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.

The Secret To Saying No To Your Boss Is To Say Yes To Someone More Important

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 12

Most of the time, your boss is the single most important person to you at your job. And given our propensity to obey authority figures, it is especially hard to say no to the boss – after all, it is part of your job to work on what they tell you to work on. And if you like the boss and like the company, saying no is even harder.

The trick to saying no in the post-idolatry world is to remember that work is no higher than the third priority in your life. If you are a believer, I don’t need to tell you that God is more important than work. And if you aren’t a believer, your health and the people in your life are more important than work.

So when your boss asks you to do something that you want to say no to, think of someone more important in your life, e.g a spouse, a child, or a friend. Now give that other person in your life more authority than your boss. If you say yes to the boss and work longer hours,  it will take away from a more important part of your life.

Imagine this other person is inviting you to be with them. Maybe it is a hike, maybe it is having dinner, maybe it is just sitting together. Visualize how they look at you. They see you for the person you really are, and love you for it. And because they are more important to you than the company, your mind is clear.  You are in the moment with them, free from the mental chatter of the work world.

Say yes to the other person, and then let your boss down easy.

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Learn How To Say “No” To Meetings

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 13

As you shift your priorities to people and start to work fewer hours, there will come a point when someone starts pushing you to do more.  There is always more work to do, and if you don’t set firm boundaries around our work, no one else will.  As Jody Thompson, champion of ROWE pointed out in the youtube video in the last post, what is the point of getting your work done early if it only means that you will be given more work?

Even if the corporate culture is nowhere near adopting ROWE, you may be able to negotiate something with your manager to get more flexibility.

The key to ROWE are the first two words – Results Only.  The first step is to identify the three things that will have the most impact.  To figure this out, I would write out a list of everything I was working on and the put them in rank order. I went to my manager with the list, explaining why I though certain things would have a larger impact.  Usually he agreed, but occasionally we changed the order.  And when he asked me to do something that took a lot of time but wasn’t in the top three, I would say “ok I can do it, but it will mean that X deliverable will be pushed out a few days.  Is that ok, or would you prefer me to wait on the latest thing that you need?”

Next, I declined meetings for anything that wasn’t in the top three, especially last minute or “one off” requests.  They add up to a lot of time during the week, and those extra hours take away from time at home. Sometimes it was hard, because other parts of the company thought I should be helping them, especially sales.  But I held firm if taking the meeting meant working at night. (And sometimes I adjusted, to make sales support a top three.)

A priority list gave me the power to say “I’d love to help, but my manager has told me that A, B and C are higher priorities.”  I tried to by sympathetic, and whenever possible offered alternatives, like a web site to find information, a promise for time in the future, or someone else who could help.

I always made sure I delivered high quality, on time work for the top priorities.  After all, it was a contract, to trade time freedom for higher quality work.

Often a manager is on board with the theory, but has a hard time sticking with it in practice.  Next post, more on this upward management challenge.

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Don’t Let Perception Overshadow Your Productivity

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 12

My last company had a thing about slackers.  In a performance review, I was told that my career could be slowed because I was perceived as a 9 to 5er.  Five minutes earlier, my manager told me that I got more done than anyone he had ever met.

This was a cultural issue – there was a regular review process that evaluated people in two dimensions – the quality of work and suitability for promotion.  In practice, the second dimension was a proxy for who showed up the most. Yes, I left at 5:30, but why did that matter when I was getting so much done?

In hindsight, I made too big a deal out of my life outside of work.  For example, I always told my manager whatever kid activity I had done the previous weekend, and let him know that I would be leaving work early once a week to coach soccer at 3:30.  He told me that I had trained him not to expect an answer to his Saturday emails until Monday morning; he admitted that he was surprised that he was ok with that.  Yet in spite of my productivity, the company had me in the “not committed” column.

My only regret is what I said, not what I did. My highest priority was time outside of work, and I had as much as I needed.  But, I should have talked less about the kids and more about what interested my manager – how hard I was working to make the numbers.

As we saw in the last post about ROWE, revenue at Suntell went up 185% in the two years after employees were given the freedom to decide when to come to the office.  And while my company was very unROWE, the flexibility that I took for myself helped make me the most productive person there.

In the next post, I’ll tell you how to do it.

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