Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Seven People You Meet At Work

I know, I know - if I really wanted to allude to the book, it would be "the five people you meet at work." But having worked in various industries and in various capacities therein, I've narrowed down the list of common archetypes to no fewer than seven.

Now I want to make it clear, I absolutely adore pretty much everybody I work with (a first for me). In fact, my current team may be the most talented group of individuals I've ever had the pleasure to work with. They are so much more than the personality types I'm about to lay out. In fact, another first is that none of the below characteristics fit any of them very well. And to be fair, most of these traits are not even present in my current hotel. But my current property is the exception to the rule.

So to follow are the seven people you have, currently, or one day will work with. They exist in nearly every setting I've ever experienced, and I'm sure you know each and every one of them very well. Sometimes one person may fit more than one archetype, and sometimes two or more will fit the same one. But here they are, in no particular order:

1) The Soap Star

There is always at least one. Perhaps they were late to work because their neighbor was going into labor, about to give birth to their clandestine love child by way of emergency C-section in the back of their car. It may be that they "accidentally" hit reply-all to an email and revealed someone said something negative about someone else. Perhaps they are in tears over the fact that a client called, angry because what was promised was not delivered - through complete fluke, and absolutely no one's fault (unless of course fault lay in another department).

There is never a dull moment with the soap star. Not only do they have an completely fantastic, beyond-belief story for every mundane story you have, but they also know every interesting or curious facet of everyone else's lives. It may be that a story, when first relayed to them was in fact quite boring - but once it gets processed through the spin-cycle of the soap star's brain, every glitch becomes a catastrophe, every insignificant event becomes a juicy milestone.

The soap star can be a good friend to have, and usually means very well. But it's best to give them something to chew on, or they'll seek it out themselves. Give them something about you to harp on, and usually they don't look any further. It's best to stay on their "good side" though - or you will be shot through the spin-cycle yourself, when you least expect it.

2) The Silo

This person knows their job, and knows it well. They've probably been in their position for a long time - long enough to figure out how to avoid relying on others for anything at all, except when absolutely necessary. Although you can rely on them for pretty much anything, they would prefer not to have to trust you enough to actually need you for anything.

They will sit in their office or cubicle, and generally work very hard. They refuse to go on group outings unless they feel it's mandatory, and will participate in as few extra-work activities as possible. Their job is important to them, but so is leaving work on time, and leaving work at work - which is probably very healthy.

The silo will be your friend, but it takes time to cultivate that relationship.

3) The Yoda

The Yoda has done every job in the department, and in some cases nearly every job in the building. They do not take sides, and are proficient at putting out most fires, if they feel so inclined as to get involved in your hurdles that they see as minor speed humps.

The Yoda could in fact run the department, or the entire operation, but I have yet to meet a Yoda who does. They have settled into their role, and when at home, they are at home. If there is a real emergency at work after hours, trust that if they felt the need to come in, would have the entire matter settled in a matter of moments. The Yoda can at any time become the Chuck Norris of any emergency.

You can confide in them with any piece of information, and know that it does not go past their office. You can come to them for help for any problem at all, no matter how tiny or immeasurably complex and if they deem you worthy, will have the answer to you in one sentence or less. It will likely be a pearl of wisdom you will hang onto for years to come. The Yoda knows you will eventually pass that wisdom on. The Yoda probably knows to whom you will pass it.

4) The Dr. Peter

Dr. Laurence J. Peter proposed in is 1969 book "The Peter Principle," that "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." There is always one who fits this to a tee. They did so very well at their previous positions, that now they are trusted and required to do something very new, a task in which they are totally unqualified.

Unfortunately, the rest of the department will do it for them, until the Dr. Peter is fired or they leave. I've been fortunate enough never to work with one for very long, but not too long ago, (depending on how you define too long), I was subject to one of these people. They made life miserable for everyone.

They rarely admit that they do not know how to do their job. In fact, if they'd genuinely ask for help, or be honest about being unsure of something and willing to learn, they would slowly gain the respect of their peers. But the Dr. Peter is so interested in appearing authoritative in spite of their obvious shortcomings that the team usually works around them rather than with them.

