9/08/2009

Corporate Survival Guide: Add Spies to Life

Success on the corporate battlefield is all about information: what you know and how you use it. But there are always two kinds of information: the data that you have and, and, and that other stuff.

On the battlefield of corporate life, it is inevitable that your enemies will discover facts about you that you would rather be kept private. For example, they may have pictures from your trip to Vegas when you woke up with a massive hangover and three young goats. Or they may know about the torrid affair with Smith from HR. Or perhaps they discovered the pack of lies you call your resume. Or maybe they witnessed the simple misunderstanding between you and the other internal candidate for the Supervisor position, where you beat them to death with your hole punch.

Nobody leads a perfect life, especially warriors bent on success upon the battlefield. As the book “Flawless Fellows Finish Fifteenth” claims, good people have bad careers.

So what do you do about information leaks? How can you protect your career while also doing what you must to get ahead?

One solution is to simply lead a better life.

But seriously, you need to learn to control the damage. There are two approaches that I recommend to today’s corporate warrior: Counter Espionage and Spin.

Spy vs. Spy

Ever since Brutus got the point across to Julius Caesar that a little more intel on his friends would have been helpful, unscrupulous tyrants have understood that spy networks are a critical part of getting and keeping power. How else would King Arthur have known of his knights’ lancing a lot with his wife? Or how else could Neville Chamberlain have successfully achieved peace for our time without secret intelligence that Hitler merely wanted a vacation home in Czechoslovakia? And how could any parent possibly trust their teenage kid without paying their friends to nark on them?

Spying is a critical and necessary part of power. And it’s fun, to boot!

What you need to do is get the same kind of information on your coworkers that they could get on you. But you have to go further. Remember: you don’t just want to maintain parity with them like some awkward Cold War. No, you want to crush them like carpet-bombing an afternoon tea party. This means that you have to act first and act fast. Spy on them, find out things they don’t want publicized, and fill your secret files.

On rare occasion, you will come across people that have nothing to hide. Perhaps they are actually happily married, don’t sleep around with people at work, and haven’t even committed a felony. However unlikely, you must be prepared to deal with this situation, either by forcing the situation (which usually involves getting them drunk and making the compromising situations happen), or by just making stuff up. Fabrication is perfectly fine, as long as it would be damaging in the extreme cannot be proven to be false. Politicians have built entire careers on this single tactic.

Now that you have the information, you can decide what to do with it. If you have the upper hand because they do not yet have anything on you, then you may choose to run with it. You could take the information to them and squeeze them hard for such things as promotions, recommendations, or permanent cutsies in the cafeteria line. Or, depending on how dangerous they are to you in the chain of command, you may want to leak the information now and be rid of them. One less person on the payroll is one less body in the promotion and bonus shark tank.

Spin

The other approach to secrets is to use yours to your advantage. Depending on the information that someone has on you, you may choose to simply message it appropriately. For example, that affair with the person in HR could be used to paint you as someone who is willing to sleep your way to the top. This trait could be seen by your management as a benefit, depending on how blind and desperate they are.


Regardless of which approach you take, start building your ammunition dump now. If information is power, then secret information is superpower, like X-Ray vision or running really fast in a spandex suit. Get that information and crush your enemies, for the good of humanity, or at least your career.
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