Ask Bob

BossIt’s the stuff of nightmares.

On the first day of a new job, there are things you can expect to not know.

You won’t know the people, and you might not understand the job – but when your boss is just as clueless as you, that’s a real bad sign.

“Who are you again?” she asks.

You tell her.

“What position were you hired for?”

You tell her that also.

In a panic, she rummages around her desk. “I vaguely remember something like that…”

Finally, she locates a fresh legal pad that looks like a child scrawled on it.

“Here is something!” she says triumphantly. She then studies her own handwriting but cannot make out what it says.

“I tell you what,” she says at last. “ask Bob.”

You cast your next question like a lure across water, hoping for a bite. “Who is Bob?”

She is crushed. Clearly, she does not know who Bob is. To help her save face, you rise from your chair, saying, “You can count on me,” and quickly exit her office.

Now all you have to do is find someone in authority named Bob. This is easier than it seems.

In most organizations, authority flows from the corners.  The more authority, the more windows and the better the view. So you check out the corner offices. No luck. Those belong to Sarah, Mitch, Lyle and Dwight. Not Bob.

You circle the floor reading nameplates on every office with a window.

No Bob there either.

Next you wade into the cube farm looking for the largest cube.


Finally, you run the aisles like a lab rat, vainly searching for a Bob, any Bob. Unbelievably, you work for the only organization in the English speaking world that does not employ someone named Bob.

Not a Robert or even a Roberta.

So you ask around. “Hi!” you say, “I am looking for Bob, can you tell me where he sits?”

Your workmates blink back at you. They stammer. They stumble over their words. They point in vague directions across the cube farm.

You wander where they point and ask again, “Say, can you tell me where I can find Bob?”

More stunned expressions. More empty gazes. More vague gestures.

You try another tactic. You will find the most capable person in the office and ask if they know who Bob is. It’s not long until you find him. He sits in a small, quiet cube against the back wall. There are several frightened and confused people forming a line to his desk. You join them – but he motions you forward.

“You are looking for Bob, right?”

“Yes, is that you?” you say after checking for a nameplate and not finding one.

“No,” he says, “there is no Bob. Never was one either.”

You begin to catch on.

“Our boss, Marie, is a dolt,” he says, “whenever she gets confused, we simply ask her, ‘should we talk to Bob?’ then we do what we want.”

“Great,” you say, “now all I need is something to do, or more accurately, something I want to do.”

“I can help you there,” he says, extending his hand, “my name is Walt, I sort of run this place.”

Author: Almost Iowa

52 thoughts on “Ask Bob”

  1. Bob can be quite illusive. I had a friend named Bob when I was a kid, but I would rarely see him because his mother wouldn’t let him play with me. I was a bad influence, guaranteed to lead her son down a slippery slope. Never worked for a Bob, mythical or otherwise. Found working for myself to be much more satisfying. Fun post with a good twist. –Curt

  2. This was perfect! Every company has a “boss” or two whose only real skill is keeping his or her job, but unfortunately, they are darned good at that. We’re lucky if there is also a Walt to help things move along…..

    1. Certain industries attract the type. Unfortunately, government is one. Sadder still, education is probably the worst. When I worked for the police, I was detailed to U of M for a short while. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

  3. Sounds like good training to me. The first thing you learned was the Bob and weave.

    All in all, it’s probably better to have an incompetent boss that stays out of the way than one that doesn’t.

    1. To have an incompetent boss who knows enough to stay out of the way, one must first have a boss who knows they are incompetent. On the other hand, understanding one’s skill level and knowing enough to stay out of the way, is the very definition of a competency.

    1. Remember the old TV Show Dragnet? I should have begun this tale by intoning.

      “The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

    1. At the very end of my career, the state centralized its IT function. My work group was assigned a manager who didn’t know the staff nor understand our business, yet felt he could manage both. We worked on the law enforcement side of the Department of Public Safety – but this cult of management philosophy resulted in an epic failure on the Vehicle Services side.

      The system was called MNLARS, it took 8 years to build, cost $93 million and now requires an additional $43 million to fix it. It was declared one of the largest IT disaster of the 21 century

      I almost got sucked into that – but dodged a bullet by retiring.

  4. Love this! My husband and I have an inside joke about this area. We moved here from elsewhere and from what we can tell everyone has at least one Bob in their family. It’s confusing, but that name seems to have taken hold here. Like nowhere else I’ve ever lived.

    1. It is like the name Tim among the Irish. If I cannot remember the name of one of my cousins, and I have many, many, many cousins, I call him Tim. Chances are, it is a Tim. If not they say, “that’s my brother.”

    1. I worked beside a young Hmong (Laotion) woman at the state and for some reason, she was not to be found after noon. One day while delivering some documents to another agency, I spotted her working at fast food counter. We had to explain that you can’t work two places at the same time and that at the heart of the matter, civil service was a job, not a perk – as it is in many places in the world.

      Over time these things smooth out – but it is enlightening to understand how much of the world works. 🙂 🙂

  5. Wonderful write, Greg.
    State government would run so much better if there was a funded and supported “Bob” position.
    But then, there’s have to be reams of paperwork and oversight, so…never mind. Carry on!!

  6. Every company has to have one of these for every 30 employees. The number might be lower, but I’ve worked in 30-person companies, soooo

  7. Walt runs the bar at Wright’s place. His uncle is the pastor of the church. Both Bob’s brought their armies to Wright place fortunately at different times. They almost had to shut down the bar. They had two different ciders. Have you tried the spiced cider ? Yup even back then there was a problem with inn cider trading. I am going there now even though it is before noon. Bob just posted an email – emergency meeting at Wright’s. Cider only there is no way coffee can explain this.

  8. Sometimes, our life experiences intrude on our interpretation of a story. You may or may not know that Philosophermouse has a great iguana who lives in her house and appears in her blog from time to time. His name is Bob. I couldn’t help myself. I kept seeing your mythical Bob as a lizard holding court in a back cubicle. It made an already great story even better.

    1. This naming of lizards spawned the memory of the time my brother had his own subtropical island. He is a diving medic and the navy stationed him in the Bahamas on an island that was exclusively his. Who does not dream of such things? The place was stunningly beautiful.

      His wife hated it.

      “Why?” we asked.

      “When you find yourself naming the lizards, you know its time to leave.”

      1. I know. It’s been over five-years and I cannot seem to find either one willing to hire me.

    1. In every organization there is a formal and an informal way of getting things done. In many cases, the informal system is more effective.

  9. Nice come around. I’m starting a whole new life surrounding a new job in the end of this month. I hope this is not an omen.. Great write.

    1. Good luck. Most places are not as dysfunctional as this. I hope the people you work with are a good lot. It is easier to have a bad job with good people than it is to have a good job with bad people. The best is a good job with good people – that hardly seems like work at all.

  10. I spent many years being an employee, and regretfully have to acknowledge this is not an unbelievable story. As for the years I spent as head of HR for a very large company, the ‘boss’ probably didn’t know how to do her entry level job, the head freds didn’t know what to do with her, and kept promoting her. I heard a term on another blog yesterday that fits here – the March of the Morons. 🙂

    1. Overheard near water cooler.

      “I can’t understand why he’s the boss. Everyone else knows his job better than he does.”
      “That is not true.”
      “It is.”
      “His only job is keeping his job. No one know how to do that.”

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