Career, Yours!

This is not an easy subject to tackle but I am giving it a try.

First, people need to have a plan, a long-range plan that is mapped out with as much detail as possible.


Gary North has a plan: Make Yourself Indispensable.

The following was created by forum member, Alpha, on May 4, 2015.

Another good idea at work I’ve used recently and the boss likes it:

Whenever your role in a company is a service role to internal customers (e.g. responding to detailed or technical questions in your specialty, helping out with something only your division does, etc.), make sure you have a standard half-page letter on company letterhead that you give to everyone. It is a general letter that you don’t normally need to change or update and should have the following information:

1) Who you are and [your] contact information.
Many people in companies don’t know where to go to get the problem solved that your division solves. They just go to whomever they know. Make sure you let them know that you are the appropriate POC and they should come to you or your supervisor to get this problem solved. This prevents frustration when people don’t know who to go to.

2) What your division will do for them.
Some people have a problem and don’t know how to solve it or even what is needed to solve it. They just assume someone else will do it. This makes sure that you manage the expectations from the beginning. Others have no clue that your department provides as many services as it does. This lets them know that you can solve their problem in a better or more complete way. It also establishes what you won’t do.

3) Ask[. . .] for an intranet or hyperlink to all required files in the format that you want.
Make sure that you get all backup documents in the file format you want. You don’t want to be the guy who has to get all kinds of IT permissions to access a particular network drive. You don’t want to be the guy scanning and organizing data sheets. You especially don’t want to be person who has to concatenate hundreds of PDF files because each separate page is a separate file. Let the customer know how you need the files to carry out your duties. Put the low-marginal value work back on him while you complete what your department specializes in. Don’t worry about offending– a simple “I need the files to be in the particular format, on this drive, with no restrictions on read access to get you a good product in a timely manner.” My major obstacle at work is that project managers like to keep their files restricted and grant access only to specific people. I need a copy of the files to be open and under my control to work effectively.

4) Tell them to call anytime if they have questions.
In bureaucratic stovepiped organizations, departments are trying to hide info from one another and inevitably produce bad service. People in departments distrust people in other departments. You’ll hear comments like, “we’ve tried to work with them for years now but they’re useless.” Pretty soon, the narrative becomes the organizational truth even when there is no evidence to support it. Break the mold. They won’t expect it.

5) Tell them when you will have the work done.
Don’t ever leave a deadline open. If they don’t give one, ask if XXX amount of time is good [and suggest a deadline].

6) Ask if there are any particular concerns they want to emphasize.
I haven’t had many people answer this. They’re usually just thrilled that someone is talking to them and trying to help.

My particular example:
At work, I am in a team of engineers who evaluate design submittals for building construction and renovation. The engineers are separate from the project managers (PM). The PM’s always complain about how useless the engineers are and don’t like to use them. The field offices and technicians hate the entire regional office with PM’s and engineers. The engineers are clueless but the engineer supervisor is trying to reform things.

I generated a standard letter letting people know that I coordinate all technical reviews of projects. I tell them that each submittal will be reviewed by an architect, electrical engineer, mech. engineer, fire protection engineer, etc. I outline every discipline. I tell them when the work will be done. I ask if there is any. Everybody who has interacted with the engineering team for a review raves about us now. They had no idea that we did all of these things. They had no idea what the process ‘black hole’ looked like once they sent something for review.

Have a short form letter ready for internal customers. Spread it around through your supervisor. You’ll frame the narrative and get known as an organizational problem solver.

Additional note:
I’m trained as an engineer in an engineering position. I’m competent but not a technically skilled engineer– it wouldn’t be difficult to find someone more skilled than me in my field. But I’m very good at solving organizational problems. If you can solve organizational problems for your boss, you will make yourself uniquely valuable. The standard letter detailed above is one way to do this.


The Fundamental Law of Self-Promotion Inside a Bureaucracy: A First-Hand Account

AlphaSeptember 30, 2014

Sam Rayburn once said, “To get along, go along.” It is the fundamental rule of getting along in a bureaucratic organization.

I decided to put it to the test and report results here. Keep in mind that my sample size is one, and I work for the federal government. So here it goes.

See this thread: is the pertinent part of when I was a second-level manager in my last position.

Fast forward two and half months to today. Departmental productivity is up over 300%. Time spent on waste is reduced to zero or severely limited. Departmental man-hour capacity spent on value-adding projects is over 95% and should approach 100% over the next month. We are actively using tools like FMEA, project scope statements, stakeholder registries, requirements traceability matrices, RACI matrices, etc. The department has deadlines and a few metrics now. People are not only uncovering and bringing problems to me, they are actively implementing or proposing solutions. Other departments want to work with us and are amazed at how good the relationship is. Nobody spends time fixing the blame. People focus on problems and solutions.

