Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Art of Corporate Survival

After working for twenty-five years for large corporations, I decided to do something else and got out of the rat race. That was about nine months back and I am enjoying every moment of my new-found freedom to do the things I've always wanted to do. What use is working for so long in an environment so rich with all kinds of characters if you can't pen down the lessons you have learnt for posterity? In that spirit follows this guide to working ( or not working as the case may be) in a large modern corporation.


Once you have worked for long, unreasonable deadlines don't faze you – like your boss telling you on a Friday evening at 4, "Can you work on this report and let's review it on Monday morning as soon as I'm in?" He normally comes in at 8 (bosses have this nasty habit of doing that) and he has just told you yesterday that he is off to Kabini shooting elephants (with the camera of course) for the weekend.  Does this faze you? Not at all.  You will drag yourself to office over the weekend, along with your entire team, and then get over it later by devising a devilishly convoluted project for your team that will help you extract revenge for the whole of next week.


If you are smart, you will know in advance what your boss is likely to ask.  You can never be sure of course, but at any point in time there will be three or four topics that seem to occupy precedence in the minds of senior management.  So you devise a procedure to be ready at all times by having reams of data and dozens of Powerpoint graphs at your beck and call.  This is of course easily achievable since you have a team reporting to you – you have to be smart enough though to never let them know that most of their work is never used.


You will be asked to make presentations at the drop of a hat.  Like when you meet your boss at the Rest Room and he says something like "Why don't you drop by at our Leadership Team meeting at 2 and take us through that stuff you are working on?"  By now, you have gotten used to this.  What you have to remember in such a situation is that the people sitting there don't really know what you are up to, and don't really want to get into the details. So you put some numbers together - don't worry how relevant they are - convert them into some fancy graphs, the more colourful the better, and put those in the Appendix.  For the body of the presentation you don't use any numbers. You put some stuff involving words like strategy, alignment, vision, goals, immediate priorities, long-term focus – the list goes on – in fact, I used to maintain a list of such words in a small book that I carried in my pocket.  You enter the room at 2 p.m. with a sang-froid that befits a person who is in full control of what he does.  You spend your allotted time stringing a story around the words that are put up there.  When it comes to question-answer time, liberally flash the slides in the Appendix – don't worry, no one will catch any errors – that proves that you are a details man (when required) and you have gone down into depths which leadership team will never reach.


You have your own ways of handling emails.  You first look out for mails from your friends which are unlikely to have anything to do with work.  You read them with interest. In fact, this is the part of the day that you most look forward to.


You don't want your mail box to be cluttered too much. So you have figured out your ways of deleting stuff. Out of long years of experience you realize that most mails are just cc'd to you out of spite.  The organization likes to keep people busy reading mails.  The trick is to scan the title and decide without opening the mail, if it is of this kind.  You have to be somewhat psychic to do this, but you develop that ability over time.  You delete these without reading. Then there are those mails from these particular individuals which are always configured to go automatically into the Delete folder.


Whenever you are out of office for a few days you find your inbox cluttered with a couple of hundred mails on your return. The trick here is to just delete them without any mercy.   Don't worry, nothing will happen, just do it!  If it's important, it will come back to you. Mostly, it never does.


Now that leaves you with a few dozen work related mails that you have to do something about every day. Here is where the art of email delegation comes in. I am assuming that the organization is paying at least a couple of individuals to attend to your every need – it's called Direct Reports in modern parlance.  You forward these mails to them after giving them a cursory glance with comments like "Please handle", "Please see", "Please speak to her and find out what she wants", "Please complete and review with me", "Please submit", "Please file", etc.  There is also the "Please discuss" which brings your Direct immediately to your table with his notepad in hand.


There are certain things which you have smartly done of course.  Though you handle your email in this batch fashion not more than twice daily, no one comes to know.  You achieve this by setting your alarm clock for random hours of the night.  When your alarm goes off at 3 a.m. you go to your PC (it's already booted) and forward a couple of mails – the more people who are cc'd the better.  This technique immediately places you high on the dedication scale.  Every one in top management, especially bosses, likes to see you working round the clock.  You also have  this nice app from a friend of yours which rings the alarm on your mobile every time your boss sends you a mail. 


Occasionally, one of the deleted mails will come back and bite. "What happened to that thing you were supposed to revert on – the whole project team is waiting only for you to respond".  There are several ways to slip out of this one – most of them involve one of three things – saying you delegated it to that manager of yours who is getting increasingly lax nowadays, something needs to be done about him; somehow getting him or a friend on the project team to forward the mail again to you; and reminding the questioner about something he has not done.  This one comes with experience – you will hone your techniques over time.


There are several other things one can talk about when it comes to corporate survival.  But I've reached my word limit – and anyway the trick is, never deliver completely on a project – always keep the audience waiting for something more, else how will you survive?

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