Tuesday, October 25, 2005

As a management consultant, I've visited my share of offices that send out confused signals. Not too long ago the window office, walnut desk and leather chair were nearly as important as the salary in reflecting executive status. In this carrot-and-stick model, only the champions earned leather and wood. But I know firsthand that lots of folks rebel against that work model. I still remember the day I interviewed at the consulting division of one of the big accounting firms. Great people. Reputable firm. Reasonable salary. It all looked pretty good until I asked to see what my office space would be like as a new associate.

First, my simple question about space flushed out the truth about lifestyle. Suddenly, I heard that you travel so much you don't really need a desk, which was a different story than I had heard earlier. Second, I got a clear signal about how they valued new associates. Not only did I not get a desk, I didn't get a filing cabinet or even a drawer. Where would I store my files and things? I'd share a gray sheet-metal utility shelf with another associate, my portion marked only by my name scribbled on a piece of masking tape. Maybe it wasn't quite rational that I turned down the job offer partly because of a gray utility shelf, but the space had communicated a lot about the firm's culture, and I wonder how much talent was fended off over the years because the "body language" of the firm said, "New associates don?t matter."

--- Tom Kelley (with Jonathan Littman), The Art of Innovation

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