Redialing the Deal

Once upon a time, I negotiated an acquisition.  It wasn't the best deal I'd ever negotiated -- not the biggest, not the best fit, not the lowest price -- but it was still a good deal for the company.

Then a curious thing happened.  My boss, who had previously been supportive of the transaction, suddenly backed off.  I wasn't sure what had happened.  Maybe he saw something in the deal that scared him.  Or perhaps he received an indication from the Board that there was something they didn't like.  Or maybe he just couldn't make up his mind.

As quickly as it was in line for approval, the acquisition was off.

Like a typical executive, I talked to my boss to find out where we went wrong.  He mentioned that the price looked high, but that otherwise he appeared happy with the agreement.  So I tossed aside my pride, put my tail between my legs and went back to the target company and told them we needed to renegotiate.

I half expected they would throw me out the door.  But it didn't happen.  Instead the we worked out a scheme that resulted in a lower initial purchase price with a kicker for the sellers if the business met our forecast over the next three years.

I learned a key lesson from this experience -- that I'd left value on the table when I'd negotiated, and that when I was negotiating as a proxy on behalf of someone else, I was more effective at extracting that value.

But I hated doing it.  I felt... diminished.  I'd lost a substantial amount of credibility with the seller.  Originally, I was the key executive, the one that would have been managing the business post-closing.  Afterward, I was nothing more than an errand-boy sent by my boss to impose his will.  The sellers were now looking past me to him.  And we were all frustrated by the entire episode.

At first my boss was enthusiastic with the outcome, but a short time later he expressed concerns about the concentration of customers in the target company.  It seemed they pulled in most of their revenue from just three customers, and "what if one of them wasn't happy about the deal?"

Again, the deal was off.

Again, I meekly returned to the sellers, and together we contacted the three customers, getting assurances that our ownership of the business wouldn't influence their purchase decisions.

Again, I returned home, triumphant.  Again, the boss welcomed the changes.  But soon there was yet another problem -- this time with their planned expansion into the United States (the target company was European).

One more time, the deal was off.

This time I didn't go back.

I simply couldn't put up with the complete destruction of my credibility in the eyes of the Seller.  Not to mention the lack of credibility I apparently had with my boss, the board, and my peers on the executive team.  And I felt like we were unreasonably jerking around the sellers (which we were).

The deal had been improved twice already, but apparently it still wasn't good enough.  Despite the fact that my boss turned responsibility for the deal over to another proxy, the transaction fell apart.  We'd gone back to the "well" one too many times.

I quit that job a few weeks later.

There are several important lessons I learned from this experience.

  1. You negotiate better when you do so on behalf of someone else, particularly when you don't know their "bottom line"
  2. Most deals are struck with room to capture more value on both sides.
  3. If you try to redial the deal too many times, it will fall apart.
  4. You can lose a committed employee by over-manipulating them.

24.3

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NavigatingCorpPol_FINAL (2).jpg

Shown here is the cover of NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS  my non-fiction primer on the nature of politics in large corporations, and the management of your career in such an environment.  This is my best selling book.  Chocked full of practical advice, I've had many managers and executives say they wished they'd read it early in their career.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

The Wisdom of Those Who Went Before You

Being stuck on the past has always bothered me, particularly when "being stuck" is of the "...we tried that and it didn't work" variety.  I've encountered this attitude in pretty much every job I've ever had, and my instinctive reaction is to think "you guys just didn't do it right."

Sometimes that instinct has proven to be correct, but in most of my experiences it was wrong.  In a few instances, damned wrong.

That initial reaction is, I believe, one born out of arrogance.  It falls in the "I'm smarter, harder working, more insightful, more clever, etc." then those that came before me.  This almost always proves not to be the case.  Arrogance is NOT a business asset.  In fact, it sets you up for an even bigger fall than you would experience in its absence, and pretty much guarantees there will be people standing on the sidelines cheering when you stumble.

In reality, a failure to implement anything similar to what you are contemplating should be a giant, flashing, warning sign telling you to slow down and analyze things from every angle.

After all, maybe your version of the idea will actually work better.  Maybe barrier that previously prevented the idea's successful implementation has changed.  Maybe the previous implementation effort was done without craft or cleverness.

Yeah, and maybe pigs really can fly.

Most likely you'll be tripped up by the same things that caused issues the last time a version of the idea was tried.  Go forward, and you're just asking for problems.

But you're still convinced that you can do it, aren't you?

In that case, take the time to interview people that were around during the last go round.  Get a detailed download on exactly what barriers were encountered, and what ultimately led to the failure.  Don't assume you know, don't jump to erroneous conclusions, instead carefully listen.  Then plan, review, and really convince yourself that what you're doing is going to produce a different result.

The odds are good that you'll convince yourself, but the odds are also good it will be wishful thinking.

So you should test out your "revised plan" with some of the old timers, and see if they agree your changes will assure success.

I'm betting they will say "no."  At which point, you should go back to the drawing boards or punt altogether.

My favorite example of how NOT to benefit from the wisdom of those who went before you comes from a plan I once tried to implement, one involving the roll up independent distributors.

The logic behind the idea went as follows:  It is terribly difficult to get independent distributors to act in the way you want.  My employer wanted to emphasize technological prowess, and the distributors wanted to focus on product reliability.  If we just owned them we could make the salespeople behave the way we wanted.  Oh, and we could also capture the distributor's share of the value chain's profits, adding it to our own and making our shareholders happy.

This idea was wrong in so many ways that I can't, in the space available for this blog post, begin to explain the foolishness of the concept.

More to the point, however, the company had actually tried to do this exact same thing ten years earlier.  And the resulting distributor performance had ranged from mediocre to downright horrible.

I'd come to the job from a company with a direct sales force, however, and due to my frustrations with the independent dealers, I loved the roll-up concept.  So what did I do?  I brushed aside the previous failure.

In my opinion at the time, the project had failed because:  It was done for the wrong reason (profit enhancement rather than sales process control), it was managed inadequately (a part time leader versus a dedicated expert in distribution management), it was attempted at the wrong time (when the market was less mature).  Most importantly, I believed I would succeed because I was smarter and and harder working than the prior managers that had failed.

I was certain I would make it work.

But I couldn't.

The first few acquisitions were made with great fanfare.  I hired a very capable manager to run the unit, and he appointed top talent to manage the acquired distributors.  But results sagged when compared to the distributor's performance prior to acquisition.  Some of the problems were caused by the natural business cycle (we'd purchased near the market peak -- go figure), but many more were caused by the fact that we had MANAGERS running the businesses rather than OWNERS.  Costs rose, efficiency dropped, more capital was "required."  We took nice little businesses, and turn them into mediocre businesses.  That was, until something bad happened like a manager quit, or an employee was found stealing -- then things got ugly.

Funny thing was, these were exactly the same problems that had caused the earlier effort to stumble.  I'd completely failed to learn anything from those who went before me.

In the end, the entire episode could have been avoided simply by delving more deeply into the "whys" of the previous failure, and by realistically assessing how my plan would (or wouldn't) change the outcome.  Of course, it would have also required suppressing my arrogance, and taking a cautious approach.  This was a lesson I eventually learned, but one that took additional repetitions of the same process before it sunk in.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, control your ego and learn the lessons of the past by listening, analyzing, and planning, rather than committing errors that have already once been committed.  21.1

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and HEIR APPARENT.  Coming soon -- PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

cover for Smashwords edition.jpg

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Sold on a Story

When you're a senior manager, your inspiration can come from several places  -- perhaps from something you've read, an abstraction of something you've seen done before, even something that you just thought up in your own head.  I've successfully developed ideas that came from all these sources, and more.

The common thread linking these sources is YOUR judgment.  You can make most of them work, as long as you're convinced it is a good idea, project, or objective.  As long as you believe.

Notice I said you can make MOST of them work.  Some ideas are just bad from the start (apologies to advocates of the no-idea-is-a-bad-idea thing -- I personally don't buy it), and no amount of belief, wishful thinking, or, for that matter, hard work, will ever turn them into successes.

But if you reason your way through the idea, test it against your common sense and experience, and you're convinced you've got a winner, chances are pretty good you'll be able to pull it off.

You're in a completely different realm, however, when you're being sold a story by someone else.  My advice:  If you can't get 100% behind the idea, with a level of enthusiasm and confidence that matches the person doing the selling, then DON'T GO FORWARD with the project.

Unfortunately, this is a lesson I've had to learn the hard way.  Several times over, in fact, before it completely sunk in.

When someone is selling you a story, you need to be personally confident on all fronts -- that means being excited about the upside, relatively unconcerned about the risks and, most importantly, having a complete understanding of how all aspects of the idea -- technical, commercial, existential, you name it -- will work.  The devil is in the details, so you must take the time to drill deep before providing your endorsement.  And run, not walk, in the other direction if you can't.

Here are a few examples that illustrate the above points:

Once while running a business where profitability was highly dependent on steel costs, I was faced with an ugly problem.  Steel costs were rising rapidly, and if I didn't increase prices immediately, our profitability would be severely damaged.  The problem was, none of my competitors seemed to be interested in doing anything.  A few "trial balloon" increases were ignored by the competitors, and rumors were circulating that one of them was "committed" to holding price.  I knew that eventually every manufacturer in the industry would feel the same pressure we were, the only problem was the word "eventually."  I knew I needed to do something.

