The annual United Way drive at Harcourt was always good for a few laughs and a certain degree of craziness. One year the organizers wanted to hold an auction for each of the senior managers, where each winner would get that manager to work for them for a morning.
They asked me to set things up to handle the auction on the network, and while I was doing it decided I’d join in. So, when the auction started, it was for the President, a handful of VPs, and one director – me.
The auction started slowly, and I began to notice a pattern. For each senior manager, some one of their direct reports ran up the bidding – I’m guessing so the money could be raised but the manager wouldn’t actually be pressed to do anything too taxing.
Except for one case. For some reason, there erupted a bidding war between Human Resources and IT over Paula (the HR VP.) And, to a lesser extent, several groups within the Book Production department were going after me as well.
With a Friday noon deadline, the bidding for Paula got faster and furiouser (is that a word?) Each bid was automatically time-stamped, so I just let the bids continue until the system ticked past noon and found that HR had gotten the last bid by seconds! It was very exciting, and Paula’s auction raised more than most of the others combined.
I ended up getting “sold” to the Reprints group. I had fun working for them – they set me to some data entry work, and basically ended up showing me a lot of what they did and how they did it.
One of the activities I worked on was the process for requesting a reprint of a book, and I was surprised to learn how inefficient it was. The initial paper form request often got lost and had to be restarted, or sat for weeks in somebody’s inbox. After some discussion about the process and problems they’d had, I ended up taking that afternoon and putting together an application that handled the form routing process electronically. My new system eliminated the lost forms, and reduced the time it took to get all the necessary approvals from several months down to a few weeks.
All in all, it was a great use of my time. After all, charity begins at home.