Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

What Does the Fox Say At Work?

What does the fox say? It’s a question 144 million plus have been asking on YouTube over the last few months. (And if you really want to know the answer, you can see it here.) The song describes what a fox looks like, and runs through a bunch of gibberish versions of what a sound the fox makes. Is it funny? Yes, a bit. (Although if you ask my tween daughters, they will tell you it is hilarious.)

When I hear the song, I think of a different kind of fox, the fox in Aesop’s fable the Fox and the Crow. This kind of Fox is a flatterer, someone who can convince you of anything. In this respect, the song “What Does the Fox Say” gets it right. When we are watching the video, we sing and laugh along, and we may even parrot what we hear to others. But if we stop and think about it, we say to ourselves Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

Have you ever had the experience at work of being talked into something that turned out to be really stupid, either for you or for the company? And then, the person who talked you into it is nowhere to be found. I write about the Fox in Busting Your Corporate Idol, because the consequences of trusting the untrustworthy are monumental.

The Fox is particularly dangerous, because he or she will say whatever you want to hear. The Fox is primarily out for him or herself, but unless you have dealt with this type of person before, you may not be aware.

I worked for years with a Fox, but didn’t know it until things got rough, and I was left holding the bag. In many respects, it was my bag to hold, BUT the Fox had advised me what to put in the bag, and where to carry it. So when the Fox went out of their way to point the finger at me, I wanted to cry fowl.

I stood up at a meeting to explain it all, and all that came out of my mouth was “Ring ding ding ding ding dingeringeding.” It made sense when the Fox said it to me. I should have known better.

How To Get Resources Over Someone’s Dead Body

Ever been in a situation where you absolutely need a project to be resourced, but there are no resources? I remember one particularly extreme case that I had to deal with. I was a product manager, and my product was dependent on a particular instrument sold by another company. Just a few months after my product launched, the other company discontinued their product. We were screwed.

As a first mitigation, we bought the entire supply of the existing product, which would allow us to sell to an additional ten customers. After that, the only option was a poor substitute that we did not currently support.

The good news: a few years earlier my company had developed an in house version that was never commercialized. I did some checking, and it could be launched with a minimum of effort in about six months. The bad news: the instrument division was consumed with a high profile, expensive project. The company was moderately political and laden with silos. And my division rarely partnered with the instrument division.

The first reaction from “Bill” the resource doorkeeper was politely negative. Although he didn’t exactly say you’ll get those resources over my dead body, the message I got was that the resources would only be available over his dead body.

I am not big on losing, and I found a way to get it done. Success came from a combination of two strategies.

  1. I was lucky because one of my colleagues was well connected in the instrument division. He knew the right people to get a realistic resource estimate, and they all liked him.
  2. We got the key decision makers from both divisions in the room together. I put up side-by-side revenue forecasts, with a loss of $27 million dollars over three years if we did not launch the new product. There was a difficult conversation, but the resources were assigned.

I was quite pleased with myself because I won. We got the supporting product we needed, and the revenue plan was intact. I didn’t care (or even realize) that I made a powerful enemy. Maybe it was inevitable that Bill was going to get pissed off. But I don’t think I did everything I could to get him on board before the meeting. Instead, I  took the “screw you, I’m going to win approach.”

To my credit I was unfailingly polite, and presented a revenue forecast that left few options.

But it came back to haunt me. While at the time I thought it was done over “Bill’s” dead body, in many ways it was over mine.