locked out

Desperately but somewhat clueless he was trying to unlock the entrance door with his id-card – like all of us, he had this plastic card on a practical belt clip – but the door didn’t open. I released him out of this hopeless situation by opening the door with my personal card and let him in. It was quite obvious that he was a colleague from within the company, and as it turned out, he was actually looking for me. “Why are the doors locked for company employees”, he immediately wanted to know, “there is a control right at the main entrance?”

Well, this question I also did raise, upon which the department head immediately gave the answer that in our department there is work conducted on top-secret and highly strategic projects, which would require strict access control to safeguard that not everybody is just running in there. Yes, even if they were fellow employees. In response, I tried to argue that one could store the strategic work in lockers, instead of locking up the whole department: because our newly set-up department still had to establish itself within the company (and with it, the establishment of design). One should be happy that colleagues pay a visit and one should lower the threshold level for exchange and contact. Instead of locking doors, one should let all in, without any obvious borders!

Obviously there are various approaches to establish design departments within companies: the approach chosen here is aiming to position design as something specials and different – this to make sure that all understand that it has to be taken seriously! If you are acting and behaving differently, one is recognized automatically. So far the theory.

A tried and tested method to emphasize ‘difference’ is to dress-up differently: that’s why the brown office furniture out of the company catalogue is not fitting to designer needs, subsequently, they need another carpet, surely they need to work on macs and for sure they will have to adapt the current corporate identity for the better (the work of other designer is never good enough…). A no-brainer for differentiation is to select clothing in stark contrast to the usual uniforms worn throughout the company. “Those designers are sooo easy to spot”, a colleague from the purchasing department revealed to me recently, “because they all wear flip-flop or shorts!” Obviously she was impressed with the sight. As I told her that I was on of them as well, she reacted in surprise: “Oh, really? I’d never figured, maybe it’s because you wear a suit…!”

What will increase the recognition way more than differentiating clothing or snow-white furniture, is a demarcation, or fencing: according to the motto ‘make yourself rare, and you’ll grow in demand’. Because being in demand is what really counts, in the fight for survival within those large multi-nationals: who gets the CEO’s attention, who can decorate himself with praise and admiration, who is the star and can, therefore, secure recognition, security and reward?!

It’s a true cat-walk when the departments present their added value and achievements at town hall meetings or at the meetings of the board. There, where all those, who don’t have a seat at the table yet, try to overclass their opponents: because that’s where all want to be – at the table of the board!

My visitor couldn’t let rest the case with the locked door. Repeatedly he came back on it and eventually he complained about the fact that the design department deliberately is shutting itself off and obviously is trying to become the CEO’s best friend… Well, there he let the cat out of the bag! He turned less energetic when I asked him how he’d imagine we could fire up the collaboration between our departments. In order to keep the meeting going, I suggested that we could collectively work on improving the customer experience, upon which his energy dropped even further: “This requires a clear definition of our commonalities and of a common process before we can promise something in particular”, he replied to my attempt to do something for the customer, rather than for the internal pecking order.

Yes, he’s replied after a while, actually, he also agreed that it is important to work together on this topic of customer experience, they anyway couldn’t tell which department did what, and therefore he invited me to visit his department in return to start things up.

A couple of weeks later I left for my counter-visit, with the firm intention to start up a collective project. After searching for a while I found the departments floor and made an attempt to enter – but the door was locked. Being familiar with the procedure, I got out my id-card and swiped it through the reader upon which a sound went off and the display revealed: access for authorized persons only.

Man, those colleagues learn quickly!

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