When I checked with my staff, most were opposed to my proposed solution -- to lead with a bold statement of our intent to follow steel prices as they rose while offering the competition subtle encouragement to follow.  I was convinced it was the right course of action, however, so I pushed it through.  For the next eight weeks, I was the most hated and vilified person in the company.  Then a curious thing happened, the competitors started to match our increase.  Encouraged, I pushed prices up again, and this time they quickly followed.  In the end, our profits were actually enhanced during a period of rapid inflation and our share position suffered only modestly

In that case, I developed the idea myself, and was convinced it would work.

In another pricing example, my VP of Sales wanted to abandon transaction-based discounting in favor of a schedule of discounts and incentives.  Conventional wisdom said that by doing so, we would lose significant market share as we kissed goodbye many of the most price sensitive deals.  But I was convinced by the VP that the outcome would be different, noting that we were in a very poor position to make smart decisions when it came to transaction discounts.  I spent a substantial amount of time investigating the details of the scheme, and when it was eventually implemented, it was a resounding success.

In this example, the idea wasn't my own, but I took the time to convince myself it was a wise move.

On the other end of the spectrum was an international joint venture advocated by the VP of International.  From the beginning I was suspicious of the partner, thought the strategy was weak, and knew the venture would likely be a big drain on management.  Counter balancing that was the fact that we'd had our asses handed to us in the target territory by a second-tier competitor during the prior year.  The pressure was intense to do "something."

Despite my misgivings, I simply gave in to the VP, and moved ahead.  It was a management failure on my part because even though I had significant doubts about the project, I caved to the pressure.  In short, I was sold on the story and the enthusiasm the VP showed for both the partner and the project.  I was essentially substituting his judgment on the project for my own.

It didn't turn out to be a wise decision.  Five years and thousands of management hours (not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars) later, we were stuck with a non-function joint venture and a do-nothing partner.  There were few prospects for improvement.

If I'd only avoided getting sucked in by the story.  20.5

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and HEIR APPARENT.  Coming soon -- PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

PursuingOtherOppFINAL.jpg

This is the cover of my new, and soon to be released novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES.  This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI.  The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives.  When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

Different isn't Necessarily Better

At least not when it comes to business partnerships.

As a general rule, I've never come across a completely ideal partner for joint ventures, licenses, or any form of shared production and/or marketing deal.  Each partner brings their unique view of the world to the partnership, including their take on governance, priorities, expectations, ethics, and the like.

My ideal partner would be completely transparent and ethical, flexible on their needs so that I can meet mine, and nearly like me in most ways.

That pretty much explains why the ideal is never attained.

But where do you draw the line, recognizing that your potential partner is simply too "different" for you to bridge the gap?  Where are their differences in strategy, culture, and norms a mere inconvenience that can be overcome?

That's a question only you can answer.  But I can at least describe a few deals where the differences were so large, that the gap either couldn't be bridged, or where I would have been well advised to not attempt to do so.  None of these ended prettily.

I once inherited an Indian joint venture that, despite the initial expectations, eventually became a complete mess.  When I made my first trip to visit the JV's operations, I was quite impressed with the partner.  They were large, having multiple JV's with a variety of western companies, as well as several wholly owned businesses of their own.  The owner's son, the primary person I interacted with, was educated in Europe and appeared to be both affable and sensible.  After the trip, which was undertaken to figure out why the joint venture's results were so poor, I learned that our partner was sucking all the profits out of the venture.  This was accomplished by charging outrageous prices for the components they were manufacturing and supplying to the business with one of their other companies.  In that instance, the partner's sense of honesty and fair play was so radically different from ours, that it never even occurred to me that they might be stealing from us.

An inherited license agreement with a company in Saudi Arabia provided a similar lesson.  Although our contract clearly stated that we owned the technology, and the partner retained no rights to it at the termination of the license, they had no problem stealing our drawings, specifications, and marketing materials by superficially altering them.  They relied on the legal venue -- in Saudi -- as their trump card in their attempt to escape the intent of the deal.  Of course, I already knew there would be problems when I earlier realized that everything the partner told me needed to be independently verified to be believed.  While having a partner like this was manageable during the agreement -- although very time and effort consuming -- when it came time for the deal to end, their behavior was predictable and the results, disastrous.

I was smarter when contemplating a joint venture with a department of the Chinese government.  Discussions were friendly, but when I insisted the partner accomplish some simple market research prior to completing the deal, it became obvious that they would provide nothing of value to the proposed project.  Thankfully, we never launched it.

A similar experience occurred with a proposed venture with an Israeli Kibbutz.  In that case, however, I was eager to press forward with a deal, and it was my boss that pulled the plug on it.  I'm not positive that the project would have been unmanageable, but there is no doubt it would have had some major challenges.

All of the above examples were from proposed International deals.  Extra caution should be taken when considering these ventures.  While the tenets of business that are more or less common around the world ease some of the differences between cultures, there are often still major differences that may make a long term business relationship a huge challenge.  Know the country, know local business practices, get to know the key leaders in the partner organization.  If you are seeing major differences between your needs/beliefs and those of the proposed partner -- particularly when it comes to ethical behavior -- stay away.

Similar problems can also happen in relationships within the same country.  In one instance, I became involved in a joint venture with a partner in the U.S. where the partner had absolutely no interest in pursuing any of my firm's priorities.  What the partner wanted was cash to fund an ill-considered expansion.  Within a short time of signing our agreement the partner began to balk at everything action we proposed or suggested.  I received a further wake-up call when I observed the partner have a contentious meeting with a supplier, one where he misrepresented the facts surrounding a warranty problem in order to get concessions (primarily warranty dollars).  Doing that would have resulted in discipline, even termination, at our firm.  Needless to say, that relationship didn't end well.

While difference can sometimes create complimentary strengths and weaknesses in a business partnership, it more often will create problems that make the ongoing management of the relationship difficult, if not impossible.  If you're contemplating a partnership, study those differences intently, and try to be realistic about the potential challenges of working together down the road.  If you've inherited a problematic relationship, you may as well come to grips with the challenges and study your options right away.  Hoping things will get better on their own is unrealistic and foolish.  In some cases, you may even need to unwind the deal.  20.4

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and HEIR APPARENT.  Coming soon -- PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

When you're worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the remote wilderness can be anything but safe.

When you're worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the remote wilderness can be anything but safe.

This is the cover of my new, and soon to be released novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES.  This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI.  The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives.  When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

You Might Need a Witness

Often having witnesses to emotionally charged conversations with superiors, peers, or subordinates is a mistake, but when the stakes are extremely high, it is a piece of insurance that you might not want to forego.

One time it is virtually always wise to have a witness, for example, is when you're delivering a termination.

Job terminations are stressful for both the "firee" and the "firer."  Emotions run high on both sides -- anger, desperation, depression on one hand, guilt, anxiety, and sympathy on the other -- and because of the charged atmosphere it is easy for the conversation to get out of hand.  I've found this to be true even when a termination is fully justified by  misconduct on the part of the employee, and doubly so when the cause is simply an economic contraction.

The presence of a witness tends to anchor the emotions of the person delivering the termination.  A credible witness is an objective third party that is present physically in the room with you.  That person can give you a nudge if you start to drift off of your planned script for the event (and you should have a planned script -- preferably with written notes -- for reasons that will shortly become apparent).  I've found the presence of a real human being to be much more effective in tempering my words and emotions than a tape recorder, or even a video camera.  Live people provide feedback, even if it is subtle, that a piece of electronics simply can't match.

Thinking back to a termination I conducted long ago, the employee pushed me hard for a "reason" for the decision to let him go.  I was younger and less experienced at that time, and was tempted to give him what he asked for -- the reasoning and rationale behind my conclusion.  (As a footnote, bear in mind that there is absolutely no answer you can provide to this question that will help you, and there will likely be several things you might say that can get you in trouble.)

At that time I was in a right to work state,  which meant that as long as there was no prohibited reason for the termination (such as an illegal, discriminatory one), continuing employment was at will, and I had absolutely no obligation to offer any reasons whatsoever.  Yet I was tempted to provide my rationale for the termination which I felt justified my decision.  Objectively, I realized this might provide fodder for a future lawsuit, and providing my reasoning certainly wasn't going to help me, but I still felt a strong emotional pull to do so.  The presence of a witness, in this case the HR director, helped me keep my thoughts to myself.

Perhaps an even more important reason to have a witness present, however, is that a witness remembers what was said and what wasn't.  Sometimes the recipient of the termination action is "listening" for soundbites they might be able to use later, often out of context, and frequently in a lawsuit.  I've seen this happen more than once, and in a cruel twist, the strategy seems to work best on the sympathetic supervisor who is forced into performing an action they both hate and regret.  When an opportunistic employee meets an empathetic boss, there is a good chance the manager will be lured into saying something that will later come back to bite them.

And sometimes, even if there is no fire, there can still be some fabricated smoke.  On several occasions, I've been aware of terminated employees that outright lied about what was said during their firing.

