The Wall Locker Theory of Workplace Climate Change

“I’m the new unit commander. If you need me, I’ll be just over there (gestures)…commanding.”

When I contemplate the drama of the changing of the commanding figure of an organization—the rotation in of a new boss—it puts me oddly in mind of some rows of wall lockers. Just rows of a few dozen wall lockers abutted against a wall. I’ll get to why in a moment.

You see, all new bosses come with a strategy on how to reverse the destruction of the organization and put it back on a path to profit again, for all bosses fancy that is why they are being hired by the company: to make it great again. That strategy is an opinion, and an opinion, as we well know, is indeed like an asshole. The strategy the boss brings to the struggle only has to make sense to one person: the boss.

Some “sheriffs” of the Fortune 500

The Endless Cycle of Leadership Decisions

Some bosses enter stage right and announce that all policies and procedures will remain in effect until further notice. Their intent? To showcase their due diligence in assessing the function of the organization before gracing it with their sterling and peerless wisdom. It’s a management style, sure, and I say that without suggesting one way or another whether it is a good or bad style. The boss will have years to pudding-prove his style before exiting stage left. Mad world.

But let’s address the wall locker theory of workplace climate change.

I distinctly remember the first change of command in my last military unit. There was excitement, there was nail-biting, gnashing of teeth, and wringing of hands. Why, there was electricity in the air, I tell you! On the one hand, there was a preponderance of anticipation of change, not known if for good or bad, and on the other hand, there was the cult of personality who just didn’t give a fraction of a rat’s ass either way because they were so job-centric.

The new boss made his tour of the building with his coterie of yes-men. I recall being in the gym with the other men of my assault team. Suddenly a mass of talking heads thrust through the door.

“…and this is the weight room, sir,” said one of the heads. The heads just hovered there in the doorway in silence and stares. We men stared back at them awkwardly. Brother Markey-Marcos finally stepped forward, flared wide his latissimus dorsi muscles and said, “…and we are the weightlifters!”

The heads grinned and moved on. I moved to the doorway to eavesdrop on the discussion in the hall with the command group. The boss paused, looking at the blank wall there in the hall, and announced, “What we need right here is a row of wall lockers that can be used by visitors to the unit who want to exercise. It will give them a place to secure their belongings!”

“Er, uh…wall lockers, sir?”

“Yeah, wall lockers, Haskell. You hard of hearing?”

“Y-yes sir. Wall lockers, sir!”

“Y-yes, sir. Wall lockers, sir!”

So went the wisdom. Yes-men scribbled onto clipboards and the entourage toured on. So the new commander came bearing a row of new wall lockers for visitors. Seemed legit. I nodded neutrally for the moment. Logistics spun into gear to procure and install the boss’ new lockers, and a noble and majestic sight they were.

As dumb luck would have it I was there again in the gym with my team several years later when the new commander and his procession of yes-men rumbled through the halls, heads on swivels, taking in the sights of men and machine. The new commander halted his troop there in the hall, letting loose a mighty and thunderous salvo of wisdom: “What we need right here is more room. This row of wall lockers is not necessary and just gets in the way.”

Yes-men scribbled onto clipboards, logistics revved up and had the row of wall lockers ripped out and sent to the unit warehouse for storage. Seemed legit. I nodded neutrally just for the moment and reasoned a dismissive sort of reason: “Hell, if that’s the worst thing he does to us in the next few years, we are going to be just fine. Screw the visitors and their pathetic, precious personal possessions! Markey-Marcos, spot me please, brother.”

Lysias, by Jean Dedieu, the quintessential sycophant (yes-man) of Athenian culture.

And so on it went. Mad world.

It was years later that I found myself yet again in the weightlifting room, where the weightlifters reside with their weights and their lats and the sort. It was the year of the command purge again, and we were all sorely afraid. The sound of shuffling boots could be heard in the hall where the new commander yanked his clueless, clipboard-toting clowns as he yapped.

As almighty God is my witness, the hoard halted as suddenly as if someone had hollered “MINES!” All was silent as the new Kahuna fixed his gaze on a stretch of wall, barren in its emptiness, cold and fallow. He looked at his supply officer and said, “What we need right here is a row of wall lockers so visitors can lock up their valuables while they exercise.”

“Roger! Wall lockers it is, sir!”

The mob moved, but the supply officer held back and took a knee there on the floor. I edged closer so I might hear his invocation. He uttered, “Yea, though I walk through the hall of the shadow of death I shall fear no foolish folly, for thy wall lockers art with me still, all these years in my supply warehouse. My cup truly runneth over.” Mad world.

I trained my eyes slowly upward as the fluorescent lights suddenly burned 10 times brighter, and I understood. For the first time in my nearly 40 years of life, I finally understood. The new bosses are neither good nor bad. The old bosses were neither bad nor good. They were all just vehicles that transported and rotated the same crap in and out over the years. They brought nothing new to the table nor did they remove anything old from the table. The table perpetually had the same shit on it every year.

The bosses were shirts stuffed with straw all this time. Why, a scarecrow in a Boise cornfield could do a better job. In fact, I fancy I could eat a box of Alpha Bits cereal and crap better company procedures than any of them could ever write. The boss was a thing: It was a table or a chair, a whipping post, an underdog, a go-to, a go-between, a cut-out…just an echo.

I nodded my head in a neutral sort of fashion, but solely for the sake of the moment. Outside, in the hall, workers busied themselves with electric drills and hammers, installing the new row of command-directed lockers as the supply officer served overwatch. I passed by him, grinning, and slapped him mildly on the back as I went, though I really am quite certain he had no earthly idea why. Mad world.

And yet it happened.

By almighty God and with honor,
Geo sends