Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Cure for an Uncaring Boss

Today I went to a webinar where Matt Kohut and John Neffinger gave a Q&A about their book Compelling People. Really interesting book. Kohut and Nefflinger define strength and warmth as the two attributes that define how people judge you.

During the webinar, they made reference to psychology studies that show that powerful people care less about the less powerful. The more powerful person laughs and nods less when the less powerful is speaking, and they are more likely to overtalk the less powerful. And in general, research shows that powerful people are less attentive to interpersonal relationships, because they don’t have to be. On the flip side, less powerful people are better at forming alliances, because they have to in order to survive.

Have you ever thought that your boss doesn’t care about you? Maybe they only seem to pay attention to the people above them in the hierarchy? This research suggests that your judgement is correct. It’s not that the boss is against you. They literally are not paying attention – they don’t notice you. What’s more, they also are less empathetic with the less powerful. In other words, they discount the suffering or negative consequences to people “below” them.

Don’t despair! Knowledge is power. By starting with the assumption that the boss doesn’t care, you no longer need to waste your breath complaining about how stressed you are. Have you ever gone home totally frustrated that complaining to the boss did no good? Those days are behind you.

Instead, you can focus on a different strategy – finding a different lever to pull to get what you want. The boss does care about what his or her boss thinks of them. Therefore, couch your requests in a way that will help them make good. For example “I’m going to focus on A&B, and make C&D a lower priority. By not doing C&D, I’ll do a better job on the first two, which will reflect better on our team.”

To be even more precise, classify your boss as a Scorpion, Fox, or a Wolf to dial in your business case to their particular priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, I do find the results of the studies chilling. However, I’d rather know and adjust my behavior than to sail along under an illusion. I’ll take the advantage in alliance making any day for long term success.

More info on Compelling People: http://compellingpeople.com

Special thank you to Matt Kohut for sending me the link to this article:

Daniel Goleman article in NY Times called Rich People Care Less http://nyti.ms/1pQgdHp

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.

Why The Right Thing To Do Is A Business Case For Good

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 3

In 1994 Massachusetts had a statewide referendum that would have required companies to reduce the amount of product packaging. I lived in Boston and there was a raging debate between the environmentalists and the business community.  One side said that excess packaging is bad for the environment and costly to the public. The other side claimed that the costs of packaging reduction would be astronomical and cost jobs.  The measure was defeated 65% to 35%.

Fast forward to today – many companies cannot reduce their packaging quickly enough. The difference is the business case. Less packaging brings lower costs, a green brand, and in some cases more ease of use.  If you can deliver a better product at a lower cost, why wouldn’t the company do it?

Corporations are in business to make money, and it is very hard to argue that a company should make less money for any reason. It is far more effective to make a Business Case for Good.

If your company must decide between doing the right thing (A), or doing the wrong but less expensive thing (B), the worst thing you can do is to argue for “A” based on ethics. Instead, use your creativity to create a business case. For example, argue that A will differentiate your product in the market, and allow the company to command a higher price.  Or, argue that “B” will have higher support costs, or bring a legal risk.

Whatever you do, don’t EVER mention an ethical justification for A, not even as a fourth bullet point.  I’ve used a Business Case For Good on several occasions, and invariably someone else said “of course we should do A.  It’s the right thing to do.”  This is a test. If you agree, someone on the other side will use your agreement to bring the argument back to ethics, and you will lose.  Instead, be coldhearted, and say “That should not be a factor in the decision -we need to do what is best for the company.”

You want this to become a contest of who has the best numbers, and in the next post, I’ll show you how to properly buffer a revenue forecast.  If you make up better numbers than the other side, your company will start doing the right thing in spite of themselves.

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What I Learned About Organizational Savvy From My Fraternity

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 1

My junior year in college, I was rush chairman at my fraternity, which meant I was in charge of recruiting new members.  There was this one guy who came by a few times and impressed some of my brothers with his coolness. Others, like me, thought he was an asshole. We were a small house, and did not turn away people easily.  We also didn’t have any guys who liked to brag about cheating on his girlfriend, and I was not up for letting one in.  This was the dark ages of the 80s, when we used an index card to track each “rushee”.   Every week I would hand out the cards to other brothers, who had the job of inviting them over for dinners or other events.  One of my brothers really wanted to help with rush, but he was terrible on the phone.  I gave him the asshole’s card every week.  And the asshole quietly disappeared.

I can’t exactly say that my choices were the model of honest behavior, but I was living according to my values in an organization that may have chosen another path.  I now realize I was using organizational savvy (a skill I seem to have lost during my ten years in the academic world, and had to rediscover the hard way in the business world.)

Veteran executive Marian Cook  defines organizational savvy as “understanding the professional culture you are in and working with it – instead of against it – to achieve your goals. It is understanding that ‘office politics’ is a reality to be dealt with, not ignored or even looked down upon. Whenever two humans get together, there are ‘politics’ at play, affecting your performance, the perception of your performance, and therefore your pay. It is the portfolio of competencies, approaches, and behaviors used to navigate your career and organization with success and integrity.”[i]

Organizational savvy is a tool, and like any other tool can be used for good or ill.  This chapter will teach you how to use organizational savvy to regain control of your life.

[i] Leadership Skills: Organizational Savvy (Part 1 of 3) By Marian Cook WITI Leadership http://www.witi.com/wire/articles/96/Leadership-Skills:-Organizational-Savvy-(Part-1-of-3)/ Retrieved January 7, 2013.

 

What If Successfully Managing Workplace Politics Doesn’t Bring Balance?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 18 (Conclusion)

This chapter I’ve shared stories that illustrate how the people at work can contribution to corporate idolatry.  But as the following story illustrates, even the best of people, working for the most admirable of Wolves, are subject to strong influence from both circumstances and the workplace culture.

One senior product manager we’ll call “Jill” had a Fox manager who pushed and pushed in private to get the product out, and then publically pointed the finger at her when disaster struck.  According to Jill, after leading the team for a year “it felt crappy to sit in the room, and watch everyone look to my boss to find a solution.  They acted like I wasn’t there.  But later in the meeting there came this moment when my manager gave me a look that seemed to say ‘what do I do next?’  I looked him in the eye, and although I knew exactly what needed to be done, I said nothing.” And the outcome?  The Fox manager was soon moved to a backwater of the company, while Jill delivered a solution and recovered her reputation.

After that time, Jill was able to manage the politics much more effectively, and while the environment wasn’t exactly supportive, it wasn’t hostile either.  But the story does not end there, because Jill was still in a very poor situation.

Jill’s competition released a product that the customers liked better, and her marketing programs and sales pep talks were not going to change that.  Circumstances were beyond Jill’s control, but she pushed herself to the edge of ruin in a futile effort to regain market leadership.

Jill believed that her heroic efforts could result in a major change in the marketplace.  Psychologists call this the “Illusion of Control.”  I call it another face of idolatry.

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