Brandt On Leadership -- The Best Employee You'll Never See

Sept. 26, 2005
He'll take care of all those little annoyances, and hey, he doesn't care what you pay him.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Bart Francis, our new VP of Special Projects.

I'm sorry that Bart can't be with us on his first day, but -- well, Bart is a different sort of employee. Bart is virtual -- not in the sense that he's on contract, or works remotely -- but in the very best (and least expensive) sense of the word: He doesn't exist.

How, you might ask, will an employee who doesn't exist help us with special projects, or anything else, for that matter?

Let me tell you a story about Bart's previous employer, a friend of mine whose department was besieged with time-wasting calls from annoying sales representatives and persistent telemarketers. One day, my aggravated friend -- fed up with interruptions and people who wouldn't take "no" for an answer -- decided to create a manager of special projects to deal with all the trivia that kept him and his colleagues from getting their work done. Too low on the totem pole to hire an actual employee, my friend did the next best thing -- he invented one. Bart Francis, virtual employee, was born, placed in the company directory and given a phone extension.

Bart, already fictional, became an instant legend among his co-workers.

When one of the annoying salesmen called, he was told, "Oh, Bart Francis handles that. Let me transfer you."

If one of the nerve-scraping telemarketers rang, she was informed, "Oh, you want Bart Francis."

Should a particularly difficult vendor buzz in, crabby about not receiving payment on Day 31, he might hear, "Let's get Bart Francis right on that."

Bart, unfortunately, wasn't very diligent about returning these calls. This led to one of two outcomes for callers: They either A) gave up, or B) became progressively more irate, leaving irritated messages for Bart or even, on occasion, calling my friend and his colleagues to complain abut the unresponsive Mr. Francis. This, of course, made Bart even more valuable, as my friend and colleagues played the voicemails back to great amusement. Even better, my friend tells me, were the calls that Bart made -- always very early or very late, before and after any sane salesman, telemarketer or vendor would be in the office -- leaving messages to placate these grumpy callers, explaining apologetically that he had been traveling but would be in the office tomorrow, or next week, or . . . sometime.

It is no exaggeration, I would argue, to say that Bart Francis had a greater impact on his department's morale and productivity in a few short months than most flesh and blood employees have in years.

That's why I've hired Bart -- with my friend's blessing -- away from his current firm. I realize that some of you will question my decision to promote a fictional employee with a non-existent resume to the VP level, but consider two things: First, think how much time you'll save as every call, e-mail or request -- including sales appointment requests, vendor relations and even human resources -- are routed to Bart's extension or in-box. Second, look at our current batch of VPs and ask yourself: Could Bart possibly be any more ineffective and invisible than these boobs?

I'm sure you'll find Bart as helpful and productive as I do. But if you do have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Bart directly at extension 1531.

He'll get back to you as soon as possible.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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