Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Survival-made-easyfor executives

By ANDREW LEE
andrewlee@thestar.com.my

How to Relax without Getting the Axe
Author: Stanley Bing
Publisher: Harper

FEW people working in large businesses seem content with their day-to-day jobs. The initial diligence that any newcomer displays is unsustainable as soon as he finds out that business is a hamster wheel, that he is the hamster running all day long, huffing and puffing to keep things turning.

As soon as it dawns upon the newcomer that there is in fact no future (or a bleak one, at the very least), work becomes a chore, effort is kept to a bare minimum, and quality of the final product is compromised. The newcomer eventually rises to a certain position where he no longer has the opportunity to advance any further, thus becoming the bitter and disgruntled employee who is stuck in a situation where staying on and quitting equate to the same thing – hardship.

Yet, for every obligated rodent who keeps the wheel running, there is a sleek furball happily “working” in the corner office down the hall. These guys seem to contribute less, and are often more unreliable and irresponsible. However, they soon rise to the top on the back of hefty bonuses and “business meetings” to various countries. The rodent, it seems, eventually mutates into the fat cat.

These crafty people have mastered the concept of executive life, what Bing describes as “the middle ground between slavery and unemployment”.

In his book, he goes on to explain the executive life. Citing examples such as the provision of big bucks with bonuses (in spite of screwing up), US$150 lunches, the loss of touch with reality, as well as drinks with “friends” who would like to see you dead. According to Bing, the secret of happiness is to live such a life whether one deserves to or not. The fact is that nobody deserves to. Therefore, to quote Bing: “Why shouldn’t you not deserve to at the same high level as other guys who don’t deserve to?”

The book teaches us a phalanx of ploys, evasions, hoaxes and clever swindles grouped together under a simple name: Executricks. Along the way, Bing guides us through the core skills that no budding office ear picker can afford to do without - delegation (telling people what to do and having them do it), absence (operating from the digital vacuum), abuse of status (it can be done), decisiveness (even when confused) and engagement (but only when necessary).

Bing cites a few examples of respected figures who have mastered executricks. The greatest delegator in history, Ronald Reagan was widely chastised back in the day for sleeping during meetings and allowing his wife to act as the actual chief executive. Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest American presidents, with nary a word implying that he snoozed through the majority of his second term.

Today, great potentates such as Putin, Jobs, Gates and Kim Jong Il are honoured more in the breach than in the observance most of the time. They have mastered the ability to be the perceived train drivers when they are, in effect, invisible. Can you imagine a Kremlin worker complaining about how lame his boss is for not having been in the Pedestrian Control Department for years? No – the reason being that Putin is totally there, even when he’s not.

It may seem this is the perfect book for those who intend to shirk responsibilities, however Bing makes it clear in one of the final chapters in the book that work is inevitable to the executive. Work is like crisis; there is usually one waiting to happen. The goal therefore is clear – to work with maximum power for the shortest amount of time possible.

But how is one to know what work is, and what isn’t? Thankfully, included in the book are several important definitions of work:

a) Professional expertise, accumulated by you over a period of time, is needed;
b) The need to “get things right the first time” is not imaginary;
c) You get paid for it, and if you don’t do it you don’t get paid at all; and
d) Somebody told you to do it.

The key when the alarm bells sound are to treat every piece of work as a battle. There’s a reason why business types love to read biography and history – it provides them with a useful metaphor! There are numerous conflicts that one could be dealing with during work, and as long as one manages to avoid getting bogged down in long-term unwinnable campaigns (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), one should be fine. Transform these into short, hard pitched battles, and one can give up work and get back to “work”.

A word of caution. This book is not for budding yuppies looking to rise to the top of their respective businesses or management consultancies. There are various self-help, motivational and Warren Buffett-type books available in the market for such cases (although fetching tea or coffee while staying attentive to the various needs and wants of your boss probably helps as much, if not more). Rather, this book is for the person who realises his or her standing within an organisation, and intends to derive the maximum utility from such a position.

Bing’s ethics might be questionable – but then again, so were Machiavelli’s in the medieval period. And nobody called Sun Tzu a saint either, yet both men are exalted on the same podium as a certain Ronald Reagan. The same fate awaits Putin, Gates, Kim Jong Il and whoever else is able to master the subtle yet effective skills of executricks. Now if you will excuse me, there is a sandwich I need to enjoy.