I’m not a sociologist. I’m not socio-anthropologist. I’m not a forensic psychologist. I’m not even an apologist. I don’t have a Ph.D. in organizational dynamics. I was a liberal arts major and my graduate studies were in French. (Tant pis.)
Though not credentialed in behavioral studies I am nevertheless an avid observer of people, and it so happens that IT consulting is the perfect job if you’re a student of human nature. As a fellow student you’ve probably discovered that there is no lecture for this class. There is no textbook. No, you cannot get a soft-copy of the handouts.
I have learned many truisms about behavior in business and I thought I’d share a handful of them here. The list below reflects what NOT to do, which is in my experience a very effective way of teaching and learning textbook or no textbook. None of these is true of you, of course, but one or two might induce a knowing chuckle or a vivid memory - but hopefully not a jump out of the 5th story window.
1) Stop with all the meetings.
There are too many meetings because there’s not enough ownership. You don’t have to memorize Patrick Lencioni’s “Death By Meeting” to understand that the need for consensus is inversely proportional to the existence of decision rights. And why don’t decision rights exist at most companies? Because then people would be on the hook to actually deliver something. They’d be measured on their performance. And we can’t have that now can we?
(Okay. That was a little too cynical. Maybe a bit too freshly-minted. I’ll lighten up on the next one.)
2) Show your management Number 1.
They don’t know it. They’re too busy managing-by-personality and not looking at the work.
(That wasn’t very diplomatic. Don’t worry, the next one’s a softball.)
3) Stop caring too much. It compromises your credibility.
The phrase, “OmiGOD there’s a dangling foreign key in that logical model, we need to have a meeting RIGHT NOW!” should not leave your lips (and see Number 1, above). Variations on this theme include emails in capital letters, making public examples of people’s foibles (professionally and otherwise), and the need to “get everyone in a room.” More subtly people who care too much often emit guttural noises from the larynx like, “Humph!” or “Grrrrrr!” when they’re vexed. If you have a Big Idea and no one’s listening it means they’re not ready for the message yet. So wait. You can always finger-wag and say “I told you so” later.
4) Never finger-wag and say “I told you so.”
There are many reasons not to do this, and you heard them all from your mom so I won’t list them here. This morning I took a call from a V.P. who’d issued an RFP last year and didn’t choose my firm. “We should have used you guys,” he admitted sheepishly. “We were stupidly price-sensitive and it’s been eight months and I’ve got nothing.”
(See what I just did there? Don’t do that.)
“How do we engage you guys?” he said.
“We can be there next week,” I said.
5) Honor the introverts.
You have colleagues who like to hang in the doorways of people’s cubicles and chat. They think out loud, and have a lot of meetings (see Number 1, above). These are the extroverts. They get their energy from human interaction and like immediate feedback.
You also have colleagues that don’t pipe up in meetings. They’re the introverts. They’re thinking in their heads where I would argue the thinking should be done. They’re processing what’s been discussed (usually by the extroverts). That music you hear at the end of every staff meeting? It’s the introverts quietly singing, “Free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” Circle back with them after meetings and get their thoughts. Solicit their ideas in writing. Just because they’re not vocal doesn’t mean they’re not savvy and full of Big Ideas.
6) Quit the chest beating.
They knew from your e-mail signature and your voicemail greeting - and, admit it, from the lipstick on the restroom mirror - that your employer is the biggest [x] in the [y] industry, or that your company was the first-to-market with the i-whatever, or that your boss’ boss’ boss was mentioned in a sidebar on Forbes.com. You might even be a Decision Maker at this Big Company. Remember this: If it doesn’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter. (Strike me down if that’s not a direct quote from none other than Cher.)
Where will you be in five years?