I once heard a theory that the Queen must think everything smells like paint as everywhere she goes has been recently refurbished in anticipation of her arrival. The same must be true for company executives. Nothing puts the fear in a branch manager more than a notification that somebody important ‘from corporate’ is on their way.
The run up to the big visit sees an extraordinary set of events take place. Absolutely everything in the building is purged, if it is untidy, it is gone. Waste paper bins vanish, useful notices are binned and large amounts of money is spent on new furnishings. The poor maintenance team need to work about 17 hours a day putting up new flatpack cupboards, painting walls and examining historic paperwork. Obscure stockrooms and outbuildings become urgent priorities and rotas are altered so the more ‘problematic’ staff members are absent. Then come the flagged emails telling the whole building there is a chance they will be questioned by the VIPs on a previously unknown procedure we are supposed to be following.
Of course, what actually happens is nothing of the sort. The visits are usually brief and unremarkable. The CEO never seems to run their finger over the newly dusted curtain rail, the Chairperson doesn’t look behind the door of the third floor supply cupboard and for all the training urgently undertaken, the Chief Operating Officer fails to ask the new recruit from logistics what point seven of the customer service excellence scheme is. The reason for all this, is that generally speaking, they don’t care. They are here to see the manager and have no interest regarding the dates of the memos on the noticeboard.
I was put through the trauma of one of these visits recently. I knew something was up by the number of fresh flowers that suddenly appeared. Then a van arrived full of boxes, the curtains were taken to the dry cleaners and the unfortunate deputy was tasked with looking over everything to make sure the old logo was nowhere to be seen.
The day before the visit, our manager discovered that the big day was only a couple of weeks before the CEO’s birthday so this would be a great opportunity for a surprise party. A chef was hired to cook a special meal, a cake was ordered and the already overworked secretary was sent round to gather everyone’s signature in an oversized birthday card. We were all summoned to sing happy birthday and pose for photos on their arrival. However, it transpired that the branch visited prior to ours had the same idea so all our visitors arrived full of cake and couldn’t eat a thing.
Over the following few days the waste paper bins reappeared, we were allowed to unlock the messy (but useful) cupboards and everyone could go back to having ‘personal items’ on their desks.
I am sure that company executives must realise how much chaos their visits must cause and question why all their premises have a waft of varnish in the air. One day, when I am actually allowed to talk to one of these executives, I might subtly suggest that video conferencing would be a good option rather than a site visit. On the other hand, I might just carry on hiding out of the way until it is all over.