Speak now or forever own the project

“We’ve got to increase productivity.” “We need to do more with less.” “We will only increase head count in critical path areas and this just isn’t one of those areas.”

For those of us who have been in cube-land for more than 15 or so years you’ve experienced the irrational exuberance of the pre-bubble burst 90’s where companies expanded head count at a soaring pace.

You’ve also likely had the joy of experiencing the pendulum swinging to the other side so hard that it flew off right through the half wall opening of your cube. In the past 5-10 years we’ve seen the economy behave much like a 2 year old being weaned off their binky while being denied a proper daily nap. As such, companies have often been overly cautious about hiring decisions, or in all too many cases been forced to reduce headcount.

Yet at the same time companies, especially public ones, are forced to show growth of the top and bottom lines at paces that have not changed over the past decade-plus.

So how does this impact you, me and all the other cubicle dwellers out there?

One way to put it is what my manager said to me the other day, “I’ve got a great opportunity for you.”

Translation – I’ve got a something for you to work on that no one else will do. Oh, and you still need to do all that other stuff you are responsible for.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to have a job. And, despite my rants, this particular one. Look, times are tough. I know that all too well. Companies need to be more efficient in these times in order to make money. Employees need to take on more roles and responsibilities to support this effort. After all, if you don’t do it, they will find someone who will…and likely for less money too.

Having said that, the reality is that after years and years of cuts, initiatives and special projects thrust at you, you may start to burn out. I’m sure you’ve heard, or said, this before – you can’t run a marathon at a sprint pace. Or put another way, if you ask people to perform at 100% all the time and continually put more on their back to carry, at some point they get tired. Some people can take this for years. Unfortunately, they will likely do many jobs and get a lot done, but odds are they’ll do a not-so-great job on any of them. And, worse yet, when you really need them to do more they won’t be capable of it as they’ll be burnt out.

So some will say, “suck it up”. Or, “What choice do I have? Its not like i can go across the street and get a job. They’ve got me over a barrel.” And, reality is, they very well may be right. But, there is another factor at work here – the coworker who deflects.

See George is great at this. George often has “great ideas.” Especially, great ideas for others. See he is the master of sending an email to 4 or 5 Directors and VPs…and me. He’ll pitch some great idea (in his mind), tell everyone how great they are, then not so subtly suggest that I take it on.

Ok, if I haven’t made it clear yet, George is a coworker NOT my boss. Thus, he really has no real power to suggest I do something. My boss, oh he can most definitely tell me what to do. He, however, is quite good at working through it with me. And, often he won’t actually dump it in my lap to make it happen. But, George wants credit for the idea and success, but wants others to do the work.

Now, in these cases I do have a choice. I could roll my eyes at his email and blow it off. But, odds are that will come back to haunt me. I could step up and say, “you know what George (and VPs) you’re right that’s a fabulous idea and I should do it (along with the other 4 pet projects, 2 Tiger Teams and, oh yes my actual job of which is actually 2 jobs since we merged rolls and now I’m doing Jill’s job too).

Or, there’s a third option. Say, “George, great idea. I think it will really impact sales positively, increase our presence in the industry, save us money and be a win-win for all. I’d be honored to take this on. However, I am truly maxed out and completely focused on project #142 which is on the critical path to the company’s goals for this quarter. While I totally want to support this, Ron (my VP) which should be prioritized?”

See what I did there? I recognized the idea as good (+1), gave credit to George (+1 even though I’d rather tell him to, kiss my ass), showed my positive support for company goals and willingness to be a team player (+2), while at the same time deflecting to my VP to make a decision between one thing or the other (probably -1 for dumping in his lap, but also +1 for giving him the opportunity to flex his VP muscle…let’s call it even). And, when the day is done I will likely not end up with George’s idea on my plate. End score: +4. I win!

See the key is, play the game. But, when given the opportunity and all are watching, sometimes you need to put it out there and, know when to speak now or forever own the project.


About CubicleViews

Observations, thoughts & random bitching about cube life, food, beer, wine, whiskey and sometimes politics. Living the dream in a 6×8 doorless polyester walled cell.
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