10/21/2008

Corporate Survival Guide: Keeping the Job

In an earlier diatribe, I covered getting the job. So now you're here: you passed the interview process, you got yourself an office, and you're busy scrabbling up the corporate ladder with every tooth, nail, and sharpened shoe heel available.

But hard times come to all companies, whether it's due to the state of the economy or just because the company doesn't have a clue how to avoid getting flattened like a frog on an interstate.

At times like these, when the company is asking everyone to pull together, you need to be looking out for yourself. When they tighten the corporate belt, you want to be on the inside of those company pants.

In fact, dire times might be the perfect time for you to climb further up that management chain. Sure, the company may be sinking, but the very top of it will be the last to slip under the waves.

So how do you persevere, much less triumph, when your company is hurting like hot sauce on a paper cut?

Here is what I call my Several Step Plan for when Companies are going Down the Toilet (SSPCDT).

Convenient Absence
Layoffs will come. They will be awful and horrible. And they will supposedly be a secret. Your Human Resources department thinks that it's clever and that nobody will know when the big day is coming, but everyone will. For one thing, they will book all of the conference rooms in advance and populate them with boxes of tissues and Tazers, just in case.
Make plans to be away that day. Move your office. Change your company phone extension. Switch nameplates with co-workers. You don't know that you're on the list, but make sure that if you are, they can't find you.

Consolidation
Some of your co-workers have now left the company, either willfully, involuntarily, or on a stretcher. There is now a depressing abundance of office space around you where there used to be people, or, as you should have thought of them, competitors for advancement.
Now is the time to consolidate your holdings. Life is a land grab, and it starts at work. Knock down your cube walls and expand into the neighboring cubes. Shift your growing cube slowly over to the window or closer to the boss's office. Try to occupy the entire area eventually. If you meet resistance in the form of people still occupying their offices, tell them that HR was looking for them and roll right through their cube in their absence.
When you're all done, there's no way that the boss can fail to notice you anymore, since you know occupy the whole area between his office and the elevator.

Friendly Conversation
With so many people missing from your department, your boss will be that much more available. They'll probably be lonely, as well. Make a point to stop by their office and chat, several times a day. Become a friend, or at least someone who acts like a friend.
This may take some effort, as you may not know anything about your boss yet. For one thing, you probably want to start every conversation with your name, since they may have ignored it so far. Also, you may need to stalk them at home to discover more about what they do and who they are so that you can casually bring it up in conversation when you walk into their office: "Hey! How's the morning treating you? How are the kids, ages 3, 5, and 8? See the game last night?" Note that mentioning last night's TV entertainment is perfect, because you know exactly what they watched and what happened in that show because you were watching it on the same set from outside their window.

Undermine
At the same time as you're getting more familiar with your boss, you might want to casually and frequently 'bump into' their boss. Elevators are reasonable places for this, although it's difficult to have a private conversation without pushing the other people out onto floors they didn't want to go to.
The best place for a private casual conversation is neighboring urinals in the restroom. This only works if both of you are men; otherwise, you'll have to improvise on that theme.
The point of these meetings is two-fold: you'll want to get to know the boss, or at least for them to know your name. But more importantly, you'll want to sow some seeds of doubt about your boss, leaving the impression that they'd be better off with you in charge. Here are some examples of these subtle exchanges:
"Hi, I don't know if you remember me. I'm Bob Kreenst, from Payroll. It's too bad about the situation there. My boss is doing a great job, just great. Given his limitations. We'd probably do much better with someone else leading the charge there. Like me."
"Hi, did you hear about Ken, the manager in Payroll? I think the pressure is really getting to him. He's holding it together pretty well, given what he's been through. But I've seen a crazy look in his eyes. All I want is the best for him. But if you want to replace him, I'm your guy."
The most important part of the entire exchange is to shake hands with them; it seals the deal and creates a personal bond. But wait until you're both finished at the urinal and have washed your hands.

Impress
The company didn't get itself into this state by actually knowing what it was doing. Now all of the execs are busy running from meeting to meeting trying to figure out what happened and how to change it before the entire thing implodes.
They're looking for new ideas.
This is your time. Just like the real battlefield, promotions on the Corporate Battlefield happen through attrition. All you need is to impress management with your visions.
The important thing is that your ideas don't have to work, or even to make sense. The company has already tried sensible plans that they understood, and they didn't pan out at all. At this point, they'll be desperate enough to latch onto anything. They'd trust a monkey, if he was dressed in a suit. This is where you come in.
Come up with a plan. You may want to get liquored up first, so that you can achieve the right combination of novelty, inspiration, and insanity that it will take.
Now the important part: Create a presentation. Anything makes sense if they see it in slide form.
Now, send in a teaser of the plan to management and ask for a meeting.
When the big day comes, get yourself amped up on a quadruple espresso and go knock them dead with your presentation. Or at least create small wounds.
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