We find ourselves often being told that something has been decided by management. It’s at that point we scratch our heads and say, “yeah, but”.
Being the dedicated employees we are and knowing that it will fall on us to make the decision work moving forward we come up with work arounds that satisfy acceptable outcomes yet follow existing policies and procedures, all the while noticing waste along the way. So, how did it come to this? How do we thrive in this environment?
In my estimation there are three types of managers/executives and the key to bending them to your will is remembering that they are human. Think of them as your neighbor, fellow church goer, or extended family member and don’t be intimidated. You may not like them, but they are in your life and their position in your organization can be mitigated.
The bureaucrat is the manager or executive who came up through the ranks and thinks that the system isn’t broken. In fact, the system should be embraced. No change is needed. The status quo is awesome, is proven, and is time tested. There are rules, chains of command, and institutional tradition to uphold. Approach the bureaucrat with caution. You don’t want to let them know that you want to change something that they have grown attached to. Instead, you should approach the bureaucrat with responsibility. Show that you understand not only the situation/problem/project, but that you have the capability to follow the rules and still get it done. That’s when you subvert. Once a bureaucrat has given you responsibility for something, use your expertise to get it done, but don’t be afraid to subtly be subversive. Maybe you take a shortcut or make a decision on your own, but you cover your bases and present it as if you followed all of the rules. The bureaucrat will praise you for you accomplishments, thinking that you jumped higher than you did and went through more hurdles than you did.
Getting something done for a bureaucrat makes them think that you are one of them, plain and simple. Along the way you are creating new processes and finding shortcuts. They will just think you are hard working and their ego will move them to elevate you.
The doer is hard to keep up with. People like this created the term “fast paced environment” and everyone else just likes the sound of it. This is a very rare type of manager/executive. These are the true entrepreneurs who make something from nothing. They are the complete opposite of the bureaucrat. These people, as effective as they may seem, are often ignorant of reality. To keep a doer happy and influence them in a certain direction, you need to be the glue that holds them together. They know that they are moving too fast and will most likely move on to another job in the next year or two and lose focus of what is in front of them now. In order to be that glue one must tap into their own creativity and problem solving skills. This is when your ideas need to be sharp and clear. The hard part is speaking up and being heard.
A doer will leave behind them a wake of employees on projects and even entire companies that were all recently “high priorities”. An employee of a doer must be vocal, creative, and involved in order to keep up with the doer. The term I use for this is “enabler”. A good enabler can steer a doer by giving creative yet limited options. You use the doer’s lack of reality against them to create your own. If a doer asked me to make something happen, I’d come up with multiple options for them to choose from, but all of them now have a shared characteristic that I, not the doer, think is important. They won’t notice. They will just see solutions to their problem. They’ll be gone soon enough and they will either bring you with them or you can parley your successes into a good status with the next doer that comes along. The turnover of these people is personally frightening, but they help you build your resume.
These are the worst. God save your soul if you work directly for a talker. A talker is as detached from reality as a doer, but they never go beyond talk. This is probably 60-70% of your management/executive team. No one knows how they got their position and they certainly don’t add value. The hard truth is that in this moment, their ideas become your to do list. They don’t understand how your company operates, what best practices are, or how things in your industry work. They are square pegs in large enough round holes that they still somehow get through. Talkers often share inflated titles with doers, “Cheif ______ Officer” where the blank isn’t executive, finance, information, or operating. Other titles I’ve seen include “Special Assistant to the ____”. That’s enough ranting, you know the type.
If you ever find yourself working on a talker project, branch out. There is no reasoning with these people. You can try to remind them of how things actually work, but your best bet is to get a bureaucrat to see the ridiculousness of how the talker is trying to accomplish a goal. Unless an unchecked doer is at the top of the org chart (in which case everything including being sold is up for grabs) a bureaucrat will help eventually push out the talker.
In the meanwhile, keep your head down, don’t encourage them like you would a doer, and get out alive. During the hopefully short term you have with a talker do the minimum for them, and the maximum for others. Take this time to focus on building your relationships with your colleagues, focus on meaningful projects, and maybe even update your resume.
Maybe someone else will have better advice, but in my limited experience, my best story is working for a doer who was following a talker. I honestly faked it until I made it and when the talker was fired I pretended to be surprised during my conversation with my doer boss who was devastated. My boss apparently thought the talker was a doer. I’ll repeat now that both doers and talkers are out of touch with reality.
Not everyone is capable of challenging established management. Knowing these three categories of executives will hopefully help you approach an issue the next time one is handed down from on high. Subvert it, control options, or get your foot in another door, all the while getting the job done because you have to. Our own personalities play a large part in our ability to do these things. I’m a bureaucrat, but knowing that about myself helps me subvert older ones, reign in doers, and avoid talkers. In the meanwhile, I probably won’t start my own company or just climb the ladder into a fake job by talking my way into it. I just don’t have the stomach for it.
Honestly, if you’re a talker, go get yours, but don’t take it out on us who live in the real world and who will eventually fire you. If you’re a doer, I envy you for your capacity to create something from nothing and all the while I resent your disregard for the establishment. I hope it works out, but I’m prepared to tell you why it didn’t.