I've also had the joy of inheriting a Dr. Peter as an employee. This individual had been doing the same job for - a long time (to protect the guilty, I am not saying for how long), but evaded dismissal in very creative ways. They maintained a positive personal friendship with the powers that be, and worked their fear of change and love of nostalgia to their advantage. They also did as little as possible that would involve any sort of risk, stayed below the radar at all possible times, and avoided taking responsibility for pretty much anything, or taking ownership of any situation in which they might fail.

Dr. Peter is probably the most aggravating of all the workforce archetypes.

5) The Cheerleader

You know this one. They break a daily sweat to ensure they embody each personality trait corporate culture teaches. Usually they're internal marketers of some kind, but more often than not, they're transparent to not only their peers, but their bosses in their perpetual attempt to be the teacher's pet.

They're at every fundraiser. In fact, they usually volunteer to make the posters and fliers, and are on (of not the sole member of) the planning committee. They raise their voices in agreement so often during staff meetings, that you half expect an "amen" and "hallelujah" after each Power Point slide has been presented.

They make the t-shirts for the bowling teams. They volunteer to take on special projects, (not that this is bad - but they do it every time) and will work long hours to ensure someone is impressed.

I'm not saying everyone who buys into corporate culture and works extra hours on side projects is a "cheerleader." In fact, being a cheerleader can be a good thing - so long it's done for the right reasons, and they recognize those times when the parameters need to be stretched, and the rule book needs to either be closed or re-written. The workplace archetype of which I'm writing here, does not know this.

Think Rain Man with pom-poms and an employee handbook in their back pocket.

6) The Expert

My sister recently blogged about this person, who was partly the inspiration for this post.

The Expert has done your job. The Expert has done your previous job. The Expert has long since mastered the job into which you're moving. They know your neighbors, and have done their jobs too.

They are champion name-droppers.

The Expert will stop to give you unsolicited advice on the most random of topics, for no particular reason. When they close their door, you just know they are Googling the details to some debate or interesting discussion they overheard in the next office. But they will never tell you that when they later casually bring up the topic over lunch. In fact, they will likely tell you the topic in question was the subject of their third Masters dissertation.

The funny thing about The Expert? Every single one I've ever had the dubious thrill of working with has either been fired or their position has been made redundant.

It's always fun to wait for a topic you're very familiar with to come up and let them dig their own hole before you correct them. But then, you know they'll just Google it later and revisit the argument some other time.

7) The Robot

This is the perfect employee. They contain none of the characteristics listed above. In fact, they instantly recognize each one, but will never tell anyone what they've seen in these people. No - they are above that. But they will never tell you that either, because they are humble.

This person is either a robot or an alien - but they are decidedly not human. They excel at their job, and they would likely excel at yours. But they would never admit that.

They do the best of deeds under the radar, offer quiet help to those around them, and never take undue (if any) credit. They appreciate corporate culture but do not preach it. They listen to gossip, (because they listen to everyone), but do not repeat it.

The Yoda quietly watches them, somewhat enviously. This person will be or already is either in charge of the entire operation, or multiple operations. If you do a good job, they tell you. If you do a bad job, they have a way of telling you that you quite possibly are the most incompetent person on the planet, and you will thank them for the advice. You suspect that they are worshiped in remote jungle societies.

I've worked with one of these in every position, and have always looked up to them, as everyone does. But I've always been a little too impatient to be this perfect member of the workforce. Like I said - I don't think they're really human, having come from the same planet as Martha Stewart, Anderson Cooper, and Meryl Streep.

So concludes my list.

There are many, many more common traits among coworkers, but generally, those traits mesh with one of the above. As I said, usually they're mixed and matched - multiple traits for one person, or more than one person with a single trait.

All except of course the robot.


Mandy said...

Very true...very funny...I can imagine each type in previous jobs I've had. Since I'm pretty much on my own these days, I guess that makes me all of these...a multiple personality, per se...

Evil Twin's Wife said...

My husband works with a Dr. Peter who is also a liar. She lies to twist facts so that people do things her way. She has been caught up in these lies and still denies culpability! I'd like to put my foot up her ass myself. And, she routinely reminds everyone around that she hates children. Who hates children? Only the evilest of Dr. Peters, that's who!