Thursday, 13 March 2008

Corporate Games aka Office Politics (Part 1)

Why don't you blog about Corporate Games? I think it will be an interesting topic. My mentor said this to me one day.

Yeah, right. Interesting. But the problem is I am like a kindergarden student when it comes to Corporate Games (aka Political Games) . I did remember the first day I was in the kindergarden school. There are several scenes where some kids threw tantrums, thrashed things and screamed to go home. I am proud to announce I was not one of them as I sat quietly and waited for my first lesson. Ironically, for corporate games lesson, I feel like I want to be like the kids who wanted to go home.

One part of kindergarden days that is similar to the initial learning of corporate games is that you never can expect what will be taught, who are your schoolmates, how they behave and how they will treat you. Sure enough I remembered the big fat bully aka the Bitch (ironically, the bully in my secondary school was in the same proportion of size, albeit in 2 times of the size). She used her appalling body and oppresive behaviour to intimidate the normal-5-years-old-size like me into following her command and "sharing" my lunches with her. Those who did not abide, would be the outcast and that's where they sat at one corner and nobody would play with them.

And then, you would also notice those so-eager-to-please doggy who followed her everywhere she went and anything she did, wagging their tails to her while barking at everybody else. And you know what, those group of people usually scored last in the class, except maybe the fat bitch. She must have some brains, at the very least, to lead a bunch of stupid people.

I guess kindergarden taught me more about corporate games more than anything else. I have been through some real corporate games, if you must know, and although I am still living healthily, I have escaped with some bruises and repressed eagerness to work in corporate environment. Still at kindergarden-level of knowledge in corporate games, I do not want to pretend I know a lot about it to qualify me to write a post (and good and bad news is I intend to write several posts). However, I think it is not hard to do some research to start something on these. Let us all learn together (that is always the intention of my blog) . Besides, my mentor will also share his experience with me. He is, after all, the master of tactics and strategy and that definitely includes corporate games. And he has seen it all. All the good, the evil, the kind, the mean, the black and the white of all that we had shared and experienced in this world.

Ok, let's go to the basic first in this part 1.

What is corporate game?

Edward B. Toupin said this:
A corporate game is an illegitimate means of getting things done. It is a way that people twist and turn situations to reach a specific goal. However, those people that don't play, risk their careers.

Politics and political maneuvering is the interpersonal conflicts and power
plays that exist in most organizations. Among the specific actions commonly associated with office politics are intimidation, indirect communications, covert tactics for advancement, manipulation for control, indirectly telling the truth, hiding vulnerability issues, and playing for favors.

Politics came about as a way of handling intense competition. Generally, business itself is a competitive game ranging from simple tests of skill to full-blown battles. The game is driven by survival conditions induced by an expanding world market in which companies must continue to change and grow. There's a constant challenge to overwhelm the opposition, reduce costs, and acquire additional resources. All of these attributes trickle down through the ranks to cause individual battles for promotions, rewards, and recognition at all costs.

Another reason for office politics has to do with the hierarchical structure of most organizations. The higher you advance, the less room there is at the top. As long as people battle for the "corner office," workplace maneuvers will reign. This is where the most intense battles occur and where most people find that they are stepped on or pushed aside.

Stephen Ryan said this:

Every business is comprised of a variety of different systems, including information systems, human management systems, corporate vision dissemenation systems, marketing systems, fianancial accounting systems, customer relation management systems, health & safety systems and legal and compliance management systems, to name but a few. Regardless of whatever size of business you run, your MD will most likely be responsible for maintaining all these complex structures and your own performance as a manager will be measured against how well each of these systems are developed. To achieve this you may well implement performance appraisal systems such as KPI (Key Performance Indicator) analysis systems, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) measures and transparent, open and authoratitive reporting to the shareholders of the company.

With so many systems to maintain and be responsible for, you'd have thought that there would be little room for introducing ever greater complexity. Especially where this complexity involves the establishment of systems that are not open, not transparent, not ethical and not based on good business practices, but rather rampant - self-interest. "Political Games Systems".

When managers feel pressured by the responsibility of maintaining existing business systems, many of them fall into playing the game of politics. For many, this is a subconcious reaction to being squeezed. For others, it is a game to be relished. A game for lazy people, a game for con-men. For procrastinators. For people who would rather play games - than do things that make a real difference to the business.

We call this the "politics - replaces responsibility" syndrome.

Why you need to learn corporate games?

Improperly managing power and politics can make or break your career, cause many sleepless nights, and often has very little to do with your actual job duties. Many people who fail in their jobs do so because of political problems, not skill deficiencies. Many intelligent and capable people aren't as successful as they might be because they haven't learned to cope with office politics. Understanding why you might be having difficulty at work involves understanding the basic elements of office politics and why it exists.

