Sunday, November 10, 2002

Getting a bit T'annoid

As I have mentioned previously I used to work for a publishing company in Oxford. It was a small friendly place thriving in a world of corporate monsters. There was a nice mixture of young, talented graduates - affectionately known as The Kids, of which I was one, and Jo, who is quintessentially Steppenwolf, another. Also, there was a raft of older, more established and experienced kin, who were equally talented, dedicated, hard working and loyal. We worked in a large country house with swimming pool in the garden on the edge of Oxford and in the summer we'd sit in the dappled sunshine eating our lunch and chatting amiably. The gentle family atmosphere meant it was the happiest time of my working life.

Briony, however, was, in my entirely individual and humble opinion (thanks to goes to my legal advisor Ed) a poisonous witch. She was PA to the Managing Director, and assumed therefore that she was second in command. She drew organisational charts with her name above all the other directors. If coffee cups were left unwashed, Briony would bring it up in board meetings, which she attended to take the minutes. She hated The Kids. Liz, a particularly loved Kid, briefly became the MD's protégé causing Briony to blow a gasket, she responded by insisting that Liz made photocopies of anything she produced so Briony could have keep them on file. Briony also managed the receptionists, of whom Anne used to help the editorial team when deadlines approached. One particular press day, Anne was working for Charlie, a sub editor who was explosive under pressure. At the frenzied peak of trying to meet their deadlines, Briony walked into the office and insisted that Anne go back to reception. Charlie hit the roof bellowing at her in the reception area whilst the rest of the company watched over the stairwell like the Von Trapp Children at a grand reception. The man was a hero. Briony was evil.

She was also incompetent. She once distributed an all staff memo with a photocopy on the back of a job offer to a generally disliked temp which amounted to a promotion above already established members of staff. She also accidentally saved all the MD's confidential letters and memos, along with her WI coffee morning rotas, onto the company network for everyone to read.

The company had a public address system that was mostly used by the receptionists to ask people to get them coffee rather than anything important. However, it didn't have blanket coverage of the building and there were black spots where you couldn't hear anything. Briony was charged with putting this right. She distributed an email to the whole company announcing that in response to the problems that three additional "Tanoids" would be installed to ensure coverage.

Well, sometimes you've got to step up to the plate.

I opened a blank email and began to type: -

Dear Briony,
Thank you for your email regarding the installation of Tanoids around the building. I would just like to clarify a number of points regarding the said action. You will appreciate that for the good of company communications it is important to be accurate in cases like this.

Firstly, in referring to Tanoids, I assume you refer, in fact, to Tannoy, a popular make of public address system. Tannoy is in fact the brand name, not the system itself. This is an easy mistake to make, as there are many cases where brand and product names have become interchangeable in the psyche of the nation. For example, Hoover is used to mean vacuum cleaner, and in America a photocopy is often referred to as a Xerox.

Secondly, the Tannoy, or Public Address System is the system as a whole, as I am not aware of any major faults with the existing system, I assume that we are not have three more public address systems installed. If three new systems are to be installed I can foresee two principal problems. Firstly, announcements will become excessively loud and though I realise there are black spots in the current coverage, it is not necessary for us to make announcements across the whole of Oxfordshire. Secondly with three systems installed, this means that those on reception will need to have three microphones in order to talk into them, as you will appreciate these will become difficult to hold so you may need something akin to a baseball catcher mitt in order to use them all at the same time. I therefore assume you mean that three additional speakers are being installed.

These are my concerns, I would be delighted to talk them through with you should you need any further clarification.

My finger hovered over the send button, and then, oops, it was off. I forwarded it to people round the building to show how clever I'd been. The phone started ringing off the hook, people came visiting calling me a genius. Briony was preparing her written complaint to the MD.

I was dragged in to see my director and told to go to Briony and apologies, apparently I was being "diffident" rather than helpful. I said that it was never my intention to upset her. I reiterated that if she ever wanted help with these things, she just had to call. The charm offensive knocked her off balance... she thanked me.

But never called.


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