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Monday, 21 March 2011

The Culture of the Locked Stationary Cupboard

This blog is a little bit off topic, it's a short observation of company culture and politics. Specifically this is about the culture of 'The Locked Stationary Cupboard'.

I should start with a little background information. I'm a software consultant, in short I hire out my services to customers and in general develop software for them. This more than often involves working at the customers business premises. Most customers I've dealt with employee 100+ people.

Now when I offer my services to a customer and work on their site I always use my own pens, pencils, calculator ...... however there are times when the pen runs out, the pencil jumps down a black hole and the calculator takes a walk in to the ether. Nothing strange here, all part and parcel of working for yourself. Things get very strange though when you ask a member of staff where the stationary cupboard is though!

I'd always thought of a stationary cupboard as a place where an employee could obtain that most basic of office tools, the pen and pencil. In a well stocked cupboard marker pens, staples, staplers and even rulers were available. All of these items of little monetary value but essential to any office workers tool set. It was in a companies interest to have a well stocked cupboard.

In recent times, and I have noticed this more in larger companies, the stationary cupboard takes on an status similar to that of the 'Ark of the Covenant'. You know it exists, you know you want to find it and open it but by god its not going to be an easy task.

Several obstacles are put in place to stop anyway unwary soul gaining access to the holly of holies. The main obstacle being the BridgeKeeper, you can only pass the bridge and obtain the magical key to the cupboard if you answer all the questions correctly.

  • What do you want.
  • Why do you want it.
  • How many do you want.
  • Has the project manager signed in blood.

Once the key has been obtained and the cupboard door is opened, you feel a sudden chill, the Eye of Sauron. He/She will makes sure that you will NOT take more than you requested. If you are even tempted to take and extra pen, maybe a marker you will never be able to cross the bridge and obtain the golden key again.

So what is it about the stationary cupboard that endows it with such reverence. It seems totally illogical, why would any company employ people, pay them, let them alter code but make it so damn hard to obtain a pen! In many cases developers are allowed to create and alter code that could potentially cause loss of wealth or life if it doesn't function correctly, but a simple request for the keys to the cupboard and they are treated with mistrust.

The crux of the matter I believe is that some companies just have a culture of mistrust. I suspect this is more so in older companies and the Googles of this world are a lot more open minded. Here in the UK we certainly historically come from a culture of 'us and them' with regards to employee and employer relationship. Industry is littered with companies which have gone to the wall because both sides did not trust each other.

My conclusion to this little rant is that any company that has no lock on the stationary cupboard is a forward thinking organisation that is heading in the right direction as regards employee relationships. On the other hand those that protect the jewels within the cupboard should look closely at there internal structure and ask themselves the question, does a pen really warrant all this hassle and mistrust!

1 comment:

  1. Steve, you need to look at this from the point of view of the person who has been given responsibility to "to keep the stationery cupboard stocked up". Obviously, there are two ways of achieving this: the easier one is simply to stop the stuff going out!