A completely true, non-fictitious Case Study regarding the Workplace: What to do when you work for a middling, sideways, no account, miserable employer?


** This article is partially inspired by “Mr. Stanley Bing.”  I always loved his articles at the back of Fortune Magazine.


Originally, I wasn’t going to take the time to write this post, but I figured, a) I probably won’t have another opportunity to share such a crazy story, and  b) its so funny, disturbing, odd, weird, and…maybe commonplace? that I figured why the heck not.

So I’ve got a friend, his name is Rick.  He is in his mid-30’s, college educated, white collar job.  Kids.  Bills. Interests. Suburbs.  More interests than he knows what to do with but less time to pursue those interests.

In other words- in terms of the “avatar” or target market for this blog- he is you, or me.

So he has been at this particular job roughly 2 years now.  He’s in kind of an odd business.  He works for a firm that is in the rock business.  For the purposes of this article, the name of the company is rather creative: Rock Firm.  

Simply put, Rock Firm breaks large rocks into small rocks.  He is on the sales side, meaning, simply, he wholesales out rocks to other people, who break them down into even smaller rocks, who sells them to the end buyer- the local, “mom ‘n pop” rock buyer.

If that seems weird- it is.  Simply, he is a wholesaler.  A broker of sorts.  Stands in the middle of the transaction, calls a prospect, spells out a value proposition, and take a fee for his trouble.

Done well, its a good living.  Done poorly, its still actually not a bad living.

It certainly beats being the guy that actually breaks down the large rocks to the smaller rocks- that guy has it rough.  He is out in the field, in the heat, doing actual work.

Anyway, Rick works for this company based out of a state in the USA that has very high taxes, very high property values, a very left-leaning dose of political thought process, and, well, liberalism.  You can take your pick of what state you think he is from.  It doesn’t really matter.

Anyway, Rick has this crazy story where he has been in a really odd position the last few years.  Technically speaking, he has a “sales” job- but he doesn’t really get paid commission.

Actually, he doesn’t get paid any commission.

But its a sales job right?

Yes, it is.

Allow me to explain.

So when he started the job two years back, he got an offer letter.  It said all of the usual things about how happy we will be to work together, how generous the firm is, how Rick’s skills and past successes are so unique and impressive that the firm would like Rick to join IMMEDIATELY.

As you might guess, it spelled out a compensation plan.

It was very usual, and familiar in nature: vacation time, dental plan, eyeglasses plan, bi-weekly payroll, etc.

Additionally, the Rock Firm was doing something unique.

Rock Firm had big, grandiose plans to roll out new products, expand into new verticals, and, really, take over the world.

First, they were going to launch two new rock products: Shiny Rock and Dirty Rock.

Now, because these were new products, and the marketplace was untested, Rock Firm gave Rick what is called a “guarantee.”

A “guarantee”- for those of you not in sales is just what it sounds-  guaranteed money, on top of a base salary- for a defined period of time.

Sounds like a good deal right?  Totally.

Now, I didn’t ask, because I’m not a rude kind of guy, but Rick volunteered that it was a guarantee in the low six figs.  Now, thats a good amount of money.

I mean, your not, “balling out” as my friend Tyrone would say- but your doing fine.

So, Rick is not complaining.

What he is really excited about is the upside.  Meaning, when things really get cooking, what type of commission could he make?

What sold Rick on joining Rock Firm in the first place was the upside.  Now- all of you in sales- you identify with this.

What Rick was told was that his upside commission could very reasonably be 50%-100% greater than his guarantee.

Wow- now Rick is really doing well.

Not, “Tonning it”, as the bankers say, but, perhaps his tax bracket went up by a tick.

But this is where the curveball comes in.  In Rick’s offer letter- his “commission rate” was not yet determined.  It was very loosely defined, really not defined at all- and promised to be arrived at a “later date.”

Let me repeat that: Rick, excited as he was, signed on the dotted line, showed up for work a full hour early the first day, without further clarification, or written promise regarding that dreadful, dreadful sentence:   “we will arrive at your commission at a later date.

Now- I ask Rick (because I’m a smart guy) you didn’t really fall for that, did you?  You didn’t really believe that, and signed on the dotted line, and joined the firm under the premise, the false belief that they would do something- would give you your comp package “down the road”- you didn’t do that Rick, did you?

Oh, but Rick did.

Now, how do I know all this?

Rick actually shared with me his offer letter, dated two whole years ago.  Now, again, I’m not a rude guy, and I’m not nosy.  But, he looked it up in his email, and shared it with me.


Initially, I was going to share it here, but I don’t want to embarrass Rick any further.

It says exactly that.  In summary: “Rick, your talents are so great, your potential so vast, that we want to bring you on immediately.  Don’t worry, we’ll straighten out the comp plan soon, and you’ll be well taken care of.”

Now- many of you that have read to this point probably already know what happens.

I’ll fast forward for you very quickly:

Launching one of the new products went very poorly, and sales were basically a negative number.  Yes- the “Dirty Rock” product failed outright.  It was pulled of the market, a fantastic partnership was split, and the Rock Firm exec that was the product sponsor quit showing up on the weekly Rock Firm Sales Team Phone Calls.  

That exec was a nice guy, but he was from a funny part of the country, and, I guess he had the need to constantly remind folks of his pedigree- like, what family you were from, or what high school you went to, what college you went to, what neighborhood you lived in, etc.  I mean, we knew the exec was a successful guy, so- why did he need to constantly remind everybody?

