As true a story as ever there was…
By: Hamid Shahid Khan
Somalilandsun – Movie fans among those reading this article might well be familiar with a film called Up In The Air which starred George Clooney – one of my favourite actors, might I add – playing out the role of a, wait for it, ‘transition consultant’. In this movie it was the responsibility of George’s character – who was employed by a big consultancy firm – to fly around recession-hit America firing unwitting – and mostly random folks – on behalf of their, well, jittery – some might say pusillanimous – employers. These, well, pusillanimous employers had given lucrative contracts to George’s firm – some obscure management consultancy turned roving elite firing squad – to do their dirty work for them. George was one of a number of transition consultants at his firm who would be dispatched to carry out their dastardly deeds, deeds which were far, far from swift and easy to undertake because of the increasingly volatile nature of the individuals George and his cadre would encounter upon their travels. Can you imagine one day going into work, only to be summoned to some sealed off conference room as soon as you’re settled at your desk awaiting your coffee, to be unceremoniously engaged by some completely inconspicuous – yet obscure and sometimes even strange – individual to be told by the foregoing that your position at your – now former – company no longer exists and that you will, henceforth, be on some scrapheap unless, of course, you don’t begin your quest for an alternative livelihood, like, now? (Well, perhaps not in those specific terms.)
Anyway, this article – allow me to apprise you – is not about George or Up In The Air. This story is about a real life transition consultant who, for two years, was contracted all over the great and historical City of London to dispatch some of the most benign, frightful, taciturn, outspoken, refined, uncouth, dishevelled, and classy people working for all kinds of public and private sector enterprises in the Year of Our Lord 2010: this story is about me: the author of this very article you here now peruse. Becoming a transition consultant (or to use a flagrantly inappropriate term: a butcher) was not something I had never – never – thought of doing even in my most cynical bursts of imaginative creativity. Like love – or so they tell me – it just happened. But, allow me to correct my seemingly erroneous rendering of the term ‘love’ here mentioned: this newly adopted vocation of mine was a most unlovely one, and one which I was pushed into doing at the time because of the pervasive, sapping, and pernicious recession that hit us – the unwitting proletariat – much like a modern day Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 2008; but, thankfully, without the atomic payload. It all started in the Fall of 2007 when the private sector company I was working for began a very novel and interesting – or so it seemed at the time – in-house marketing campaign, entitled ‘THINK BIG’. It was all quite unexpected and very, very random to suddenly initiate a campaign of this sort in the midst of all that was going on at the time: like all decent and sinister horror movie plots: it didn’t make sense – not initially, anyway.
So what was this THINK BIG slogan all about? We had mugs, coasters, stationary, t-shirts, badges – all embossed or imprinted with this so very motivational expression in bold yellow capital lettering on a blue background, and yet no explanation about the rationale behind it. Then came the conference. In Communist Russia, or in the very early days of Red China – though it remains distinctly red contemporaneously – the Bolshevik cadres had novel ways of using propaganda to aid their communication efforts in relaying subliminal – and in some cases direct – messages to the unsuspecting proletariat masses. It was the same with Goebbels, the infamous – but sadly effective – Nazi propagandist during Hitler’s ominous reign. My company, it seemed facetiously to me at the time, had taken several leaves out of their books. Before a purge in Bolshevik Russia there would sometimes be a rally where many people would be named, shamed, and arrested; they’d subsequently be tortured, imprisoned, or, if the authorities were in a more benign frame of mind, prisoners would be summarily executed – either that or they’d be sent off to Siberia. But now we’re straying far from the point I’d like to make. THINK BIG, in essence, was akin to its far more menacing marketing – or propagandist – ancestors but, due to the vicissitudes of fortune, it was a little less baleful in its reasoning; nobody at the conference was going to be set upon by a Death Squad, arrested based upon trumped up charges, imprisoned, tortured, or killed; albeit being told, obliquely, that the company is looking to cut costs – economize – and downsize its resourcing capabilities, is dispiriting enough for anyone sitting to attention having to hear such spiel being lolled out in a mixture of contrived rapture and a seemingly disingenuous solemnity. So mercifully, the only thing many of my colleagues at the THINK BIG conference were going to lose – in place of their heads – or other useful parts of their anatomies – was quite possibly their jobs.
It had for years – both preceding and proceeding from the conference – been a habit of mine, while en route to the office in the morning on the Central Line from Ealing Broadway, to always read The Guardian newspaper. My focus, most times, was on the back pages – those detailing the incessant fluctuations of the financial markets; of course, the markets are the core upon which our economy has always rested so it’s always sensible – I have always thought – to check the pulse not just sporadically, but, well, every day. Some of you might consider this cynical, others might be thinking perhaps I had a bout of paranoia; but, in the wake of what was to happen just a few months down the road, my senses were quite justified in this regard. Anyway, on we go. It had occurred to me that there had been no shortage of jolts in the money markets during the run-up to 2007 and forecasters were telling us all sorts of things far, far, far from the truth: the extent, depth, breadth, intensity, and vastness of their evasiveness had just become too shocking for one to endure and I had a distinct sense of something that I could neither define or even properly conceive of. Like all decent doom mongers I began to make preparations for a Judgment Day I didn’t know would arrive and, if so, when. As a quite successful organisational psychologist I had, over the years, built up a web of contacts in the Smoke (as Londoners sometimes refer to their reluctantly beloved city) who were able to help me get contracts with companies that were, strangely, looking to downsize on their organisational structures while, simultaneously, maintaining their level of outputs. For this they needed management consultants – tried and trusted folks who knew how to keep a secret or two – so here, I thought, is my niche. In the event of my company closing down overnight, at least I’ll be secure; I am going to be a management consultant, I thought! How deluded I was.
In a gross bout of a not too ill-conceived anticipation of an incipient disaster, I accepted what short- to medium-term contracts I received and, first ensuring I would be financially stable for at least eighteen months, I applied for a redundancy. At the same time I set up a company – what that actually means is that I registered as a limited company – while I would, in actual fact, work on my laptop from the comfort of my own bed and High Street apartment – as and when would please me. Within three months I had been given a not too sizeable lump sum and a not too grand send-off party: I was launched. I hadn’t even left and already I was being assailed by the thought about what life as a management consultant would be like; that curiosity was soon extinguished when I arrived at my first contractor on a fine Monday morning and was asked if I would be so kind as to do their HR a small favour for which you will, Hamid, be lavishly reimbursed. And what, might I ask, am I to do, Liz – not her real name – for which you will reimburse me on top of my not insubstantial contractual fee? You’ll be fine, Hamid, we’d like you to give some of our temps the chop – there’s seventeen of them right now so just let us know how you’d like to schedule them. The chop? – was my retort, thinking Liz had made a bad joke about meat retailing. But Liz knew exactly what she was saying, being puckishly euphemistic in her choice of vocabulary. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it all began: my ill-fated – and inadvertent – step into the ever intriguing world of transition consultancy. More next week so, suitably, this is to be continued…
Copyright: Somalilandsun, 2016. www.somalilandsun.com
The author Hamid Shahid Khan is Managing Director at INTELIPAK Institute of Leadership, Training & Development