A witness can protect you in both of these situations.  The witness can testify about the state of mind of both parties, the context of the meeting, and the exact meaning of what was said during the proceedings.  The witness will have a level of objectivity that neither individual involved in the situation can possibly claim.  A witness provides a level of credibility and interpretation that is beyond even a recording.  In short, a witness can be your "secret weapon" if you are later accused of something that just plain didn't happen.

I once had an employee claim I treated him "cruelly and unprofessionally" over a joke that lasted a total of ten seconds.  Of course, this claim came to light many months later, shortly after his termination.  Fortunately, I had a witness that could describe exactly what had happened, the context, and the severity of the situation.  This countered the over-exaggerated picture the plaintiff was trying to paint.  While the encounter was still damaging, in the bigger scheme of things the witness kept it in the proper perspective, neutralizing some of the of the potential damage.

Having a witness in that situation was just luck.  However, in the next incident, the witness was present by design.

In this situation, an employee claimed that one of my managers said he was fired because he was "too old."  Besides running completely against all our training, and being totally out of character for the manager in question, there was a witness that confirmed the manager's account of the termination.  After investigating the situation, I was convinced the comment was a fabrication.  Based on the strength of the witness's account, the complaint was eventually dropped.

While I've previously counseled managers to keep their most emotionally charged conversations private, when it comes to the highest stakes situations it is worthwhile to spend a few minutes thinking about whether having a witness present will work to your advantage.  Bear in mind that your opponent may exaggerate, take comments out of context, or outright lie about what you said.  If you believe any of these scenarios are remotely possible, and if the consequences of such a claim are dire, having a witness in your corner may be a very smart move.  19.5

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for $2.99, as are various eVersions of LEVERAGE.

Deliverables is a perfect "how to" for spying on your employer.

Deliverables is a perfect "how to" for spying on your employer.

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

 

 

Schemers scheme, enforcers enforce

I've previously discussed how a portion of any workforce will be tempted to commit crimes based on the presence of opportunity.  The point is worth mentioning again, as it was more than just my own observation, coming instead from a police detective that had many years experience with corporate crimes.  He said the common element that unites the vast majority of corporate criminals is not poverty, poor pay, anger at management, drug habits, or anything else going on in their particular lives.  It is an opportunity to commit the crime undetected.  To get away with it.

This same theme runs through my novels.  In almost every instance one of the core questions the bad guys ask at some stage is: "Can I get away with it?"

Of course, villains or prospective villains generally think they can, otherwise they wouldn't move forward with their nefarious acts.

Standing in direct opposition to these villains are what I'll call "the enforcers."  Enforcers are an important breed in any large organization, and their proactive actions are one of the key things that keep the villains in check.  For example, when an employee decides to steal (a tool, for instance) from their employer, it is the enforcers that stand in their way.  Such enforcers might be someone entrusted with the specific task, such as a security guard or a supervisor.  But in my experience the most effective enforcers, both in catching criminals and in deterring them, are engaged, diligent, and aware employees.

If you're lucky, you have many of these kinds of people in your organization, and if you're unlucky they will be few and far between. 

So what makes an enforcer?  In my experience it is usually an employee of long standing that feels they are a part of the organization.  In the language of current management theories, they are "engaged."  They also tend to be of above average intelligence, observant, and also have a strong sense of right and wrong.  Yes, they can be the same employees that ask those irritating "fairness" questions at employee meetings.

The enforcer does three things that management has a tough time doing for themselves.  They observe the detailed workings of their peers in the organization.  They recognize and properly interpret behaviors that are likely to damage the company's interests -- particularly behaviors of a potentially criminal nature.  And they are actually willing to do something with this information.  It has always shocked me how many employees seem capable of handling the first two aspect of the enforcer's job, but don't take the third step.  In my experience it takes a particularly moralistic person, or someone who is extremely tuned into "fairness" to convert observation into action.

While enforcers may be annoying at times, they are critically important to preventing the business from being ripped-off.  As a manager, you have to cultivate this group of employees without encouraging them to become ridiculously hair-splitting.

I've relied on enforcers to keep me up to speed on numerous minor violations of the rules -- everything from employees arriving late or leaving early, to minor theft of office supplies, to dirty tricks being played by angry or ambitious executives.

They also were quite helpful in managing bigger problems.

In one instance, I had an HR executive grant himself a "raise" by filling out the paperwork and forging my signature.  If that form hadn't passed through the hands of an enforcer, who recognized it as "unusual" and outside of the normal cycle of raises, the theft would have passed through unnoticed.  As it turned out, the enforcer brought the suspect raise to the attention of her boss, and that led to discovery of the attempted theft.

In another instance, and enforcer overhead a particularly disengaged employee starting rumors about an executive (in this case, me), and reported his identity.  That enforcer's actions created enough doubts in my mind about the employee that I later caught him in the process of stealing confidential information to take with him to a competitor.  Without the enforcer's help, this theft probably would have escaped notice.

Enforcers may not be the easiest employees to get along with or to satisfy.  But they are necessary to balance those individuals that are willing to rob the company blind when the opportunity presents itself.  Cultivate your enforcers and manage them as you would any other asset, because at some point you're going to need them.  19.2

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

 

Mark Carson discovers danger and deception as he investigates the shooting death of a brilliant engineer working with him at Global Guidance Corporation.

Mark Carson discovers danger and deception as he investigates the shooting death of a brilliant engineer working with him at Global Guidance Corporation.

This is the cover of  the Audiobook version of LEVERAGE, which I narrated.  The story revolves around an offbeat engineer working for Global Guidance Corporation who shows up one night at Mark Carson's house shot and bleeding out.  Mark decides to investigate the crime himself, and plenty of complications ensue as he uncovers a wild conspiracy.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

 

 

A Little Extra Compensation

Everyone likes to "win" when they negotiate.  Despite plenty of advice on working toward "win-win" scenarios, most of us feel better about ourselves if we drive hard for what we wanted, and captured the lion's share of any value on the table.

While this might work fine for most negotiations, I've found it doesn't serve a manager well when it comes to compensation of newly hired employees.  Push too hard, and you might win in the short term, but lose overall.

By design, the interview-offer-hire process is generally stacked in the employer's favor.  Employers demand to know everything they possibly can about the prospective candidate, particularly items that work to the candidate's disadvantage during the negotiation process.  This includes details of past compensation, bonuses,  incentive plans, benefits, and the like. 

Ostensibly, this information is needed to help the employer put together a "reasonable offer."  In practice, it is mostly used to temper the offer the company is about to extend, so that they don't bid any more than is absolutely necessary to get the candidate. 

The prospective employee, on the other hand, has virtually no information on the pay practices of the firm.  While they might get a general description of bonus or incentive plans, it has been my experience that the "devil is in the details" when it comes to these programs.  And the prospective employee certainly has no idea what kind of compensation is being paid to peers, superiors, or subordinates within the firm. 

Can you imagine a prospective employee demanding to know what the "other V.P's" take home in salary?  They'd be shooting themselves in the foot.  Yet having such information might put them on a more equal footing when it comes to any upcoming negotiation on salary.

Fair or not, this is the way our system works. 

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that when the company uncovers information unfavorable to the prospective employee (related to this compensation question), they use it.  Such information might include:  current employment status, unfavorable commutes or other logistics considerations in their current job, personal reasons to be tied to a particular geographic area, etc. .

This information is almost always used to justify reducing the offer to be made to the prospective candidate. 

Yes, it happens this way every day.  Question is:  Is it a good idea? 

In my experience, a little less aggressiveness by the company goes a long way toward building a solid relationship with the prospective employee. 

It's a lesson I learned the hard way. 

You have to expect the new employee to eventually figure out your game plan during their hire negotiation.  They are undoubtedly smart enough to realize you didn't offer them the opportunity to participate in the stock option plan because they didn't have that at their last employer.  They will eventually know you offered them thousands less in salary than their peers because they were unemployed when hired and desperate for a job.  They will become aware that their bonus percentage is lower because you could get away with only offering that amount because they were tied to the area by ill parents. 

All of these short term "savings" actions are the foundations for long term resentments.

Penny wise, pound foolish. 

In possibly the most egregious example I ever experienced, I hired a manager who was suffering with a terribly long commute while working for his current employer.  I diligently dug into his salary history, and realized I could certainly hire him for twenty thousand less a year than his predecessor had been paid, and ten thousand less than he was earning in his current job, just so he could get rid of his horrible commute.  

I jumped at the chance, feeling particularly clever for getting such a great bargain for the company. 

Unfortunately, it only took a few weeks before things started to unravel. 

The employee forged a form we used to process raises, giving himself a ten grand increase in pay.  While he never admitted to doing this, a short time before the fraudulent document appeared a peer overheard him say that he, "...didn't think he'd negotiated very well."

Of course, he was fired in short order. 

Some might say that I dodged a bullet with this hire, a conclusion which certainly has some truth behind it.

But I also learned that I was at least partially responsible for the situation.  After all, I created the potential for huge resentment on the part of the new hire by aggressively pushing down his pay.  When I looked at others where I had achieved similar "bargains," most of those deals had ultimately resulted in employee problems of some sort such as:  latent anger, refusal to accept added responsibilities, or the need for later "economic adjustment" raises to stop them from quitting (although no other outright thefts). 

