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How to become fungible

180px-alfred_e_neumannIt’s interesting how some people can take chicken spit and turn it into chicken salad, and how others can do just the opposite. Short story:

There’s this guy I know. Call him Otto. He works in one of our satellite offices in Petaluma. He does a very good job and even though he got a substantial raise last year — in a year in which there were supposed to be no raises — he’s perpetually dissatisfied. I won’t bore you with what he does, what his duties are. Suffice it to say that he’s relatively unique and non-fungible, which gives him the right to expect some more money if he can wangle it.

So last week he goes to his boss in Sacramento and pulls up a chair, gives him a full dose of his baby brown eyes, and says, “I’ve been offered a job by Blatt Industries. I don’t want to take it. But if you want me to stay, you have to help me feel okay about doing so.” The boss thinks about it and decides, yeah, Otto is an important player, he should be better compensated, and the fact that he’s holding the company’s feet to the fire is fair enough. So he goes to HR.

“I want to give Otto a 25% raise immediately and put him under a two-year deal,” he tells the HR guy. “Okay,” says the HR guy. “It won’t be easy, but we can do it.”  He then goes into all the malarkey that HR people talk about when they discuss the details of compensation. It’s about as interesting as listening to a lepidopterist discuss the gestation of pupae.

The boss goes back to Otto, and Otto takes in the information. Then he says, “Actually, I was hoping for 50%.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really heard of anybody getting a 50% increase, ever, unless, you know, they’re a huge investment banker and have so totally screwed up that they have to be bought out.

“50%!” says the boss, and then, “Well, Otto. I understand you have another offer…”

“I love it here,” says Otto. “I don’t want to leave, you know.”

“… I’ll see what I can do,” the boss replies, but in a slightly different tone.

That’s when he called me, just to kick it around a little. “Otto has succeeded in doing one thing,” he said darkly. “He’s made it necessary for me to think about life without him. Once I started thinking that way, I realized it was possible. Now I’m thinking, what do I need this aggravation for… to pay this much for the job that cost me so much less last year? Sure, it’ll be hard to replace him. But nobody is irreplaceable. Sometimes I have to remember that.”

So look at what Otto has done. By the way he has handled this opportunity, he has done the exact opposite of what he intended. He has moved, in the mind of his boss, from a non-fungible, ambitious player to a greedy, slightly obnoxious employee whose presence might not be as essential as he previously thought. I don’t think that’s what he intended, do you?