Corporate Mentoring Series: Conference Call DO’s and DON’Ts

When leading a conference call, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. If you work in Corporate America, then you know that you have two goals and two goals only: to confuse every participant, and to maximize the number of minutes you steal from everyone’s day. To ensure you stay aligned with these goals, here is a handy list of  DOs and DON’Ts that you can refer to during your next conference call.

1. DON’T tell people what the call is about or give them any background information. After all, it’s your job to keep folks on their toes.

2. DO give out an incorrect dial-in number. After 5 minutes of making everyone question their sanity, send around the correct number. To maximize effectiveness of this tactic, start the presentation on time, so that when people finally do dial in, they’ve missed several key points.

3. DON’T tell people which slide you’re on. This makes for good suspense. When someone finally speaks up and asks, make sure to tell them the wrong slide.

4. If you get the sense that the group is following along too well, DO throw in the term  “overcollateralization” a few times to ensure no one has any idea what you are really talking about.

5. DO concede, when challenged by one or more members of your audience, that your slides aren’t as precise as you led people to believe. When you think about it, you do have to agree that the phrase “formal proposal” doesn’t really mean “idea I had while on the toilet this morning.”

6. DO use the word “paradigm.” Since no one has used that word in over 5 years, you’ll reveal yourself as the douchebag you really are.

7. DON’T admit that you too are overcollateralized and have no idea what you are really talking about.

 

 

 

 

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Quick Quiz – Which Corporate Employee Are You?

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Need an objective view as to how you’re holding up in the workplace? Take this quiz to find out if you’re on your way to the top or if it’s time to retire.

1. During a meeting where the logic of your idiotic process is being questioned, you:

a) tell the group that you agree the process stinks, but you are just doing what you were told. You then take this opportunity to hijack the meeting and spend 20 minutes complaining about how no one listens to you.

b) confuse everyone with a long-winded, somewhat incoherent explanation of how the process came about. You get so wrapped up in the history of the process that you forget what the group actually wants, which is that you agree to change the process.

c) pretend that the CEO is calling you on your cell phone and leave the room immediately.

 

2. Your boss needs you to work on an urgent assignment. You:

a) tell him that you’re too busy and will not be able to take on any new work until Q1 2017.

b) agree to do it but forget to ask him what he wants and when it’s due by.

c) zealously agree to help him out, because, after all, you’re always there for him when he’s in a jam. You then secretly pawn the work off on your lower-ranking colleagues who are too timid to say no. In the end, you make sure to take all of the credit.

 

3. When meeting with a manager at least 2 levels above you, you:

a) take the opportunity to loudly voice that you are overworked and stressed out. It’s hard working 40 hours a week.

b) fail to understand what exactly the manager is asking you. Rather than request clarification, you just ramble on about a topic of your choosing.  This makes sense, since relevancy really is subjective.

c) make witty jokes and compliment him/her every five minutes.

 

4. Your co-workers need your subject matter expertise. You:

a) tell them they’ll have to hire a consultant to answer their 3 questions, because you’re busy reviewing training materials.

b) happily agree to help. After an hour on the phone with them you’ve managed to take them down at least 3 rabbit holes without ever arriving at an answer to the first question. It was a “yes” or “no” question.

c) refer them to someone who works for you. Since you are a manager, you don’t really have to have any knowledge. That’s why you have a team.

 

5.  Your boss makes you in charge of a project already being worked on by 5 people, you:

a) put together a project plan but don’t have time to figure out if anyone’s actually adhering to it.

b) do the same work the others had already completed, since you forgot to ask them what pieces of the project had been checked off before you joined the team.

c) make one of the 5 people your “team lead”, have him/her put together a project plan and report back to you regularly. While you wait for status updates, you drink coffee and make vacation plans.

Scoring:

1. If the majority of your answers were a) then it’s time to throw in the towel. You’ve been working too hard for too long and need to be put out to pasture. Find a job at an ice cream shop during the winter months and at a ski resort in the summer.

2. If the majority of your answers were b) then you’re faking. Anyone who truly would answer b) is too confused to take this quiz. Find the b) people at your job and give them a hug. It’s hard to live in such a haze.

3. If the majority of your answers were c), then congratulations. You are a successful corporate douchebag who knows how to make yourself look good while forcing everyone around you to do your work. Watch your back, though, since all of the little people you stepped on will be looking for opportunities to run you over in the parking garage. Don’t be surprised if when you go to an ice cream shop in the winter, your scoop of chocolate chip tastes strangely like pee.

Corporate Mentoring Series: Ask an MBA

 

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I was recently chatting with my friend Brenda when the subject turned to corporate life. We quickly realized that we were confounded by similar situations at work. After further discussion, we came to the conclusion that this gap in our ability to comprehend certain corporate phenomena was most likely tied to the fact that, while we each had a B.A. and 20+ years job experience, neither of us held an actual degree in Business. It was clear that if we were going to ever find resolution to our questions, we would need to corner someone with a bona fide business degree.

Enter our friend, Marsha. Marsha has not only earned an MBA from a top university, but she is also one of the sharpest, well-adjusted people I know. If anyone could save us from ignorance, it was Marsha.

Marsha graciously made time for us over lunch and we took turns peppering her with questions. As follows are the highlights of our Q&A session:

Question #1

Brenda: I receive daily news feeds in my Outlook inbox from my company. I appreciate the company’s desire to help me stay informed, but it’s challenging to find time to read everything they send me and still finish my PowerPoint slides by the deadline.