Whether you decide to play or not, don't get caught in the middle. If you become the individual that battles politics, then you become the scorned of the organization. If you decide to stay out of it completely, then do your job and stay out. Those on the other end of the spectrum that play will respect your decision because that alone gives them less competition in their own battles.

One thing you'll notice is that no one will admit to playing games; however, that is part of the secret of politics. You, on the other hand, cannot confront anyone for playing games; however, you can identify the games and learn how to manage them to suit your needs. Once you figure out how to do this, then your stress level will drop, and you'll be accepted in your environment.

The summary of the lessons are:
1. Understand and learn about corporate games. Do not be a fool to ignore it. Do not wait until you are played out or crushed in the game, then only you learn.

2. You do not need to play it to hurt people but DO NOT fight it. Learn how to manage it to suit your needs and to reduce your stress.

If you are a woman, there is no doubt you may be at a little more disadvantages compared to the other sex in the corporate world. You might want to look at the rules of the games for corporate women.

And for those who never really work in a corporate environment before, my advice to you will be - do try out to get a taste of the games while you are still young and fearless because the higher level you go in your career ladder, the more intense the corporate games will be. And you will definitely appreciate the lessons to tame your brashness.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Why, why, why

Do you always have excuses for failures or mistakes? Like when you created a product that fail to sell, you blamed it on the lack of features or the poor marketing.

I do not deny there could be many reasons for failures, but what I do not agree is the way how people conveniently blame it on other things other than themselves when they fail. I actually learnt this the hard way from my mentor. I have made a lot of excuses for my mistakes, until my mentor stripped them off me and I stood naked (of course, I mean this figuratively) and I got nothing to hide. Imagine yourself having nothing to defend yourself, nothing to shield yourself. It was unnerving for me at first until I began to understand why he did that. And I had to say it was a life-saving experience for me.

Imagine your life, where you complain and are not satisfied with some of the things that happen to you but you do not do anything to change the situations. Like while you feel you are not making enough money or the small business you started long time ago is not going anywhere, but you do nothing (or very less of what you should do) . Instead of spending the times to work to get the money or improve your skillsets, you go to enjoy and hoo-ha with your friends in every free times you have. Then, you continue to complain about not having enough time and you blame it on all other things except yourself and the choices you have made, which are apparently stupid.

That is where I guess most of us live in our own defense, denying that we are the one who actually screw up our life. Not other people. Not our family, not our bosses and definitely not God.

Well, my mentor, he made me came out of this defense. To stand naked to the truth that I was the one who had not been reacting to my life. I was the one who denied myself the chance to be successful.

The approach he used to do that is none other than the 5-Whys technique famously used in Toyota, one of the top quality rankings automative makers in the world. The method is simple. Just keep on asking whys until it get the bottom of the causes, where usually it becomes clear that the root cause is due to the individuals and not the weather, relatives, or economy, etc.

As preached in most of the self-help books, while at most of the times we cannot change situations or other people's behaviors, we certainly can change our thinking and responses. Thus, most of our mistakes and failures originate from ourselves. We are the one who should be in control. We should not let the external factors affect us or the results. That is also why we need to keep the 3 principles in mind when we do anything, to guarantee results.

Here are some examples on where the 5-Whys is used to get to the root causes of the failures and then act on them (change them or do whatever it takes!).

Example 1

Why we fail to sell this product?
Because customers find the product is not useful.

Why
do customers find the product not useful?
Because the product does not really help them improve their revenues in business.

Why
didn't we make or design the product to help customer to improve their revenues in business?
Because we do not know that is what customers want in the first place.

Why didn't we know that in the first place?
Because we do not do any market research or product analysis to come out with the proper product design.

Why didn't we do that in the first place?
Because we do not know that is necessary and we do not know how to do that.

Why didn't we know that and if we do not know that, why we do not ask for help? (notice the same questions are repeating?)
Because I am not capable. Because I did not do my job well as the head of department. Because I just do not have the knowledge and experiences to make this successful. (this is where it gets to the individual's mistake, where the general term "we" is stripped off and one have to take the responsibility to own up to one mistakes.)

In that case, why should we let you keep your job if you are not really doing your job well?
Because I learnt from this mistake and I know what are the right things to do next times.

And why should we trust you will succeed the next time?
Because there will be no excuses for failures and I will be solely held responsible for it.

I have to admit I exaggerated a bit here to make the point. But this process of asking whys are very important to get to the bottom of things and to take actions. Notice also the causes of the failure change from the product to the people or the team (we) and finally to the one who are responsible for the team result. (I).