From that day forward, I tried to handle my hires a little differently, following three basic rules: 

  1. Price the position, not the candidate.
  2. Assume the candidate will eventually become aware of how they compare to others. 
  3. Be willing to spend a little more to buy long term good will.

While following these rules means you spend a little more upfront in some cases, the positive attitudes and motivations inspired by doing so pay dividends by reducing the chances of long term resentments, early defections, or even outright dishonesty.  19.1

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Need help finding your way through a morass of politics in the workplace?  Navigating Corporate Politics can help.

Need help finding your way through a morass of politics in the workplace?  Navigating Corporate Politics can help.

 Shown here is the cover of NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS  my non-fiction primer on the nature of politics in large corporations, and the management of your career in such an environment.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

 

 

Being Friends with Subordinates

Conventional management wisdom warns executives against becoming friends with their subordinates.  The primary concerns expressed in this admonition are:  (1) causing the appearance of favoritism and, (2) a possible reluctance to discipline friends.

If you can manage these two concerns, there is no reason why you can't become friends -- even best friends --  with some of your subordinates.

Life is too short to spend 50+ hours a week standing aloof from people you actually like! 

Let's explore each concern one at a time, and I'll advise you how to manage them. 

I've previously blogged on the subject of "fairness" and the perceptions of subordinates.  Human beings seem to have a finely-tuned sensitivity to anything they perceive as "unequal" or "unfair," particularly in the behavior of those in positions of authority.  This capability is great at identifying unequal treatment, and usually interprets anyone getting anything "better" as example of "unfairness."

I'll argue that under this expectation, every supervisor or manager is going to be seen by at least one person working for them as "unfair."  Expectations for "equal treatment" inherent in the perception are virtually impossible to achieve by real human beings.  Sometimes being seen as "unfair" is simply unavoidable, and dealing with that perception is a regular part of the manager's task.

Favoritism occurs when the manager consistently seems to provide beneficial, unequal treatment to one subordinate.  While being perceived as "unfair" may be inevitable, showing favoritism is not.  The trick to avoiding this perception is to "spread around" the "unequal treatment."  Make sure when you treat subordinates unequally, everyone at some point gets a share of the benefits.

If you are friends with a particular employee, you won't be able to hide that fact from the balance of your subordinates.  People will be particularly attentive to how you treat this friend.  To prevent accusations of favoritism, you simply must dole out fewer "unequal benefits" to your friends than you do to the others.  You can address this with the friend directly, explaining how important it is for you to be attentive to this issue.  You have to expect MORE understanding and "give" friend, than you would an average subordinate.  If the employee is truly a friend, they will understand.  If not, they are unworthy of your friendship. 

In many private companies, a son or daughter of the owner is involved in the business.  If there is sensitivity over a friend, it is double for a child.  Yet, this relationship doesn't seem to cause problems as long as the owner clearly expects more performance and provides less "unequal benefit" to the child, than from others.

If it can work there, you can make it work for your personal friendships. 

On the second point -- offering the difficulty of disciplining (or even firing) a friend as a reason to avoid friendships, doesn't make sense to me based on my personal experiences.  I believe this objection is more of a theoretical argument than one born out through examples.  I've always had friends among my subordinates, and have never had any issues in disciplining them, or even firing them, when circumstances warrant.  In fact, it has often actually made the situation easier on both of us, because it allows me to level with the employee to a degree I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing if I was intentionally keeping distance between us. 

In one instance, I had a subordinate-friend who was responsible for a particularly troublesome remote site.  He decided to stick by a manager for that site who ultimately failed.  Because of my close relationship with my subordinate, I was able to warn him that he was putting his own future on the line by continuing to maintain his confidence in the manager.  Yet he stubbornly continued to do so.  When ultimately forced to fire the manager, I ended up demoting my subordinate as well.  While he wasn't happy about the situation, our ongoing dialog on the subject made the reassignment easier for both of us to manage.  

In another instance, I needed to make a decision to reduce headcount in my department by two direct reports.  I selected the individuals based solely on who I could do without for the next 6 to 12 months, not on their performance in their jobs.  One ended up being a friend, the other was not.  The non-friend's termination was pretty normal -- denial, anger, a few threats, with the subordinate ultimately appealing to my boss to try to get the decision reversed.  The friend's termination was totally different.  I was able to disclose more about my logic and reasons for selecting him (of course, I was careful not to say anything that could be misconstrued as improper).  We had a long conversation about the subject, and worked out a way that allowed for an easier transition for the subordinate, and a cleaner hand-off of responsibilities.  We parted, still friends, and remain friends even up to this day. 

While some of the difference in these two stories relate to differences in the personalities of the subordinates, I still attribute a lot to my tighter relationship with my friend. 

There is one instance where I had a friendship backfire -- during a series of evaluations the company was putting all managers through.  A subordinate I counted as a friend performed particularly poorly on the evaluation.  I explained the situation to him in detail, as well as discussing the implications for his career.  Had he not been a friend, I probably would have been a bit more circumspect.  That subordinate went directly to the Corporate HR department seeking confirmation of what I'd told him.  Unfortunately, he handled it in a ham-handed fashion, and there was some fall out that came back to me -- for being "overly frank" with the employee.  I stand by my decision to make the disclosure, but probably should have eased the employee into the implications to his career, rather than being so abrupt.  And I knew this particular friend was politically inept, and could have coached his follow-on actions if I had better thought things through. 

Go ahead and make friends with some of your subordinates -- life's too short to be holding everyone at work at "arms length" just because you're a manager.  But be careful to treat your friends no better (perhaps even a little worse) than other subordinates -- particularly when it comes to those visible items that are often pointed at by people as indications of favoritism.  And don't fear that your friendships will make those tough calls even tougher.  My personal experiences tell me that it is always easier to work through tough situations with friends than those you've held at a distance.  18.5

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for $2.99, as are various eVersions of LEVERAGE.

CEO Elwood Vilmont disappears into the British Columbia backcountry, kidnapped by criminals  demanding $100 million for his safe return.

CEO Elwood Vilmont disappears into the British Columbia backcountry, kidnapped by criminals  demanding $100 million for his safe return.

To the right is the cover of PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, a novel I'm currently working on, and hope to release before year end 2013.  This novel includes the return of Mark Carson and Cathy Chin from LEVERAGE   The pair are on the run from the FBI, hiding at a British Columbia resort specializing in Corporate retreats.   When a visiting CEO is kidnapped, the two corporate refugees can't help but become involved.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

 

 

 

Asking for Forgiveness

"It is often better to ask for forgiveness than permission."

These words are spoken thousands of times every day in the corporate world, and the underlying truth embedded in this statement is evident to most corporate veterans -- that rules often hamstring employees to the point that the need to go forward with what they know is right outweighs the need to follow procedure.  It is the notion that "all will be forgiven," however, that needs to be challenged. 

Following this simple rule of thumb comes with additional risks and inherent consequences that are often not recognized by its practitioner.  First and foremost among these is completely shouldering responsibility should your project or plan fail.

Early in my career, I fell victim to this particular consequence, by plowing ahead on a project without permission.  At the time, I was the primary sales contact with an important customer, and did double-duty by also acting as their engineering/development resource.  I'd been particularly irked by the fact that the customer incorporated one of our competitor's products in one of their models, and when the customer's lead engineer commented that he wasn't completely happy with that product's performance, I quickly volunteered to develop improvements for them free of charge. 

Of course, I didn't really have the authority to make that commitment.  But since I was technically volunteering my own time, I just did it anyway. 

Once back home, I poured hours into a series of product modifications that eventually did manage to provide marginal improvement to the competitor's product.  But in the process, I wasted dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hours.  And in the end, my customer didn't even incorporate the improvements in the product because of the additional costs. 

Of course, our commercial manager found out about the whole thing, and complained.  He would have preferred for me to spend my time working on a new design for a new potential customer.  My boss gave me a thorough dressing down for superseding my authority, and wasting the company's resources (mainly my own time).  Although I "asked for forgiveness" my behavior was not forgotten when my next review came up.

Another way you might fall afoul of this simplistic rubric is by technically violating a rule, and thus exposing yourself to political power plays by you corporate enemies.

While I managed to evade paying the ultimate price, I definitely had a close encounter with this tye much later in my career.  In that situation, I received a call late in the evening to discuss a "deal" one of my subordinates had been charged with arranging.  Without going into gory details, the subordinate had been negotiating with a very difficult distributor over changes to his agreement that would be unfavorable in the extreme.  Now, after days of tense discussions, he had a deal -- all I needed to do was approve it.

The problem was that the price tag for the agreement was well beyond of my level of authority.  Technically, I would need to call my boss at home, explain the situation to him, and secure his approval.  But I was pretty sure he wouldn't provide it -- at least not without endless reviews and demands to again renegotiate, which would likely have put us back at ground zero.  So I instead passed along my approval to my subordinate, figuring I could tidy things up after the fact. 

Big mistake.  I'd violated the company's rules defining delegation of authority, and I was subject to discipline -- up to and including my termination.  At that point, all it would have taken was for a powerful political enemy to campaign for my ouster, and it would have been a done deal.  I would have been summarily fired.