Marsha: Learn to embrace the delete key.

Question #2

Brenda: Who is crazier, me or IT?

Marsha: IT

Question #3

Brenda: How do I resolve this?

Marsha: Your best bet is to find someone who has the Flu and get them to sneeze on you. Then you can stay home in bed watching soap operas and drinking Nyquil instead of dealing with the crappy data IT sent you.

Question #4

Me: We used to have an office whistler who whistled loudly all day long. Her specialty was holiday tunes. Why was I the only person who found this annoying?

Marsha: People like holiday music, even in mid-summer. Too bad the whistler is gone or you could have connected her to the Marketing department to help bring in more business.

Question #5

Me: She showed up at this year’s Christmas luncheon, despite the fact that she left the company a year ago. Who invited her?

Marsha: IT

Question #6

Me: Why do companies hire argumentative customer service reps? Wouldn’t it be more efficient for the customer service rep to resolve the issue, so he/she can move on to the next call?

Marsha: Maybe, but you’re missing the point. In the corporate jungle, efficiency or even common sense don’t necessarily drive decisions. It’s all about “cover.” The guy running the customer service department may not be qualified for or capable of doing his job but is being covered by his senior manager. Chances are this senior manager has either never called the call center or, even more likely, doesn’t know there is a call center that reports up to him.

Question #7:

Me: How is it that the senior manager wouldn’t know that he has a call center under him?

Marsha: Most decisions affecting people are not well-communicated. Often you have to rely on an independent news source to tell you that you were actually let go three weeks ago. So, if your company’s stock price is tanking or you think you might have a call center reporting up to you, then you should definitely check out Reuters.com.

Question #8:

Brenda:  How can we keep people focused, so that they don’t waste everyone else’s time during weekly meetings?

Marsha: Keep a log of the amount of time each person has wasted. At the end of each month, make a PowerPoint chart and pass it out. Explain that the results will be aggregated at year-end, and using the below formula, each time-waster will be forced to pay out a portion of his annual bonus to all meeting attendees made to listen to him drone on about irrelevant topics.

Since no one will understand this formula (or want to risk looking stupid by asking how it works), the group will be terrified into compliance.

statistical formula

Question #9:

Brenda: What if an executive manager is one of the time-wasters?

Marsha: Whistle holiday music when you hand out the chart. Three weeks later google your name on Reuters.com.

Corporate Mentoring Series: Job Qualifications

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You may have noticed that in the corporate world, the required qualifications stated on a job description are not actually the qualifications required for the job. In fact, in many cases, actual capabilities of any kind at all are not even necessary. As long as your resume makes you look like you know what you’re doing and you aren’t drooling during the job interview, your career is secured. To illustrate my point, here are a few actual examples of blockheads that populate the business world.

Consultant: Dictionary.com defines the word consultant as a “person who gives professional or expert advice.” This definition is complete nonsense and proof that this free internet dictionary is of substandard quality (you get what you pay for).

With the exception of my two consultant friends and any of the readers of this blog who happen to be consultants, I have found that consultants are neither professional nor able to give expert advice. They are, however, skilled in assembling pretty spreadsheets and making meaningless recommendations while giving the appearance of being knowledgeable. Don’t be deceived into believing they know anything, just because they use sophisticated terms like “recalibration” and prepare important-sounding documents like “heat maps.”

Before paying their astronomical bill, take a close look at the information actually contained in the spreadsheets they produced for you. I once found this unintelligible (not to mention grammatically challenged) statement in an analysis for which my company paid an obscene amount of money:

The workflow process for the critical staff are in place to provide guidelines on the information collection process.

If anyone reading this is a consultant and knows what this sentence means, please leave the translation in the Comments.

Marketing Specialist: While you might think that one should have an English degree or at the very least have a decent command of Standard English to create marketing materials, this is not the case.

Marketing is a creative pursuit and, consequently, marketing employees take the liberty to apply their artistic tendencies to the English language. In the corporate world, this entails creative use of past and present tenses, colorful spelling and punctuation, and unique phraseology.

For example, I reviewed a draft Happy Holidays card to be sent out in early December to our company’s clients. The card expressed the company’s hope that the card recipient had had a happy holiday season. (Who cares about this year’s holidays? Given the use of the past tense, it’s apparently last year’s holiday season that’s important.) The card then went on to spread the word that “In the spirit of the new starts, we have made donations to a number of local organizations…” The new starts? Even my first grader knows that while Santa is alive and well, there is no such thing as “the new starts.”

Facilities Supervisor: This person is responsible for organizing moves to new buildings but, surprisingly, organizational skills are not truly sought after when hiring this person. Nor is the ability to communicate key pieces of information to affected employees…such as the ones who are being relocated.

When we moved to another office building across town a few years ago, the employees were given the new street address. However, the actual location of our suite somewhere within the 11 story office building was left off the communication. Not a big deal, since there was certainly a company directory in the lobby. There was indeed a company directory, and it contained the name of every company in the building….except ours.

It took about 2 hours to figure out which door was ours and another 2 years before our company was added to the directory (making mail delivery entertaining). In an attempt to help new hires and others find us while we were (literally) off the grid, employees would put hand-written signs on the door. Unfortunately, these signs were promptly removed by the building management company who required professional logos on plaques as opposed to company names written with Sharpies on large post-its.

Before our next corporate move, I will suggest the company hire a consultant to recalibrate our relocation process using a heat map.

Corporate Dream Careers

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In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.