As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, procuring a Work/Office Spouse is a most excellent way to make the work week much more pleasant to get through. However, there are other ways in which you can make your work life easier. The central point of these days is this: understand where the real power is.
No, it’s not in the hands of management.
In a standard corporate environment, power resides mainly in two places: Administration and IT. Admins are the people, at varying levels, who get things done. And in administration I am including everyone from the folks who order your favourite pens to those orchestrating the move of your entire office. They manage the lives of executives and forge relationships with an unparalleled network of internal and external contacts. People are nice to them, if they’re smart, because they know it’s the only way to get access to the people the admins manage, and because the admins know how the business really operates. Hell, the admins ARE the way business really operates. They know what’s going on on the surface of the business and underneath. They know which direction the political winds are blowing and what the real pecking order around the office is. If there’s trouble, who else (along with IT), besides HR, is going to know about imminent hirings or firings? They can get you anything you want or prevent you from ever getting anything. And they have all the best gossip. 🙂
I have been an admin, in a number of capacities and environments. And most of the time, I love it. I love the variety, and being useful, and managing a million things, and holding the puppet strings. I am the kind of person who becomes the go-to girl in just about any environment I end up in. That’s who I am and what I do. I’m good at it. Yes, it requires dealing with asshats sometimes, and doing things that are an insult to your intelligence and time sometimes, but it’s an important function, and you will never run out of things to do. It will also develop your thinking and abilities so that you can manage pretty much anything. Deal with a 200+ person corporate event, which you have been planning for months and changing up until show time, full of fancy pants guests and the highest maintenance Sales people, for over a week, in a foreign city, at an unsuitable hotel, on no sleep, fueled by endless coffee and cold pastries and you will never stress over planning a dinner party again. Besides, suites at the Four Seasons don’t suck. 🙂
It is important to remember, also, that corporate culture has changed somewhat. I believe we have California and the dot-com to thank in part for that. But also it simply reflects a destratification of society. The workplace, like society, employs a different, more fluid, more egalitarian structure now. Hierarchy isn’t so easy to define. You can’t demand that anyone go get you a coffee. (If you don’t want to be skewered in a tell-all thinly-fictionalized New York Times bestseller, that is…)
Besides the administration, also imperative to the goals of getting what you want and making life easier for yourself is ingratiation with IT. Whether it’s the person who unlocks your account when you’ve managed to screw up remembering your password again, or the development team that is going to have to build that software you promised that doesn’t actually exist yet, these people make the machinery of the company run. Fortunately, they tend to fit a certain personality type, and getting in tight with them isn’t hard (at least not for me…)
Understand that IT is a high-level job. It requires education in pretty complex stuff and constant training and learning and has its own vocabulary and pays pretty well – much like being a doctor – and yet, like being a GP, it’s essentially a customer service job. Yes, I just said that. IT is customer service. Sorry, the days of crotchety, black-clad, chain-smoking sysadmins hidden away in some warren in the basement, working system magic and hating all other humans have largely gone the way of the dinosaur. Nowadays, IT people need to work with other departments, go to meetings, wear suits sometimes (*gasp*) and, generally, play well with others. (Yo, Mark, pay attention.) They’re a department like any other. However, the combination of high-level intelligence and skills combined with customer service (especially other people’s misguided ideas of what that entails and what level of respect it should engender) don’t often co-exist well. Because, like Administration, while the people in IT are often among the most intelligent, knowledgeable, and useful in the company, they often don’t get accorded the appropriate level of respect. “Fix it! Fix it now!!!” People don’t call the VP of Marketing at 3am to make hysterical demands. And yet, in my experience, many people think nothing of doing it to IT. Oh, and they don’t just make the call, they also ignore widely posted service escalation information and figure things will move faster if they call the most important person they can reach. Why call the person who is actually on call when you can call the Director? Who then has to wake up a whole bunch of other people to find out just what the hell is going on. Do not do this. It will not make friends for you. Repeat after me: it’s NOT THAT IMPORTANT.
