9/17/2009

Corporate Survival Guide: Doorway to Success

“Power,” as a great general may have said once, “is gained not through great works, but by great rumors.” It doesn’t matter what you actually do, but rather what others think you might have done. This is as true on the corporate battlefield as it is in real life, particularly in the mad, scheming power-grab that is your everyday office life.

One of the easiest ways to generate buzz is through visible interaction with your management chain. I call it: “The Doorway to Success.”

Try this: walk over to your boss’s office and say loudly, just outside the office, “I’ve got to talk to you, now!” Then quickly enter the office and shut the door audibly. Then ask your boss something innocuous, like “How was your weekend?” or “Nice shoes! Where’d you get them?” In a pinch, you can also try, “Whoops, forgot what I was was going to say! Don’t you hate it when that happens?”

Once the conversation is over, open the door and move quickly back to your desk with an intense look of constipation on your face. Pretend that there’s an alien trying to bust out of your chest, and you’re keeping it trapped inside through sheer willpower.

After you do this a couple of times, you’ll notice heads of coworkers popping above the nearby cube walls like prairie dogs at dinnertime; everyone wants to know what’s going on. Of course, there is nothing happening - it was all pretense. But that’s my point: it’s the same thing.

There are two impressions that you’ve created in your coworkers through this action:
  • Something big is going down: People don’t usually get worked up in the office except when the coffee maker is broken or a toilet overflows. Seeing someone agitated and talking to management about the issue must mean that something is happening that’s pretty important.
  • You know something about it: This is the most important element. It’s less important what you know than the fact that you know it and they don’t. It is critical to follow-through on this with your coworkers. Some will wander by and hint subtly that they’d like to know what’s going on, but you need to avoid dropping any hints, while still looking that you could. Some will just come out and ask you what you know. Feel free to tell these people that you can’t say anything, and that you’re surprised they don’t know. It’s always good to take people down a peg when you can, because your importance in the hierarchy is always relative to those around you.
Of course, this tactic works best when your boss has an office. Stomping loudly into the cube and asking how their tennis game is coming along doesn’t work nearly as well.

If your manager has a cube, here are a couple of alternatives to think about:
  • Find a door: Tell the boss in their cube that you need to talk, but not here. Then bring them through your department, taking a circuitous route past as many coworkers as possible, continuing to repeat things like, “It’s really important” and “We need a private place to talk about this” and maybe some tidbits like, “I don’t know how The Board is going to deal with this.” Finally, drag the boss into an unoccupied office or meeting room and proceed as above. (Bathroom stalls generally don’t work as well, as they tend to give the conversation an entirely different flavor and your boss may try to call security).
  • Find someone else: Frankly, if your boss has a cube, you should probably find someone more important. Offices are a mark of distinction on the corporate battlefield, like promotions or executives knowing your name (or at least guessing at it). The subtle message from the executives to the cube-bearing manager is, “You’re not important enough to have private conversations.” So why are you wasting your time talking to them? Find someone that is that important; you should pretend to be in the know with people that actually are.
Finally, be sure not to overplay this strategy. People will only buy it if they think you are getting secret information at reasonable intervals. Also, your manager may start wondering why you keep making such a big deal of asking them what they had for lunch, or how they take their coffee, or how to request lumbar support for your office chair. I’d suggest limiting the “Doorway to Success” technique to no more than ten times per day.
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