Our Formula One Birthday Cake

Management Through Cakes

I seem to have been writing about various random occurrences recently, like  being mistaken for a rock star or that I may have been winched onto a ferry as part of an air sea rescue drill. Here is another random story, although again with some sort of point, which is all about a less well used management technique; management through cakes.


I used to work with a chap called Robert, and in fact, I have worked with Robert in more than one place.  At the first place, he sat quite near me, in an open plan office, although we did not know each other particularly well.  I did notice, however, that the team desk near his was always covered in cakes and biscuits.  I changed jobs, and soon after I arrived at the new company, Robert appeared there too, and this time we were working together.  In fact, we were two of four people sharing an office for a while. One of the notable aspects of this particular office was that it was always well stocked with cakes.  A room which contained four of us usually contained enough food to feed fourteen. The staff in the canteen would often make cakes at home for Robert.  He is a very genial chap, one of those characters in life who, once met, is never forgotten, and who has a tale for everything, even more so than me.  He is what would be best summed up as an eccentric English gentleman.  Think of a rather kindly, and rather posh older uncle whose idiosyncratic ways are rather endearing.


One day in the office, we were discussing the latest Bond film that had just been released, Casino Royale, and how it was quite different to many of its predecessors, and that the scene near the beginning where Bond made his first kill in a toilet was rather violent. Robert piped up with “That reminds me of a little incident I had in Kazakhstan once upon a time.  I was in the toilets of a particular establishment, and whilst doing up my belt in a cubicle, I heard a bit of commotion outside.  I came out and found there was a chap lying dead in the urinals, who had been shot through the head.  Hadn’t been paying his gambling debts.  Young lady who worked there came in and found him.  Rum business, what.”.


Adrian, Mark and I looked incredulous.  Adrian asked “What, so someone comes in and finds a body there with no one else around apart from you?  Didn’t she suspect you?”. “My goodness no, my good man, I used to buy her cakes, don’t you know” came the instant reply.


“What is it with you and cakes?” was the obvious response.

“In my life, I have learned that no one shouts at a man who has just given them a cake.” Was the response.  We watched, then, as over the next few weeks, Robert would be walking about the building and as he bumped into a senior stakeholder on one of his programmes – he is a programme manager – he would open with “care for a slice of Battenberg”, or whatever the cake de jour was, and as the pleased recipient took it with a “don’t mind if I do” approach, Robert would them launch on a “whilst I’ve got you, slight change of plan on the programme….”, which would invariably be better received than what could be expected.  It did seem that Robert’s Management through Cakes actually had some merit.


For those who have worked for me in recent years, I’m sure that some of this will be an approach that is recognised, although with a slight change.  One of the other interesting things about have an area filled with cakes, chocolates, sweets, or other goodies – which can equally be tasty savoury and healthy snacks – is that, in an open plan office, people do seem to find a way to walk by you in a way that maximises their opportunities to partake in such a feast, and when they do, they often also feel obliged to stop and at least make conversation with some of the team members rather than running away with three or four chocolates.  If part of your need to develop is to increase the engagement between the team and other colleagues, then what a great idea to develop a method whereby people come to engage with you some of the time, rather than you needing to instigate – or at least appear to instigate it – each time.


Some of my current and erstwhile colleagues, would, however, also ascribe an alternative reason to my Management through Cakes approach: that I like cakes.  This theory may also contain some truth.