It was just all very strange.

Just so we are clear, whenever the exec chimed in on a conference call- he would restate his name, bio, and position in the following way before he address the question, usually by saying “Pass, or, I defer.”

An example: “Yes, thank you for the question.  Yes, this is Rick James, graduate of Bishop Ireton High School, cum laude graduate of Salve Regina University, and resident of the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix, AZ.  Uh, regarding your question,  I defer.”

It was all very odd.  As they say in Texas, most people thought this guy was “all hat, and no cattle.”

So the product failed, and Rock Exec basically would jump on a call sporadically, but he never answered a direct question about the product again.

Moving on.

Rick began to get worried.  A product failed, he still didn’t have a commission plan, and he was rapidly closing in on his first full year at the firm.

To be sure, he asked about his comp plan, monthly.  At first, he was new, so he didn’t want to push it. So he would tread lightly.

Then he would ask more frequently.

Then he got pissed.

Angry, really.

Wanted to go to HR.

Had his offer letter at his desk, with the undefined commission upside circled in bright red ink.

Then he stewed.

Looked for other jobs.

Started not wearing a tie.

Wore the same blue pants to work everyday because he didn’t give a shit.

Went to the gym at lunch.

In other words, got, really disengaged.

Could you blame him?

The more Rick told me this crazy story, I really couldn’t blame him.

Now- to be very, very clear- I’m all about hard work.  Work your job.  Do what you are getting paid to do.  Do your job with integrity.  Be accountable.

Show up.  Show up on time.  Don’t complain. Share.

As Rick tells it, he did all that.  He tried to explain to his boss the position he was in.  He tried to build up that capital with his boss so his boss could go to bat for him.  He tried to influence his boss and others in the firm.  He was constantly given false promises.  Monthly.  “Wait Rick, just wait.”

“Your next in line Rick- don’t worry.”

Except he wasn’t.

And he was basically hung out to dry.  Rick says he was a model employee.  Did his job. Held up his end of the bargain.  And Rock Firm didn’t hold up their end.

So we kind of came to an odd part of our conversation.


I asked perhaps a very obvious question: “So, Rick, what’d you do?”

Rick said, I got pissed thats what.  I started doing other things.  Daydreaming.  Reading.  Exploring the wonders of YouTube.  ESPN.  Started real estate investing while at work.  Became a writer.

Matter of fact, Rick actually built the following Infographic for me to further illustrate his point:

At work.

Wow Rick, you could really do that at work?

Weren’t you held accountable?

Didn’t somebody say something, call you out?

“Well,” Rick said, “I wanted somebody to.  I expected somebody too.  But would you believe, the less work I did, the more I got away with?”

No, I didn’t believe that.

So Rick basically said screw it.  He was done.  Rick blinked first.  Rock Firm, in a very roundabout way, had waited him out.

Called his bluff.

Strung him along for two years, simply waiting him out.

In the end, Rick basically was begging to get fired.  Shoot, if you don’t want me, just get rid of me.

Rick had an end date in mind- he had actually made the decision about six months back to pack up and move to London.

He really wanted to live in a rainy place.

Fog. Rain. Gloom.

Pretty much matched his mood at Rock Firm the last two years.

Anyhow- after I recovered from the shock of this story- I asked Rick a few questions.

But, before he answered, Rick said- “Dude, there are other people at Rock Firm in the same boat as me.  Doing the same stuff. Waiting to get paid, working, but having no idea what they are working for.”

“Really,” I said.  “Who would be so stupid?”

It was shocking.

So, I asked Rick what he would do differently.

He said alot of things, but they basically boiled down to these few:

  • Quit being naive.  Get everything in writing.
  • Most HR Deparments are shit.  Rock Firm’s HR dept sure was.  Outsourced.  Run by some moron who constantly screwed up paychecks and tax rates. Flew in to take the temperature of the office, promised to “improve” or “restructure” the office dynamic, then not do shit.
  • Never back yourself into a corner where you are constantly disgusted by your day to day, but not disgusted enough that you say screw it and walk out in a huff.
  • Insist on working for a strong leader.  Seriously, nothing is worse than working for a week leader that a) has no pull b) doesn’t command respect c) can’t run interference for you d) just doesn’t know shit e) I can go on

So Rick quit.


He said his goodbyes, sailed off to London.

Packed his raincoat, and embarked on new adventures.

Rick relocated, and is looking forward to working outside his previous industry.  Unlike previously, he did extensive research and due diligence on his new employer.  Spoke with his new boss at length- arrived at the conclusion that, yes, his new boss is/will be a very strong leader.  Someone to model and learn from.

He ensured his new compensation plan included a very clear, well defined commission structure.

He is looking forward to it.

Last Rick heard, his former company, Rock Firm, was dying a slow death, slowly losing the race to an antiquated sales process, a poorly defined product structure that declines to address the commoditization of the rock industry, all while being steered haphazardly closer and closer to the cliff equivalent of the Rock Firm Niagra Falls by its omnipresent, overbearing, micromanaging, genius dealmaker but poor leader of employees and particularly lacking communicator, Mr. Rock.

Last I spoke to Rick, he is six months into his new gig.

He has a tan, even though he lives in London and it has been cloudy for 6 months straight since he moved there.

His new gig at New Co. is intellectually stimulating, provides a needed product to the marketplace, and he is making more money than he ever has before.

Good for Rick for finally eradicating himself of the Black Hole that is Rock Firm.

Good riddance.

And, good for Rick.

The end.


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