Wit's End: I dream of Betty

Written by Cumulo Nimbus

Betty Cash burst into my office the other day, tore the sports section right out of my hands and said she’s sick of being the butt of jokes in this column. Our tireless controller accused me of portraying her as: a hard case who puts profits ahead of people (March 2005); a creative conniver (June 2004); a snorting scoffer (May 2004); an inept punster (September 2004) and cheaper than Ebenezer Scrooge on Scratch ‘n’ Save Day (November 2002).

I was shocked. How could she overlook being called the world’s worst salesperson (April 2001)?

“You’ve made me out to be a bloodless bean-counter!” Betty complained. “You never show my sensitive side. I’m very creative, you know. In college, I was in the drama society.”

“You were an actor?” I asked. “No, I ran the box office,” said Betty. “But I managed to sell out three plays by Canadian authors. Nobody ever did that before.”

She claimed that I was ruining her job prospects. “Nobody wants a humourless old bat of an accountant,” she said. “They want dynamic, strategic-oriented problem-solvers.” “Do you know any?” I asked.

The good-natured banter continued for a few minutes until Betty threw my stapler out the window and stomped away. I was dumbfounded. I believe most people at Nimbus Co. are secretly proud to be part of an ongoing saga that has entertained and informed entrepreneurs through two recessions, five prime ministers and 20 years of softwood lumber crises.

To see if she had grounds for complaint, I pulled out the column I’d intended to submit to this issue. My first sentence was: “We need a new title for our controller, since the notion that she’s ‘in control’ has gone to her head.” Bad start. Later, I mentioned that our staff had voted her “Nimbus manager least likely to be invited kite-surfing with Richard Branson.”

Was I deliberately picking on Betty? I asked Scanelli, my closest friend at Nimbus. “You’re not unfair to Betty,” he said. “She’s strident, narrow-minded and inflexible.” (I’d forgotten that she questioned his travel expenses last year.) “But if you’re talking about cheap shots,” Scanelli continued, “what about that column you wrote in 1998? The UN never classified my homemade wine as a weapon of mass destruction.”

Like any good writer, I blamed my editor. Then I quickly moved on to Kernel, my excitable young vice-president. I asked if he thought my column was unfair to Betty. He looked up from his GameBoy and asked, “What column?”

At home that evening, I told Cirrus I was thinking of giving up my writing career. “But what about all those people who learned how to be better managers by reading about your mistakes?” she said. “What mistakes?” I asked.

That night, my father came to me in a dream. (Which is funny, since we dine together every Sunday at Poulet Chalet.) He told me that when I was nine years old, I came to visit him at work. It was a snowy day and I’d brought my new sled. I leaned it by the back door and went in to show off the B-minus I’d just received on a math test.

Minutes later, the company’s controller tripped over the sled on his way out to a Toastmasters’ meeting. Angrily, he ordered a worker to get rid of it. I reached the furnace just in time to see the logo (I think it said “Rosebud”) peel and burn.

I woke up shaking and in a cold sweat. Could that tragedy explain my aversion to controllers — or math? Regardless, the ghostly visitation did the trick. When I got to the office that morning, I apologized to Betty for my insults, asked how she was doing and how I could help. She requested a bigger filing cabinet, a subscription to Creative Accounting and a new laptop so she could do deeper financial analysis at home. I agreed, but warned her she was veering close to self-parody again.

“Well, I have been thinking I need to lighten up a little, to stretch myself more,” she said. “Could the company pay for my membership in Toastmasters?” My face turned white, and I swear I could hear the theme from The Twilight Zone.

Betty pressed her case. “Did I ever tell you that I know 12 surefire ways to trigger a CRA audit?” I assured her she had my full confidence and should do whatever she thinks best.

In the daily grind of business, sometimes we forget that our employees are human beings. I will try never to make that mistake again. I value a good night’s sleep.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com