So just beware of " asking for forgiveness rather than permission."  When you take this step, you're assuming a much higher than normal risk, and exposing yourself to an even bigger than usual penalty for failure. 18.3

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for $2.99, as are various eVersions of LEVERAGE.

When faced with apparent wrong-doing by your employer, and interested government agents, what would YOU do?

When faced with apparent wrong-doing by your employer, and interested government agents, what would YOU do?

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

 

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

When is it a good idea to go after your boss? 

Never.  Not unless you're sure he won't be in a position to exact revenge.  Or unless there is some reward (I have trouble imagining what it might be) that outweighs the continuation of your career. 

The same logic exists for peers and even some subordinates, certainly those with ample political power to wield.

The fact of the matter is, no one likes to be embarrassed, "disrespected," ridiculed, or made to look small.  No one wants their dirty laundry aired.  Doing so almost always engenders animosity, and can produce long-term, motivated enemies. 

These were the exact thoughts that were running through my mind after I caught my boss in a well-crafted attempt to cover-up...something. 

He had signed off on a particularly ugly distribution deal when in a mid-level job several years earlier, one giving powerful rights to a distributor in virtual perpetuity without any checks and balances to protect the company.  When I first heard about this, it made me idly wonder what kind of pictures the distributor might have....

Interestingly, the company didn't seem to have a copy of the agreement anywhere -- I suspect for obvious reasons.  The distributor, however, kept one.  When we tried to squeeze him on a performance related issue, he was only too eager to show it to my VP of Sales.  The VP saw the signature on behalf of the company at the bottom of the contract.  His name proved my now current boss had been behind the agreement, or had at least approved it.  My VP of Sales kept a copy "just in case."

I knew I had some pretty embarrassing stuff in my hands -- the trouble was, what to do with it?

I could use it to embarrass the boss, cutting him down in front of my peers, or perhaps even board members.  But to what end?  His annoying sense of superiority made the idea somewhat tempting, but then what would I do?  He wasn't likely to be fired over the incident -- it was a good dozen years old, and there was no guarantee there was anything behind it beyond stupidity on his part.  If he kept his job, that would leave him in a position to exact revenge.  I could only shudder at the possibilities.

I could attempt to blackmail him with the information in a high-risk game of Russian Roulette.  Of course, I had no idea what had motivated him to sign the agreement in the first place.  As a result, I was unsure exactly what I "had."  Besides, blackmail was not my style, a tactic I strongly felt was hitting well below the belt.

I could leak the information, although in this case it would have been pretty obvious where it had come from, leading directly back to the retaliation problem. 

I even considered giving it to the corporate ethics officer and letting him sort things out.  He did work for the same guy I did (yeah, the one behind this terrible contract), making the risk of my name coming up far from negligible.  I had confidence in the ethics officer's integrity, and felt there was a good chance he would handle the situation properly, but again, to what end?  The incident, as I mentioned before, was old and likely would have led nowhere.  And while my identity might remain unknown by my boss, that would certainly not be true with respect to certain board members.  That could easily kill my chances for future advancement. 

Ultimately, as the incident didn't have any obvious moral or legal violations to it (although there was plenty of smoke), I decided to simply leave things alone.  Sometimes the high probability of something going wrong can make even the juiciest piece of political ammunition too risky to touch.  Sometimes it is best just to let sleeping dogs lie.  16.4

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Who is killing the CEOs of Kansas City?

Who is killing the CEOs of Kansas City?

To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT.   In this tale, some is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives for the killer.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

 

 

Entitled

In the world of work, we trade hours and effort for money.  It's the basic equation that makes work, well...work.

So why do we feel we're entitled to more?

Some of it is basic to human nature -- we look at what others receive for their effort, and think we should have the same.  We become obsessed with notions of "equal treatment" or "fairness" -- which, as a far as I can tell, usually is formulated as "I want 'mine' to be equal to the best received by anyone else."

And the attitude seems to grow over the course of long tenure within the organization.

You've probably seen it before, too.  The new employee is just happy to have a job and an opportunity to prove their worth.  After a few years, however, the focus starts to shift toward what can I "get" for my time, and how much is everyone else "getting?"  This is one of the reasons that companies hate it when people start comparing wages -- someone always ends up unhappy.

As length of service increases, so do the expectations.  A sense of entitlement tends to take hold.  Some employees begin to take advantage of rules and norms trying to bend things for the personal benefit.  They feel they're "entitled" to it, and somehow rationalize the behavior. 

Often expectations continue to grow, becoming impossibly high.  Some of the most senior employees become bitter and disenchanted (known in some circles as "disengaged").  They might be wholly or partially justified in these feelings, but even the best of companies seem to develop an undercurrent of resentment  within a significant cross-section of their senior ranks.

This attitude has its roots in comparison to others and personal measures of "fairness."  It is also often supplemented with an overestimation by the employee of their value to the company.  I once read an academic paper that pointed out over 80% of employees believe they are in the top 10% of performers in their company.  No wonder they feel entitled. 

This same phenomena also occurs with outsiders that have a long-term relationship with the company.  I've personally seen it in suppliers, consultants, and representatives/distributors. 

Dealing with the entitlement mentality is a long term battle, and one the manager can't wholly win on his/her own. 

Making progress starts with setting reasonable expectations -- that means realistic performance reviews, and both positive and negative feedback on how a person is really doing (as opposed to stoking the overestimation of value already likely to be present). 

Keeping personal information (like compensation or any special accommodations) a secret is also quite helpful.  This almost doesn't bear mentioning as it seems to be in the DNA of most organizations.

Getting rid of the most disaffected individuals is also a measure that will help, and will usually be understood by the majority of other employees. 

Beyond that, the only thing I've found to be even marginally helpful is to occasionally talk about the concept of "fairness" as it is usually interpreted in the workplace, and remind people what it is like to be unemployed and looking for a job.  On the whole, however, this will do little to change the attitude of the truly entitled person, but might at least point out to those a little less negative what is going on in everyone's head.  

There may be some "experts" that will claim this phenomena is (as they claim most things are) a function of "leadership."  In my opinion, a great leader can help reduce feelings of entitlement by keeping focus on the larger mission of the company.  But leaders can't change the tiger's stripes.  There seems to be something deeply within our beings that insists on all these comparisons and evaluations of the "equality" of treatment in the workplace.  16.3

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.  Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Deliverables Cover alternative 3 (787x1200) (2).jpg

 To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.   This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

 

 

Confiding in a Political Dunce

To paraphrase Harry Truman:  "If you want a friend at work, buy a dog."

While this might be sound advice, there aren't very many of us that can last for years friendless in the corporate environment.  I, for one, would find going to work each day in a friendless environment almost too much to bear.  But if you are going to make friends in your workplace, make sure you're aware of the limitations and dangers of doing so.

Most (but not all) work relationships are "friendships of convenience."  In these, proximity and shared experience tend to throw unlikely people together for the good of some cause.  But over time projects shift, people move to new assignments, and the political environment alters.  Today's ally might easily become tomorrow's opponent.  You would do well to correctly identify and manage this somewhat superficial type of relationship, and not allow yourself to become overly invested.

In one instance early in my career, I was deeply hurt when a "friend of convenience" transferred to a new job, and I found her my opponent during some particularly nasty departmental infighting.  At the time I felt betrayed, but later realized the truth -- the relationship never had real depth.  When it was convenient, the two of us were easy allies.  When the power structure shifted the other direction -- we became opponents.  Nothing personal, just "business."

Later in my career, I once found myself upset with my boss (a common enough occurrence).  In this particular instance, I confided the reasons for my irritation to a peer with whom I thought I had a friendship.  He apparently didn't value the relationship to the same degree I did, as he immediately ran to my boss and repeated everything I said.  I scratched that man off my list of "friends," regretting only that I'd realized his limited commitment to me too late to avoid a confrontation with my boss.

Even when relationships have more to them than just today's project or alliance, you must realize that your friend's political acumen could be disturbingly low.  In such instances, you must be very careful in what you confide, as your friend might very well betray your trust and not even be aware of it.

In a friendly boss-subordinate relationship I once had, I made the mistake of letting my subordinate know exactly what the CEO thought of him -- a gift that I thought would potentially save him years of frustrating lack of progress in his career.  Although even a modest corporate politician would have realized that I was taking a big risk passing this information along, this particular employee was a political dunce.  He immediately asked the head of Corporate HR (could there have been a worse choice?) for "confirmation" of the information I had shared.  This quickly led to an uncomfortable conversation between myself and the big boss, one where he ironically told me I was "too honest."

I've always had friends in the workplace, but over the years, I've learned to be very careful about what I disclose to them.  I manage this by continuously assessing the depth of the relationship, and understanding the political skills (and limitations) of my friends.  And while self-disclosure often leads to a tightening of relationships, I do so in a step-by-step process, taking plenty of time to make sure I'm on firm ground before bring up anything that might be seriously damaging.

And even with all that, I still make mistakes.  Maybe I should just buy a dog.... 15.6

Other Recent Posts:


If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Mark Carson runs to help manage the pain of a failed marriage.  Soon, however, he will be running for his life.

Mark Carson runs to help manage the pain of a failed marriage.  Soon, however, he will be running for his life.