It’s the same with the development side of things. When developers tell you that building X will take six weeks, they are not making shit up and plan to knock it out in a day and then play Counterstrike until the delivery date. They have other things to do. In fact, they probably wanted to tell you 10 weeks, since that would be more realistic, but management wouldn’t let them. It’s all about compromise. And really, should you have a leg to stand on in your deadline demands when the item you’re champing a the bit to get into production is something you sold, dollar signs gleaming in your eyes, knowing full well it didn’t even exist?
You can become BFF with IT, though. Simplest first step is respect. Their jobs are hard and often suck, and most likely you couldn’t do them. Plus, they’re geeks. Geeks are alphas, and often Type As, and they have egos. Use this. Work with this. (Also, they’re generally not playahs, so if you’re female, working the flirt just a little bit can get you far. Yes, I am a feminist and I just said that. Geek flirting is much less lame than generic flirting.)
The IT folks are also probably busier than you are. If you have a problem or need something, give them all the information they need. Exactly what is broken? Exactly what happened leading up to it breaking? What have you tried to do to it since? How many new user accounts do you need? What permissions does each one need to have? When are these people starting? What are the software requirements? Have you included screen mockups, content, workflow, formatting, pricing, etc.? Are the specs you’re submitting finalized? There are a million bits of information to provide, depending on what you’re asking for. If you don’t know, ask them, Ask them what they need, and how you can make it easiest for them to understand what you want. And be realistic about timelines. If someone who wasn’t your boss showed up at your desk and said drop everything and do this monster project RIGHT NOW to be finished tomorrow even if you have to be here all night, and no, I don’t have all the info you need yet – you’d tell the person to fuck off, no? Right.
Administration and IT also exist in a sort of demimonde. There is The Business that gets done for the company, and then underneath that there is a network of favours. It is possible to jump the queue, get something you want that’s not really officially that important, or just plain old ask for a favour. However, like many other professions, IT people especially are used topeople trying to play them. Cuz everyone likes to work for free! Like doctors, lawyers, accountants, contractors, etc. You have the skills, I just have this one little question/favour… We’re friends, you won’t mind… Fuck that. If you’re not willing to respond in kind, or, if you have nothing they might need, be prepared to pay. It’s more often than not a non-currency-based exchange, more of a barter or bribery system. (Barter if you can do something for them, bribery if you can’t.) I am the Queen of Bribery. I am also happy to barter where required.
For example, in every day interaction with IT, I have a three-tiered system. It’s worked well for me for years, and I have been told by numbers of IT people that it’s pretty much spot on, and that they’re more than happy to use it with me. It goes like this…
Level 1: Small favours. Little things I just want to get done quickly, and that can be done quickly by the people I ask, but that would take much longer if I go through the prescribed channels. Payment? Coffee. A large double-double from Timmy’s or a grande extra shot wet cappuccino from Starbucks, whatever. Never underestimate the value in learning how someone takes his/her coffee, and by occasionally surprising people with one.
Level 2: Small to medium favours. Slightly more involved things you want done, things that would probably take even longer through the prescribed channels, or things that I probably shouldn’t be asking for, but that aren’t really naughty. Payment? Sweets. Most geeks I know have a sweet tooth, and will love you all the live long day for indulging them. A particular kind of cookie (again, learn preferences), homemade coffee cake, or, if you happen to know an IT person who’s also a chef and knows his shit (hi Dave!), pastries from the local European establishment. Besides, you can get one for yourself, too.
Level 3: Big favours. Things that will take them a while, things you really shouldn’t be asking for, or things you need done personally, outside of and away from work time. This can flirt with being actual work services, and not favours, it depends. Payment? Vices. Again, find out preferences. I have learned an awful lot about scotch and cigars, mostly not for my own enjoyment. It could be as easy as a 15-year-old Islay or a fistful of Cohibas, or it could be something else. Everyone has a weakness, and you can bond in sharing it (or being perceived as sharing it).
Now, keep in mind, this system is largely intended for IT people, and IT is still largely populated by men. The system of working with admins is a little different, and often more subtle, especially since Administration tends to be populated by women. The exchange of valuable pieces of information is very important – there is an intangible sense of balance that must be maintained – and obvious physical bribery isn’t as important in the same way. The most important thing to remember, though, is that it’s a system, there’s give and take. It’s not always about what you can do for me. Thinking and operating that way is a sure way to get shut down and shut out right quick.