There was a very senior HR manager whose name was Albert.  He, as you might guess both from his name and from the fact that he was very senior, was nearing a comfortable retirement and, so far as anyone could tell, did little actual work.  He was, however, very good at wandering around. 

Quite possibly, but this is sheer speculation, he had read an article by Tom Peters about the perils of senior managers losing touch and had latched on to the idea of Management by Wandering Around as a practical solution.

Whatever the reason, Albert spent a good part of his day simply wandering around, beaming at people and asking them how they were.  Despite (or perhaps because of) his seniority, he did this in a very genial way.  He also looked the part, with a cheerful round face, abnormally bushy, expressive eyebrows and half-spectacles that slid down his nose.  He always wore a bow tie. 

The few words he exchanged with the hapless staff he happened to encounter on his random wanderings followed a distinct pattern.  It went like this:

‘Ah, um, good to see you. How are you?’

‘Fine, thank you, Mr Albert’

‘Jolly good, jolly good’.

Now there are a number of points to notice about this exchange. 

First, Albert was infamous for never remembering anyone’s name, so he simply called everyone he met Um. No one could remember Albert ever addressing anyone by name.  Rumour had it that he even called his nearest and dearest Um.

Second, it was a longstanding tradition to call Albert ‘Mr Albert’.  Now this might strike you as old-fashioned and completely out of kilter with the modern habit of calling everyone, even complete strangers, by their first name.  But that was the way it was. 

Third, you might think the retort ‘Jolly good, jolly good’ to be unremarkable when someone has just told you they are fine. But would you think it appropriate if someone had just told you they felt ill, or were stressed out, or were going on strike, or had an insoluble problem to solve by an impossible deadline? 

The trouble with Albert was that he never varied his patter.  He produced ‘how are yous’ and ‘jolly goods’ as an automatic reflex. 

One day the exchange went like this:

‘Ah, um, good to see you. How are you?’

‘Well, Mr Albert, I’m sorry to say that my wife is in intensive care and I ran over the cat this morning’.

‘Jolly good, jolly good’.

 

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