To the right is the cover of LEVERAGE   This novel explores the theft of sensitive DOD designs from a Minneapolis Tech Company, and the dangers associated with digging too deeply into the surrounding mystery.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experience as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Cornering a Rat

Confront a dishonest person with the evidence of their errant actions, and you're likely to get some pretty wild reactions.  Frequently it is "deny, deny, deny," but I've also had employees fabricate wild lies or engage in elaborate cover-ups.

Oddly, I've never had anyone beg for mercy or ask for forgiveness -- despite what you might read in fiction.  I believe this is because, as reasonably intelligent (although perhaps immoral) people, the "bad actors" have already considered the consequences of their chosen path and have alternatives in mind.  Perhaps if they were to become so badly cornered that there was no alternative to begging, they would.  In practice I've never seen anything remotely resembling that actually occur.

The one thing you can depend upon when a "rat" is cornered is the unexpected.  Throughout my career I've repeatedly been surprised by the lengths some of these folks will go to in an attempt to cover their tracks.

Take the licensee I worked with in the Middle East as an example.  When the general manager of this business decided there was no way he could renew his agreement with us (we were refusing to allow further expansion of his territory), he decided to duplicate all our engineering drawings using his own letterhead, and put stickers over electronic panels he still had in stock, covering our logo.  When confronted with this subterfuge, he fabricated a letter that supposedly implicated one of our employees in an illegal trading scheme.  The fact that this would have also caused legal problems for one of his board members never seemed to slow him down -- he knew what he wanted, and would do whatever was necessary to get (steal) it.

In another incident, an HR manager working directly for me faked a raise for himself.  He forged my signature on the appropriate form (probably lifted it off of another page), and then approved the raise himself.  When caught he developed an elaborate story which involved a fake group of "militant" employees who were manipulating our payroll system to...well, I could never quite understand what the objective of the manipulation was supposed to be.  Not surprisingly he was fired, but not until we completed a detailed (and expensive) investigation.

Another employee who quit to go to a competitor was confronted with proof he had stolen file after file of sensitive data, and had clear intent to use this material in his new job.  He returned the original media to us, and claimed that bringing the materials to his home less than seven days before he resigned was "just an oversight."  I had to take that one to court.

In another bizarre incident, the second in command of a distributor we were courting decided to quit and open his own competing business.  Rather than admitting the truth, however, he spread an elaborate story involving an affair and a sudden move out of town.  I guess he wanted to buy some time before we figured out what he was really up to.  He managed to gain four days before we knew pretty much everything.

Once cornered, the rat may engage in all kinds of strange and disturbing behaviors.  I've experienced denials, lies, attempted blackmail (without basis), theft, and even lawsuits -- both "real" and ones based on fabricated "evidence."  The trick to managing your own "rat confrontation" is to be prepared for almost anything.  Make sure you know your options are for dealing with any imaginable crazy behavior before any confrontation is ever initiated.  While this won't completely prevent fallout, it will at least minimize the damage it might cause.  15.5

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

It doesn't matter if you are a political power player, or an observer just trying to stay out of the way, you need to understand the politics of your organization and how to cope with it.  This book will give you practical advice to do just that.

It doesn't matter if you are a political power player, or an observer just trying to stay out of the way, you need to understand the politics of your organization and how to cope with it.  This book will give you practical advice to do just that.

Shown here is the cover of NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS  my non-fiction primer on the nature of politics in large corporations, and the management of your career in such an environment.

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

I've experienced frank and painful evaluations, and I've handed them out, too.  They are never fun, and often they become something that is dreaded by manager and subordinate, alike.

But you can't beat an honest and direct appraisal when it comes to giving you the information you need to make a smart decision about your future.

Many (most?) managers tend to pussyfoot around when it comes to appraisals.  They bury deadly observations like a needle in a haystack, minimizing their impact and ( or so the manager hopes) any protest the subordinate might make concerning them.  But doing so is fundamentally dishonest, and it also is a huge disservice to the employee.  If the employee doesn't really know where they stand, they aren't likely to change anything.

I can almost hear a manager somewhere complaining that the fatal flaw exhibited by his subordinate can't be changed.  Or, at a minimum, experience has taught the manager that significant change is extremely unlikely.  Such rationalization hardly justifies a mealy-mouthed treatment of the problem area, however.  If there's a one in one hundred chance the employee can "fix" her issue by understanding it, that's certainly better odds than if she's completely unaware.  And if the situation is really as hopeless as the manager thinks, doesn't the employee have a right to know he has no future with the company, and should be looking for a better fitting job elsewhere?  Of course he does!

Let's dispense with the other argument I often hear -- that the employee might have a huge deficiency, but is desperately needed right now.  Does the manager's need  make it okay to lie to the employee when it is convenient to keep him, and blindside him later when the need has been sated?  I think not.  No employee is indispensable,  although losing a particular one might be inconvenient.

The problem with the typical review process is that it seems to be designed to support the kind of cowardly dishonesty described above, and to obscure (if not completely omit) the truth.

The best reviews I received during my career were short, to the point, and identified the two or three things (good or bad) that set my performance apart  from the herd.  They weren't always easy to hear.

The best review I ever received was delivered by one of my early bosses, when he summarized an otherwise lengthy "23 characteristics" with the comment:  "Gets a lot done, but sometimes pisses people off."  Those simple, clear and honest words had a big impact on the way I worked with my peers going forward.

In a later review (by a boss that was terrible at delivering reviews, no less) I heard the less clear, but still useful words:  "You know, sometimes you're a hard guy to have reporting to you."  That thought was delivered in conjunction with a comment about my reluctance to immediately communicate bad news.  I won't say I completely reformed after that bit of feedback, but afterward I was a lot more conscious of how my actions might impact my boss.

When delivering reviews, I came to loath the "23 characteristic" rating systems.  These always seem to have substantial areas of overlap, and there was a tendency to sum up the review with an arithmetic average of the scores on the individual categories.  In my opinion, this is absolutely NOT the way executives really evaluate people.

Instead, I adopted what I called the "elevator speech" review.  In it I tried to summarize what I would tell my own boss about a subordinate if I had only a minute.  That typically consisted of the two or three things the person did exceptionally well (assuming there were some!), and the one or two flaws that were causing them problems or holding them back.

A fictional example might sound something like:  "You showed amazing endurance continuing to work on improving project X until it was a success, but in the process you managed to alienate half of your team.  If you don't get your temper under control, no matter how well you execute projects, you won't last here."

And that would be all.

The similarity of the "elevator speech" review to those evaluations that had an impact on me is not accidental.  Honest, direct, and to the point became my motto.

Rarely did I ever advise employees to go back to school for an MBA (it usually doesn't change a thing in the minds of management -- what they see in the workplace is what counts).  Sometimes I might recommend a seminar to acquire a specific skill or piece of knowledge.  I tried to avoid the "adding it all up and dividing by the number of categories" phenomenon -- because that is not the way executives think about employees.  I sometimes recommended a course of action for improving flaws, but often left it in the employee's court -- afterall, they were often in a better position than I was to determine how to make significant changes work.

So, did my employees love this review technique?

I don't think so.  It lacked the "bad news wrapped in layer after layer of good news" character.  They sometimes walked away from the review, distress, angry or even in denial.

But it was reality.  It was actionable.  And in many instances it gave them critical information to change the trajectory they were on -- information that had been withheld by previous bosses.

Some successfully made behavioral changes.  Others tried, but couldn't manage to change things enough.  A few left when they realized they actually didn't walk on water.

But I never regretted being as honest with my subordinates as I could, even if it hurt.  And over the long haul, I'm betting many of them appreciate it, as well.  15.4

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Shown on this page is a montage of all four of the novel covers.

My four Corporate Thrillers in order of publication

My four Corporate Thrillers in order of publication

My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.  Most were inspired by real events.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Discarding Damaged Goods

Can you save an employee that is seen by your boss (or, worse yet, the CEO) as inadequate?  As a mediocre performer?  As damaged goods?

I've pondered this question repeatedly during my career -- having employed managers whom I judged as wholly capable in their jobs, but that my boss, for some reason, decided were "C players."  The causes of this harsh, and in my opinion erroneous, judgement tended to be all over the map.  Perhaps the employee made a silly mistake during a presentation.  Or perhaps they took the wrong side in a dispute.

I even saw one executive placed in the "discard" pile because he was unfamiliar with a somewhat obscure accounting concept related to asset impairment.  I guess he shouldn't have tried to fake it.

With most of these employees, I tried to somehow rehabilitate their image.  And in every case (with one notable exception), I was unsuccessful.

This might have been due to the personalities of the bosses involved in the various situations -- where they fervently believed in their own infallibility  when it came to the assessment of talents and shortcomings in the company's employees.  In most cases, these CEOs had very limited exposure to, and very limited understanding of, what the employees did on a day-to-day basis.

That never seemed to stop them.

My personal experience is limited to a sample of only four, so I readily admit that there are probably other, more open-minded, CEOs out there that might be willing to give a "damaged" employee a second or third chance.  There might even be CEOs that are progressive enough to accept the judgement of others about an employee.  I like to think that if I had ever ascended that final step to the all-powerful CEO job I would have been such a boss.  (Perhaps that's part of the reason I never got there!)

