Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Moving to the Next Level: The Art of Corporate Survival Part 2

You are always doing something that is going to take you, and the company, to the next level.


Please write this down in bold letters, and hang it by your bedside. Just as Krishna saw Arjuna sitting at the foot of his bed on waking up, every day on waking up you should see this sheet first. As you get up you should say "Whatever I do today will take my company to the next level".   Don't think too much of what the next level might be; it will confuse you into irrelevant detail. Also, don't ever acknowledge the fact that you have been working in the same position for the last three years, have seen several bosses declare that the department is going to move to the next level, have yourself declared several times to your subordinates that you all are moving to the next level, but in actual fact, you have been in the same position. For as long as you can remember you have not moved an inch; both mentally and physically. All you have been doing is hauling yourself from meeting to meeting declaring that in the next six months you have to move to the next level; and you have put on a paunch in the meanwhile. Don't think about such things – self doubt is the enemy of all things corporate. So repeat after me "This project <name the project> here is going to take the company to the next level!".  Practise saying this with a rising inflection in the tone.


Also remember, whenever you are asked, and several times without even being asked, you should say "We have made tremendous progress in the last six months". Why six months? Because it is short enough to be counted in this year's appraisal cycle, and long enough for you not to be challenged. Saying "one month" is an invitation to disaster, because everyone remembers what you actually did in the last one month. Say six months, and the listener will be vaguely impressed, after all, you seem to have been quite busy in the last six months, and there is something you must have done. So you must have made some progress, if you say so. And why does it matter that you say it? It matters because all companies take pride in having "SMART Measurable Actionable Realistic Time-bound" goals (note how "SMART here is recursive!),   but no one really has a clue what the goals are and how to go about measuring them. One of the ways to make people believe you have done a lot of work is to keep reiterating it; if you keep splattering it around, some of it is bound to stick.


Look at the downside. If you don't say that you have made tremendous progress, who will say it for you? People will start having nagging doubts about you – have you been to the zoo and looked at a cage full of gorillas? What do you expect the gorillas to do? Beat their chests of course. If all the gorillas are beating their chests and snarling at you from inside the cage, but for one, who stares self-deprecatingly and looks at his feet, what do you conclude? You conclude that he is a wimp, and write him off. The same thing happens in the corporate world to those who don't thump their chests loudly once in a while. They get written off, and come next appraisal, they will see their peers walking away with all the bananas (sorry, increments).


All bosses like to see you aspire for something above and beyond. You need to constantly give the impression that you are striving, and thus doing your best to maximize the boss' welfare. How better to do this than constantly trying to move to the next level? Giving too many specifics like exact numbers and quantified goals are quite dangerous; a very confident assertion of movement (to the next level, just to make it very clear) is sufficient. However, be very sure to say this with utmost confidence while looking people in the eye. A shifty-eyed mumbling that "we are going to move to the next level" along with lots of shuffling of your feet just won't do.  The right body language is very important.


As to the "we have made tremendous progress" bit, it is also like one of these self-affirmations that they tell you to repeat, like, "day by day I am becoming better in every way". It is a self-fulfilling assertion, self-fulfilling not in the sense that you actually have made progress because you said so, but in the sense that if you say it enough times, maybe you start believing it yourself.  Such a belief serves to keep your self-esteem intact.


As to how it is possible that everyone in the company is constantly striving to move to the next level, everyone has made tremendous progress in the last six months, and yet everyone seems to be collectively in the same place, is a mystery worth pondering upon. I have pondered upon this many times in my career but have not reached a conclusion. I guess it is best left unsolved as one of those eternal mysteries of corporate life!


kishore rathod said...

Superb piece Dineshbhai...your two installments have the makings of a book on corporate bullshitting. All the best!

chandar said...

Terrific Dinesh. You missed out the part on leading enterprise wide initiative. Is it coming in part 3 a

Anonymous said...

Well expressed Dinesh. Like those designations that keep getting longer without adding any money or power; Deputy General Global Assistant Vice President.