well, that’s not my job.”

That skin he shed was thin and thinner, and each time I strongly suggested he meet a client expectation, he peered at me like I’d stabbed his soft heart. I confronted him daily, and he stood still as a deer with high beams. And then the little dimwit would e-message an apology or remorse. First I was embarrassed for him. It got sad. It was pathetic.

Turned out the first 3 months and the visible card was a manipulation, duh, and anything after a 3-month expiration date was gravy.

A day before the GM was going to fire his useless ass, he gave notice with a lot of gusto. Loudly and implicitly, and with what appeared to be coaching.

Final word is a paraphrase of the missive he prepped on company time—well-written, long-labored over and most assuredly 2007’s best fiction to date. It elicited a spit-take: “I will be a star. There is no doubt. Just not at RLM.”

I warn you to watch for young, foolish thespians who gallivant through the office in hopes they charm each of us, coast after a “Look Golly Gee” proof period, and pocket cash that is at best under-deserved. To employers laughing at my allowances, I bow my head: I did the same for a couple of teeth-gnashing weeks.

My regret—wish I could rip that damned card into a trillion pieces. Alas, my chances will come again. Of that there is no doubt.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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