In my experience, CEOs don't work that way.

In one instance of an employee mis-identified as "damaged goods," I continuously ignored my boss's hints that the executive was "unsuitable" for his position.  That one cost me big, as my stubborn refusal to knuckle under was a contributor to my own ultimate termination -- and I failed to save the employee in question, as well.

In another somewhat similar situation, I worked with the targeted executive to try everything we could come up with to rehabilitate his image with the boss.  This included coaching, special projects to address perceived shortcomings, additional exposure to the boss, and plenty of argument on my part.  All of this proved to be useless.  I somehow managed to hold onto the executive until I was transferred to another assignment.  Shortly thereafter, the employee was moved to a "special project" that ultimately led to his separation from the company.

In the one exception, an extraordinary personal tragedy in the life of the targeted executive seemed to give the CEO pause in his campaign to force me to remove the man.  I was never sure if his opinion of the executive really changed, or if he simply stopped taking shots at him because it would "look bad." 

In every case, however, my resistance to the CEO's demand that I "discard damaged goods" caused damage to my own credibility, and ultimately hurt my career.  For my own part, I simply couldn't stomach the injustice of removing perfectly good contributors from the organization just because the CEO's perceptions were (in my opinion) off base.

In retrospect, I now believe that when the CEO identifies and executive as "damaged beyond saving," there is no point in resisting.  You're fighting a losing battle, and prolonging the agony for both the manager and yourself.  Better to give in to the boss's demands than fight it.

Or, perhaps even more importantly, it is a signal that you should consider moving on.  And when you do, look for a boss that doesn't feel compelled to force his (uninformed) judgements about your subordinates down your throat.  15.3

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

What if the only way to get the CEO's job is to kill her?  How would you do it?

What if the only way to get the CEO's job is to kill her?  How would you do it?

To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT.   In this tale, some is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives for the killer.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Battling Consultants

Okay, maybe you don't like your employer's use of consultants, in general.  Or maybe it's just a particular consultant you object to.

But despite your desires (and possibly your best efforts) one of these outside advice givers has burrowed into the company inner workings like a tick on an unsuspecting dog.  And worse yet, your boss is their "executive sponsor."

What do you do?

In my experience, you "go along, and get along."  There is likely little to be gained from visibly and publicly opposing the consultant, and plenty of credibility to be lost and goodwill to be wasted.

Once a commitment is made to an outside consultant, you're likely stuck with them until one of three things happen -- they totally mess something up, Board/CEO/Higher Management begins to question their value, or their sponsoring executive leaves, transfers, or dies.

You could start an underground campaign to discredit the consultants, marshalling your subordinates, allies, and political resources to try to point out their errors or other miscues.  Since they likely are wearing a huge halo (see my last post:  Familiarity Breeds Contempt) you're likely have a difficult and lengthy uphill slog getting anywhere with this approach.

A better plan would be to try to co-opt the consultants, bending or expanding their project in a direction useful to you.  This is sometimes possible as it provides the consultant some additional scope for his project (and more billable hours), and also may provide him additional insights that allow him to appear more knowledgeable about the company/industry than he really is.  If you're considering going this way, make sure to be straight with the consultant.  Embarrassing him is a sure way to produce a potent and powerful enemy.

The one thing you don't want to do, however, is to ignore the consultant's presence or think that she can't or won't impact you.

I observed this occurring while with one of my employers.  The company hired an HR consultant who sold the CEO on a leadership evaluation tool.  One of my subordinates did a particularly poorly on this assessment largely, I later learned,  because he didn't take it seriously.  Instead of thinking of his interview with the consultants as a "final exam" or as an opportunity, he decided it was a complete waste of time (I personally agreed with his opinion, by the way), and tried to make sure it took the smallest amount of his time possible.

That was a big mistake, and it cost him.  After the poor result, he was looked upon much differently by the CEO.  In this case "different" was not a good thing.

Consultants can remain embedded in the organization for a long time.  On consultant I'm familiar with has been milking one of my former employers for at least 18 years (and still counting).  Trust me when I say there is nothing anyone in management could do to dislodge her from that relationship -- the only way that happens is if she screws up, herself.

My personal experiences with getting consultants to help me advance my own agenda has been mixed.  Sometimes they see an opportunity and are sympathetic to my suggestions, while in other instances they seem to be firmly focused on their scope and mission and can't be diverted.  This almost certainly has to do with the charge they've been given by their sponsor.  I've never experienced any instance where there was a downside to trying, however.

Things do eventually change -- usually, however, at a glacial pace -- and the consultants eventually leave.  Your best bet might simply be to wait them out.

And sometimes strange things happen.

In one instance, I was the executive sponsor for an outside group brought in to perform operations consulting, and I had the entire project taken out of my hands by my boss.  He then proceeded to refocus the consultants on a completely different project, which really disrupted my plans.  But there was really little I could do about it.  Once the consultants had an opportunity to move up the organizational ladder, they jumped at it like a school of piranhas leaping at a monkey hanging over the Amazon.

In general, consultants can be a powerful political force, and one that you'd do well to respect and suspect.  Treat consultants -- particularly those with demonstrated endurance -- just as you would a strong and dangerous political opponent.  If you do this, you'll be less likely to suffer injury at their hands, and you might be able to use their work to your advantage.  15.2

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DELIVERABLES features VP of Information Technology Roger Follansbee, and introduces ex-CIA agent Joel Smith

DELIVERABLES features VP of Information Technology Roger Follansbee, and introduces ex-CIA agent Joel Smith

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.   This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The current "genius" in most companies is invariably the "new guy."  I wrote extensively about this phenomena in my post "You're A Genius!" several weeks ago.  I did not, however, mention the most common exception to the rule -- the outside consultant whose brilliance supersedes that of all employees.

When there's an outsider "expert" -- even if that "expert" is nothing more than a recent MBA school graduate, what we not-so-fondly referred to as a "green weenie" -- it seems inevitable that this person has greater credibility than even the most experienced employee.  Even greater credibility than the current, in-house "genius."

Why does this seem to always be the case?

For the same reason that the "new guy" trumps experienced employees -- the consultant's strengths are readily apparent, while his/her weaknesses are carefully hidden away.  In fact, a key for the consultant to obtain follow-on work is to never let this mask slip.  Never to let the guard down.  Maintain that facade of infallibility.

This contributes to a demeanor that many people object to in consultants -- a haughty, "oh you poor misguided fool" attitude that seems to creep into their interactions with anyone who isn't the decision-maker at the client firm (her, they normally suck up to).

Is this human nature?  To assume that the stranger is always more capable and skilled than those whom we know well?  Does familiarity really cause us to hold those closest to us in degree of contempt?  It certainly appears to be the case.

I remember a particular strategic consulting assignment undertaken by one of my employers that illustrates this phenomena.  

The charge to the consultants was to help us determine the best way to organize a group of autonomous divisions (the company's current management model), to push a new technology that should help them all -- some more than others.  It had been repeatedly suggested by the management team that we could successfully accomplish this by setting specific goals and tying compensation to them, but the boss wanted to explore "other options."

Dozens of interviews and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the consultants recommended that we do exactly what the senior managers if the group already knew was the best solution.  Sure, they added a few ancillary ideas that helped with implementation, but fundamentally the consultants did little more than validate our solution.

In another instance, my employer hired strategic consultants to help us "identify attractive industries" for acquisitions.  The senior management team wasn't lacking for ideas, and we knew the industries and markets that were arranged around us, and had a pretty good fix on the attractive candidates.  The unfortunate fact was there were few that stood out as spectacular deals of the type the CEO was after.

The consultants' final presentation covered a number of highly improbable industries that were far from our current lines of business.  And they weren't particularly obvious as "structurally attractive" -- our key criteria in the first place.  It looked like the presentation was going to be a massive failure, but the consultants saved the day by profiling a large company that was competing with us in some markets, and was active in others.  Indeed, the company was interesting because we would have significant synergies with the part that overlapped our business, and the other pieces had the potential to be platforms for further growth into new markets.  It was a home run recommendation, and saved their bacon.

The problem was, we had been salivating over this company for years!  Every time the potential for a deal with them was brought up, however, the CEO was reluctant to start a discussion because the company was so large.

When the consultants showed up and offered it as a recommendation, however, it carried the day.  Suddenly the company was a viable candidate that we could pursue, after all.  Eventually, the target was acquired and it turned out to be a spectacularly good deal.

Again, the consultants had more credibility than anyone on the management team, despite the fact that the balance of their recommendations were laughable.

Which brings me to some practical advice when it comes to consultants working in your organization.  When they show up, you should do your best to co-opt them for your own purposes.  Tell them with conviction what you think should happen to make the company better, what projects should be taken on, what acquisitions should be done.  You can specifically push agendas with them that would be politically impractical for you to push on your own, as they aren't likely to attribute their ideas to anyone specific in the organization -- after all, taking credit for their recommendations is a key part of their playbook.  

Then stand back and let them do some of the heavy lifting that you can't accomplish on your own.

And try not to resent the fact that, in the eyes of your firm's top managers, they have more credibility than you do.  15.1

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Click here to see the INCENTIVIZE page in a new window.

Click here to see the INCENTIVIZE page in a new window.

