I found Kurt in the breakroom, discussing the perks of yoga with an intern. I rolled my eyes. “Kurt, let’s go. The MASH meeting has started.”
“Oh, is it Thursday, already?” he said with a smile. “Well, I’d hate to miss such an important matter.” A slight bow to the girl. “Namaste, my dear.”
I only stared at my friend as he brushed past me, whistling the them to MASH, something he’d been doing since these weekly “huddles” began.
Metrics Analysis Storage and Hosting was run by Leo Marks, our twentysomething Manager of Workforce Analytics. Boy Wonder had been with the company for eleven months, and in that short time he’d made a name for himself cutting costs, leaving a trail of abandoned tombstone cubicles in his wake.
Leo made a show of checking his Apple Watch as we squeezed into the meeting room. “Kurt, Rich, please find a seat.”
“Thanks, Lee.” Kurt said as he sat, continuing his game of calling our boss anything but Leo.
Leo grimaced, sipped from his takeout coffee cup. “Right, so Amanda, based on these data points—oh. Yes Kurt?”
Kurt clicked his pen, gestured to the power point projected on the wall. “What is a KPI again?”
Leo tugged at his shiny business jacket, a size to small for his scrawny frame. “The key performance indicators. It’s right there in your…” Realizing Kurt hadn’t brought his laptop, he wiped his forehead. “It’s um, it’s how we mark our progress, it’s… look, I know some of you are older, from a different time. But our metrics are outdated, we need to—”
Leo’s phone beeped and Kurt went back to humming the MASH theme. I scanned the faces of the Claims team gathered at the table, all tight with worry, eyes darting back and forth, rapt with fear of the imposing graph chart on the wall.
It had been this way since summer. Out with the dinosaurs and in with the kids. Training rooms filled with fresh but fragile faces. Kids who put together incredibly complex output measures and operational metrics but had no clue how to talk to a human being.
Kurt did. The big, hairy oaf sitting beside me was as gentle as they came when dealing with grief. He was compassionate but not patronizing. I once listened to him console a new widow for an hour over the phone. And he never once mentioned what the freaking metrics would pay out.
Then there was Leo, the man child plugging away at his phone, thumbs twitching, his attention fleeting as the meeting room vanished from his periphery.
Kurt and I had been with Vita Life Insurance for nearly twenty years. And where I knew well enough the end was near, that any day now Leo would hand us our very own ITL package (invited to leave—Vita Life’s way of saying “fired”), my friend had no such qualms.
Kurt leaned forward and grabbed three powdered donuts from the center of the table, leaving a dust trail everyone pretended not to notice. He offered one to Darlene, a middle age Claims rep about to have a panic attack. She declined.
Leo sighed. He slid the phone back to his pocket and sniffled. “Okay, yeah, it’s just that KPI is our new standard, so it’s imperative that we all get on board here.”
Kurt raised his hand, still munching away on the donut. “You okay there, Leon?”
“Huh, yes, I’m,” he rubbed his brow. His voice came out with a squeak. “Can we uh, can we take a quick break? Regroup and discuss contingencies?”
The bodies rose in unison, faces buried in devices as they migrated to the cubicles. All but Kurt, who stole another donut.
“Let me guess, girl trouble?”
Leo’s eyes flashed. I stood at the doorway, about to witness Kurt expedite his ITL. But then Leo dropped his shoulders. “She says all I do is talk about work. I keep telling her I just need to get these SLA’s in order and then we can reassess.”
“Please tell me you didn’t say that to her. Leo, come on. You’re what, twenty-six?”
“I’ll be twenty-seven next quarter.”
“Look kid, live a little. Take that girl of yours somewhere nice. Drink up, go dancing. Enjoy life.”
“That’s a career limiting move.”
“Leonard. Some stuff doesn’t need metrics. That girl of yours, do you love her?”
Leo plopped into his seat, loosened his tie. “It’s Leo. And yes, I do, but…”
“Nope. No buts. If you love her, take that shiny phone of yours and call her. Don’t text. Call and tell her that. Matter a fact, tell her you’re on the way. Grab some flowers, too.”
“On my way, she’s in Dayton!”
“Do it, or she’s going to give you the ITL.”
I stepped back into the room as the kid whipped his phone out. He made the call, talking quietly into the corner. After a while he turned and looked at Kurt the way one would a famous ball player. Then spoke back into his phone. “I love you too. I’ll see you soon. No I love you more. No, you more.”
An hour later the office was clear. Kurt was declared office hero. We all went to the Woodchuck bar to celebrate, where Kurt held up his free beer and proposed a toast.
“To young love. May you never let metrics get in the way.”