In my experience, I encountered people repeating the same mistakes and given the same (or slightly altered) excuses each time for the failures. One of the people is ME, which I have vowed to change. And I am changing . Not trying to change (trying is not good!), I am definitely changing. No more excuses, right?

In one of the company I worked in, during the span of 5 years, we encountered 4 of out 5 products failed to deliver the business values and revenues for the company. The 4 failed products are consecutive, which means only the first product are successful (maybe, out of luck) and for the rest of the products, we kept on repeating our mistakes and gave ourselves all sort of excuses to defend ourselves (and our jobs).

Example 2

This example is how my mentor had changed me, stripped down of all my defences and make me realized that I need to change and improve myself first before I can really do things efficiently. Of course, this is the summarized version. I hate to admit this but my defensiveness and stupidity were worse than depicted here. But I have learnt my lesson and dare to admit my mistakes so that YOU ALL can learn also and benefit from this.

So, how about YOU? Have you realize and admit YOUR MISTAKES?

Mentor: Why you made that mistake?
Me: Sorry, I did not follow what you have told me.

Mentor: Why you did not follow what I have told you? Did you choose to defy me?
Me: Sorry, I did not choose to defy you. I just forgotten at that point of time.

Mentor: Why you cannot remember what I have taught you?
Me: It did not register in my mind at that point of time. And I did not stop to think.

Mentor: Why is that?
Me: Because I did not listen properly, I am forgetful and I always do things on impulse.

Mentor: Why you are like that? What cause that?
Me: Sorry, it is my bad habit. Things are not organized and in place, that's why things are jumbled up and I cannot think and do things properly.

Mentor: And what you need to do?
Me: I need to change. I will listen properly. I will remember things. and I will always think carefully before I act. And most of all, I need to start to organize everything, so that everything is in place and I have a clear mind and space to do things efficiently.

Well, that are exactly what I am going to do and improve myself. So, the next time things screw up, ask yourself all the WHYS until you get origin of the problem.

Friday, 7 March 2008

4 prerequisites for being a Consultant

Every business has problems. Everyone has problems. Would it not be nice if we can pay someone to look into our problems and solve them for us? Would it not make our life much easier to live by everyday? That is provided if we can find such people who are willing and capable enough to do the jobs for us with a price tag of maybe our house or our latest Ferrari.

That is what consultants do. And, of course, the cost to do the job also. A consultant, in generic term, is a professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise, for e.g. in business, management.


It maybe suffices for me to say, consultant is just providing advice and not really need to get their hands dirty by actually doing the job. But I have seen the most efficient consultant in the world (at least, in the world that I have seen) who really gets his hands dirty and able to execute every jobs perfectly. The load of his job are easily the jobs of 3 senior managers combined. And he is one crazy consultant, so let's call him C.C. for now.

C.C. inspired me to define consultants differently. They are those who knows what people needs and what they need to do, and they get it done, no matter what. No matter what. Period. There are simply no excuses for failure. After all, who will trust a consultant who can talk and advice, but who never really have done the job before.

C.C. is also the most efficient and knowledgable people I ever seen in my life. I mean the real efficient one. There are those who call themselves consultants but not living up to the title at all. I came across some business consultants, project consultants that just are NOT consultants.

For that, I treat C.C. as my role model and I long to become near as good as him someday.

Thanks to him, I start to understand the consultant style of doing things. In one of the sales training session conducted by C.C, he spoke of this:

Sell solutions, not sell the products.
Sell in a consultant way.
Do not have the salesman mentality , more like consultant mentality.

Let's put it this way, while normal salesman approach the customers and start to sell their company and products by telling about the good features and benefits, the consultant approach the customers and ask them what are their problems. Then they provide solutions to solve their problems. The solutions normally include their products and services. Otherwise, they can always work with other business associates.

While you might be tempted to become a consultant, here are the 4 prerequisites C.C. told me where one should look into:

1. Presales

A consultant should know the product inside out. A good understanding of the product and business is very important.

2. Public Relation
A consultant holds the role of a key account manager. Thus, he must have very good people-skill and very well-versed in sociology.

3. Analytically strong
A strong analytical mind is the key asset of a consultant. A consultant must analyze everything, the budgets, the values and potential of the business, assistance needed, potential hurdles,etc. These are done based on experience and situation.

4. Detailed
A consultant must have a keen sense of awareness of small things and situation and opportunities. He is also detailed in observing the reactions of people. He has to come out with a complete solution thinking, detailing every single steps from A-Z, coming out with the fail-safe or backup plan.