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

To the right is the cover for INCENTIVIZE.   This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Pushing Things Too Far

I'm well aware that I have a propensity to continue battling for projects, programs, and policies that I believe in -- a propensity that sometimes goes beyond the bounds of common sense.

And, based on plenty of observations, I know I'm not the only one.

The question I find myself asking about this is:  Why?  Why do I continuing to push when it's clear I'm burning political capital, and possibly credibility, in the process?  What deep-seated psychological need am I meeting when I continue to fight?

Ego?  Self-confidence?  Over-confidence?

I picture myself as the lone voice of reason in a sea of illogic.  I'm the underdog, forging ahead trying to accomplish what is right and what is good against the forces of politics, personal prejudice, and apathy.  And we all know that everyone loves an underdog.

But why do we?  Because we see the underdog obstinately sticking to their principles, confident in the righteous virtue of their position.  We all envision ourselves and our crusades in this way.  Sometimes, we need to take the fight all the way to the end.  Even when we know we're going to lose.

It's a matter of self-respect.  It's a statement that we will fight for what's right.  It's a matter of principle.

It can also be more than a bit stupid.

I found myself in just this position with a joint venture proposal.  The basic idea was something my boss didn't like and didn't agree with.  After he rejected it the first time, I went back and renegotiated the deal to remove those things he said were deficiencies in the agreement.  It was again rejected.  Oddly enough, however, I felt okay about the situation at that point.  I realized that I'd taken it as far as I could.  Pulled out every stop.  I'd fought the good fight and lost.  I retained my self respect.

In another case, however, my extreme perseverance carried the day.  This was an acquisition that I had been championing long and hard, and by force of personality , I was able to somehow push aside objections (a few of which were actually sensible) of my detractors, and "win."  The project was approved (Yeah -- I briefly celebrated).  The only problem was "winning" this battle ultimately resulted in losing the war.

Things went wrong almost from the beginning -- an over-reaction by a key competitor, a plant that was performing far worse than I'd been led to believe, a challenging management structure and a dose of suspicion all around.  Then the bottom dropped out of the market.  It wasn't as if those issues (other than the plant problems) had been identified up front, but suddenly I found the weight of the entire, struggling project on my shoulders.  I was alone, and I'd made sure I'd be alone by pushing so hard.

Given enough time, everything was fixable, except for the overall pathetic market demand, but ultimately the project was judged as a mistake.  And as a result I received two black eyes that contributed heavily to my ultimate departure from that job.

So while it may feel satisfying to push things to the limit, just be careful what you're asking for.  You should be absolutely, positively certain that you can convert the proposal to a success before you make it a "ditch to die in."  14.6

Other Recent Posts:

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Incentivize audio cover.jpg

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

To the right is the cover for the audio version of INCENTIVIZE.   This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experience as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Things are not Always What they Seem

The reasons management gives for the actions they take are not always completely honest.

I know, "shocking" right?  Spend enough time in a large corporation, and you'll find that consistent application of "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" is something to which few in management appear to be committed.

The thing is, while management seems to opportunistically leave out facts, or allow misperceptions to grow and flourish, I have rarely seen senior managers give outright lies.

I believe the reason for this is not (in most cases) a commitment to being honest, straightforward, or moral, but is instead due to practical considerations -- they know the consequences of being caught in an outright fib, and always want to leave themselves wiggle room in any future, potential mess.

Plausible deniability.

On those rare occasions when I've been privy to the truth and actually seen a bald-faced lie, I thought the liar either was foolish, or believed himself to be invincible.

Being committed to being truthful (which I tried to do as a manager, although not always with 100% success) can be a real hindrance.  I once had one of my bosses tell me that "...sometimes you're just too honest."  This comment came after I talked to a direct report about how poorly he had scored on a survey proported to measure senior management potential.  In another instance, I mentioned several idiotic assumptions in a particularly poorly analyzed project that I'd been saddled with, despite the fact that I knew my boss's fingerprints were all over the original proposal.  In good conscience I couldn't go forward pretending the idea was brilliant, but the execution was bad -- there were too many careers hanging in the balance.

What I've found most interesting are the lies and half-truths provided by others -- sometimes those quite high in the organization.

On of my superiors was "laid-off" when his "position was eliminated."  That was the official explanation, but the entire inner circle knew he'd been fired for trying to go over his boss's head.  The "lay-off" was a laughable fabrication that no one believed.

In another instance, I listened to a senior manager tell employees at a recently acquired company that they were involved in a "merger" of "equals," and that no one needed to fear for the jobs as the companies would be melded together slowly and thoughtfully.  I happened to know the acquisition plan was to close the facility in relatively short order.

The one that amazed me the most, however, involved a distribution contract that had been signed several years before by my boss when he held a different position.  I mentioned that although we seemed to have no record of the agreement, the distributor had shown us his copy and outlined the terms, which were, to put in mildly, terrible.  Almost disasterous, in fact.  I wondered out loud who could have possibly agreed to such a horrible deal.  He commiserated with me, remarking that it was, indeed, an awful contract, and also wondered who could have signed it.  Of course, I'd seen the distributor's copy of the document with my boss's "John Hancock" scrawled across the bottom.  I could only assume he either felt my knowing it was no threat, or that there was no way I'd ever figure out the truth.

When the chips are down, the pressure is on, and the situation holds potentially dire consequences, you should always read the "official" story with a jaundiced eye.  Look for what might have been left out, or what wrong impression the tale might be intended to leave with you .  In business, things are not always what they seem.

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

LeverageFINAL.jpg

Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

To the right is the cover of LEVERAGE   This novel explores the theft of sensitive DOD designs from a Minneapolis Tech Company, and the dangers associated with digging too deeply into the surrounding mystery.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experience as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

Giving Up on a Good Idea

We all think our own ideas are brilliant.  At least initially.  For those willing to test their ideas against some kind of objective standard (in business, this might be a rate of return calculation, or a strategic analysis), you can even gain some assurance that you are on a correct and reasonable track.

But what happens when your objectively tested "good idea" runs headlong into an organizational superior with prejudices against it?  Do you try to use logic and argument to win the debate?  Or do you give up, consigning your idea to an early grave?

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Not surprisingly, the answer depends on a couple of factors fairly easily understood:  (1) how "good" is the idea, and (2) how deeply seated are the boss's preconceived notions.

If the idea is only marginal, it is better to discard it immediately.  If you somehow manage to get around the superior blocking your path, and then something goes wrong with the ensuing project, you'll likely be facing more than an "I told you so" when the damages are tallied.

If the idea is a world changing innovation, however, the situation is quite different.  These kinds of opportunities are rare, and are definitely more worth pushing than something marginal.  It is also helpful to evaluate the likelihood of failure in implementation, as "good" ideas fail during implementation all the time.  I'd advise you to be much more aggressive on a "sure thing" than a "high risk" proposal.

Pre-assessing prejudice is much more difficult.  While it may be difficult to discover anything definitive, you can gather hints through a number of methods -- looking at what has happened in the past, asking other politically savvy players in the organization, or even floating some test balloons with the senior manager in question.  Even with hints, however, it is still quite likely that you will be off a bit when the idea proposal eventually hits the manager's desk.

In general, the stronger the preconceived notion, the greater the likelihood that you should simply give up on your proposal.  Bucking the boss again raises the risk involved in moving the project forward, and remember:  selling (and implementing) new ideas is all about the value of a success versus the risk and consequences of a failure.  This goes for both the organization at large, and you as an individual.

I learned this lesson by metaphorically beating my head against a wall on an acquisition that would have positioned my division to capitalize on a new, growth market.  The deal was complicated, moderately risky, and I already knew it ran counter to my boss's beliefs about the opportunity for profit.

Never being one to shy away from a good fight, however, I mustered all my analysis and logical arguments to try to carry the day.  Had I been carefully weighing the situation, I would have already given up.  But I was sure I was right -- the project would be a huge benefit to the company, and I wanted it to move forward.

So I made the proposal, anyway.  And it went down in flaming defeat.

Next, I gathered what I thought were the analytical weaknesses in the proposal, and I went back to renegotiate the deal.  What I actually should have done at that point was to file the project for good.

After successful renegotiations, I ran the proposal up the flagpole, again.  And again, no one saluted.

It was at that stage that I finally got the message.  Given my stubbornness it was a wonder that I didn't try to make an appointment with the board of directors in an attempt to end run my boss.  Perhaps I'd already learned something about knowing when to stop by then.

By calling an earlier halt to the proposal, I could have saved myself an immense amount of time, and also avoided the damage to my credibility and reputation that came as a result of "not getting the message."

Sometimes it is a better idea to give up a seemingly good idea, than to continue to press it too far.  By continuing, you'll likely either end up with a very high risk project with severe consequences for failing, or damage to your reputation for not having "seen the light" sooner.  14.3

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Mark Carson and Cathy Chin return as Matt and Sandy Lively in this adventure set in the wilds of British Columbia.

Mark Carson and Cathy Chin return as Matt and Sandy Lively in this adventure set in the wilds of British Columbia.

Cover for Pursuing Other Opportunities, my next planned release is to the right. 

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICSNove

ls: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013)-- note, the ebook version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time at Amazon for $2.99.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experiences as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.