I knew I had really hit it head-on when one of my engineers sent an e-mail back to an adversarial department identifying the issues under contention and overtly separating them from the relationship while recommending a solution (no finger pointing or coming to me to solve the problem).

Every day I come to work and say, “Fix the problem not the blame.” They do. Nobody makes excuses anymore. My department is not world-class by any means, but we’ve come a long way. To tell you the truth, I’m probably the biggest impediment in the department now–they don’t need me. One more year, and I could probably turn this into an organization that others could benchmark to, but I’m not the permanent replacement, so not my choice.”

I transferred back to the United States to a non-supervisory senior engineer role. I decided that, no matter what, I would go along to get along–barring ethical violations. I have only submitted one good idea, and when my manager said it wasn’t the right way to go, I backed down, and didn’t bring it up again. I no longer submit ideas. I do not stand my ground or get defensive in any way. I do reports and spreadsheets exactly as my managers want them. If they want to make minor changes, I tell them I’ll have it in their inbox in 5 minutes.

I have learned the legacy computer programs everyone else hates using. I simply stand by in meetings and then ask how my managers would like me to implement the idea. I do exactly what I am told, and no more. As a matter of fact, the few times I have gone the extra mile, things didn’t turn out so well. I am the least technically experienced person in several departments, but am one of the most favored. I even openly say that I go along to get along.

I am amazed at the results. After being here two months, I am the departmental ‘golden boy.’ Managers regularly bring me in on conversations where they are planning long term. They complain about other employees in front of me. When something has to get done quickly or just so, they come to me. I am regularly thanked for my ‘hard work’ and ‘going along with the plan instead of arguing.’ I am invited to eat lunch with my bosses twice a week. I have no doubt that were I to stay in this office long term, I would reach the top grades. If you saw me in this position, you would probably consider me a cheerfully brain-dead person.

Few people have experience on both sides so here are my conclusions.

The “go along to get along” bureaucrat is a useless person who has no substance other than attaining the next grade in a bureaucratically oriented organization. To a smaller entrepreneurially oriented firm, I would be considered no more than deadweight, and summarily fired. I would myself fire someone acting like this in my last position (if I could have). Unlike my last position, I have no solid results to put on my resume.

The person who stands his ground in a bureaucracy hurts himself and will accomplish little. The engineer I respect most in the organization is a fire protection engineer who is regularly reprimanded for standing his ground. He refuses to approve technical plans by contractors, and he makes a stink when he believes it violates the fire protection code. I go to him regularly for technical instruction–and then translate it to something palatable to managers.

In any organization, I am not sure that there is a middle ground between being effective and succeeding bureaucratically. I think that one has to accurately sum up his personality and then find an organization that matches it.

In a large bureaucratic organization, I am amazed that anything gets done. I think it is only because of high barriers to entry, such as economies of scope, economies of scale, legal monopolies, high capital requirements, etc. Were these barriers to drop, these large organizations would go out of business. A friend of mine today who has sat in on board meetings of large corporations says that his impression of most executives matches Peter Sellers in the movie Being There.

Lastly, many of the battles I fought while an effective manager probably could have been solved more diplomatically and weren’t worth fighting. Jousting at the windmills is rarely an effective tactic in any organization. The only battle I had no chance of coming out ahead on is when I crossed swords with a senior manager’s paramour who was a subordinate manager.

Not all is wasted. I’ve learned some valuable things here. First, I am finding that the people who hide behind the “the only reason I stand up to them is that I have integrity” are in general lazy jerks. Those with integrity and moral courage rarely toot their own horn. They merely act according to their own code.

Second, the time to object in any project is not at the 95% complete review. Do this at the 10% or 30% phase.

Third, there are always ways in any bureaucracy to get your objections implemented without heartburn. For example, I explained to one colleague that writing a letter to the executive director complaining about something will get action, but all he had to do is wait one more month and have the statement of work ready when the finance folks are desperate to spend money to zero out the budget at the end of the fiscal year.

Third, people in bureaucracies are in genera so lazy and incompetent, that if you can quantify a positive result of what you want to do, he’ll back you all the way. His numbers depend on things like this.

Lastly, sometimes the boss just wants things done a certain way, and he doesn’t want anyone changing, improving, or arguing with it. This is the ‘labor’ solution rather than the ‘problem solver’ solution. So, if the manager wants this, just provide it.

It’s been an interesting run doing this, but I think I need to be moving on. I need to be in an organization where I actually have some value and the organization’s actions and goals matter. I wouldn’t want to look back at the end of my career and say that the only I ever did was go along to get along.