My division vice-president leaned back into a chair more fit for a throne room than an office. Fredric King’s well-tailored, charcoal grey suit set off his two-hundred dollar purple tie and corporate hair. The MBA diploma dominated one wall of the office, only countered-balanced by photos with him next to the CEO.
I sat alone before him in a plain aluminum office chair.
These young executives like to show their status, I thought. It was my first meeting with King. No, not good when failure to forge a working relationship with him today meant getting the corporate axe. This VP’s reputation was for decisions based less on careful analysis and more on gut reaction.
King glanced at the paper in his hand, then looked through me as he asked, “Ms. Sherri Zhad? Nice to meet you.”
“Uh, that’s Sherra Zhad.” Smiling, I was careful to keep the tone upbeat. The vice-president had all the power at the moment, and I would have to rely on my wits.
King pointed at me with my performance summary held between well-manicured fingers. “First, I want to clear up that this is not a performance review. The traditional quantitative analysis of teammates is a holdover from ancient corporate history. Our ‘Narrative, Integral Insight, Transformative Evaluation’, or NIITE system, is totally different.” He flipped to my bio, then scowled. “Hmm? You have a degree in ancient literature.”
Six months earlier, the CEO’s special advisor had transferred me to the Community Impact Manager position. Handling the corporation’s community grants was supposedly a promotion, but I knew all too well that likely my career was destined to meet a quick death. I’d lasted four months longer than any of the last few women who held this position, and that could be chalked up to this NIITE interview, my first meeting with King, having been repeatedly delayed and rescheduled.
“I hope my work summary clearly lays out our many examples of success.” This meeting was my only chance. I was a single mom in her fifties with kids in college and an upside-down mortgage. My odds of finding another decent-paying job in this city’s hyper male-dominated business sector would be on par with a corpse.
I watched King squint and purse his lips as he glanced over my stats. Most of the entries said, “Not applicable.” What the company called narrative summaries simply rated the accomplishments of accountants, budget analysts, and IT professionals using standardized words instead of numbers. My work with the local community was not something King’s MBA had taught him how to analyze.
And every ounce of King’s arrogant thirty-odd years considered what he couldn’t understand as worthless.
He was mindlessly shaking his head. “Ms. Zhad, we are looking for a particular type of success throughout the corporation. I don’t see how you measure up.” He glanced at his watch, its silver finish reflecting shards of light onto the ceiling.
“Mr. King, let me tell you about the successful Ali Babba grant.” I launched into the story.
Thirty minutes later, King realized he was late for his next meeting. He dashed off, pausing to protest that he wanted to hear the tale’s ending.
“Ah, Sherra Zhad, I am glad you we were able to arrange another NIITE session.” We were in King’s office once again. A termination notice hadn’t shown up in my inbox.
“Let’s see, you were telling me about the fascinating Ali Babba grant and you had just gotten to how he had discovered the password into the encrypted server.” King leaned forward, his eyes glinting behind Armani glasses. “You probably don’t know this, but I specialized in backdoor security during my early executive days.”
No kidding, King, I thought. “I had no idea.”
Mr. King was pacing back and forth on the carpet. “But how could the homeless kids learn to hack the app so quickly?” He looked both puzzled and excited. “That bastard, VP Jaffar of the Aladdin team, will turn green when he hears that street kids scaled his firewalls.”
He waved his hand. “Please, continue the tale, but understand we must conclude our interview before the board meeting.” King paused, as if catching himself. “Remember, a successful NIITE interview must show that the grant shined a positive light on our brand.”
I continued with the story, and knew that he would get bowled over when the kids were able to strike virtual gold with their app. Of course, timing is key, I thought.
Somehow, the minutes ticked away before I arrived at the story’s end.
During the third NIITE interview, I finished up the Ali Babba story and began a description of the Sinbad grant that funded low-income youth sailing and seamanship classes.
“Ms. Zhad, this is just what the community needs. During college, it was my honor to captain the men’s single-handed sail team.” He stood up and began regaling about the joys of sailing.
After about ten minutes he caught himself and asked about the grant outcomes, but then his phone chimed. “Oh, Ms. Zhad, I have to go to a charity dinner. Please schedule the next NIITE session.” He sat down at his desk and looked at his calendar. “Hmm, and an additional after the leadership retreat next week.”
Three months and many NIITE sessions later, I received an email from the CEO’s office describing the results of my review. They gave me a score of… 1001, in the top percentile!
An attached document detailed a long-term contract and a major promotion to senior VP. “Ms. Zhad, please consider the position, which entails working directly with the CEO. Your communication abilities will prove especially valuable as we face a critical Board review.”
I later heard through the office grapevine that King had lost out on getting this job. Instead, he was facing a demotion for spending too much time on performance reviews.
Peter Tyler is new to creative writing and just beginning to publish fiction. He lives with his family in northern Virginia, where he can be found reading and writing at local cafes.