One particular evening, I was repairing several machines at once and customers were getting restless. The snippy, cold-blooded operations manager sauntered up and said, "There are customers here who need help! Why are you just standing here? Go help them!"
I knew store policy was on my side, so I fired back: "I can't leave these customer computers here like this."
"I don't care. We have people who want to buy computers and no one to help them. If we don't meet our PC sales goal for tonight, I will hold you personally responsible and you will get written up."
"Well, can you watch them until I get back?"
"No! I have to get back to the customer service desk. They are short-staffed up there too."
"All right, it'll take me a few minutes to put these computers away."
"Leave them where they are and get to the customers."
OK, whatever. What was supposed to be 15 minutes away from the repair area turned into an hour.
When I returned to the desk, I found a 10-year old kid playing Solitaire on a customer computer and an older couple eyeing another unit, asking, "How much does this one cost?" Exasperated, I dismissed the kid as diplomatically as I could and pointed the older couple to what we actually did have for sale.
However, something was wrong. One of the laptops was gone!
As Murphy's Law would have it, this laptop was in for a RAM upgrade, and the salesperson had promised it would be completed right about ... then. (Insert expletive.) With perfect timing, the customer came walking up the aisle. "Is my laptop all done?"
Pale-faced, I scrambled, looking around the desk, in the cabinet, and pretty much everywhere else to find it. Nope, it wasn't there. More than likely, the laptop had left the store in someone's jacket while I was helping customers. Sheepishly, I shook my head and told the customer, "It's not here."
In irate terms he demanded to see the manager. The same reptilian manager who ordered me to help customers had the guts to ask, in front of the customer, "Where is this gentleman's laptop?!? You were supposed to be keeping an eye on the repair desk!"
By this point I was at the end of my rope and refused to be thrown under the bus. "You were the one who an hour ago told me to go wait on customers instead of doing my job here."
The customer threw his hands up and interjected, "Look, I don't care whose fault it is. I am a lawyer, I had lots of important data on that laptop, and if you can't find it, I'll sue!"
The man was true to his word. We couldn't come up with the laptop, and sure enough, the company got sued for the cost of the laptop and the damages resulting from his loss of data -- a total that fell just shy of six figures. When the corporate office looked into the matter, the manager tried again to blame me but was the one who ended up getting fired.
Some managers pay attention to potential consequences at the ground level for the decisions made higher up the chain. When they don't, heaven help us. Newsflash: It's for the good of the staff and the company to at least listen to what the underlings have to say.
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This story, "Two bad bosses do more than double the damage," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.