Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jul 23, 2005

Are you in a Cult?

Session 4: Staying Grounded from 9 to 5

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Isn’t it great when you love your job? When you feel that “groove” of knowing exactly the right thing to say or do, how to motivate others toward your goals, and support others in theirs? How good you feel about yourself when you’re there…how you think about it when you’re not there…how it is the first thing you think about in the morning… and how sometimes when you can’t sleep at night, you try just a little of it, to help you unwind? You know… like alcohol

Perhaps your current employer, even your entire professional field, has that added component of charisma that convinces you that you are a better person because of your affiliation with them -- that others would be too, if they only knew the joy you know -- and that those outside this protective sphere should be avoided if they can not be converted.

You may wonder, as you peek over your usual lens at the world outside, whether you have stumbled into a cult.

Cult? or Culture?

I generally believe that your cult is what you make it. Most situations are not inherently cultish. For example, some people manage to have lunch with their girlfriends every Thursday, call each other by their given names, and wear whatever they like. Others require pseudonyms and specifically-colored hats.

The people of FactNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network ) provide guidelines for identifying coercive environments. If these descriptions apply to your workplace, you may wish to get yourself a support group. (Keeping in mind, of course, that some of them turn out to be odd themselves.)

The guidelines are theirs; the commentary is mine.

Common Properties of Potentially Destructive and Dangerous Cults

The cult is authoritarian in its power structure

Of course most workplaces are authoritarian in nature – Management/Labor being the common division of most business environments. The coercive difference is how that power is used. "In a cult," says FactNet, " the [cult] leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters." When conflicts arise on the job, how high is the appeal allowed to escalate? How often are names dropped as a way of “getting to yes”?

The cult's leaders tend to be charismatic, determined, and domineering

Who doesn’t love charisma? Wouldn’t you rather work for a charismatic leader than a schlub? Charismatic and domineering… that is the danger sign. Let me reference my colleague’s earlier post on Predatory Mentors, in case you have forgotten.

The cult's leaders are self-appointed, messianic persons who claim to have a special mission in life

If you work in the “start-up” environment, you encounter founder/CEOS firmly convinced of their own PR. In the ivy-covered world of finance, publishing, insurance, energy, and the like, the family name carries clout.

If your company’s mission statement makes you roll your eyes and/or scoff, go ahead and mark this one yes.

The cult's leaders center the veneration of members upon themselves

Who is your charismatic figurehead most like: Disney…Oprah…Martha…Frank Perdue? It’s one thing to be a living brand; quite another to be the high priest of one’s own church.

The cult appears to be innovative and exclusive

Your exclusive “A-Player” club of the best and the brightest counts on you to increase the workforce by convincing your friends to change their lives and work there. So does the Army.

The cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of the behavior of its members

“Behavior” does not only mean modes of dress and call to prayer.The 3-martini lunch and strip club visit with the client is not dead. For us gals, it often manifests itself as smokes with the Boss, the office baby shower, ribald karoake at the Sales Conference, and good old-fashioned 12-hour days.

The cult tends to have a double set of ethics

It might be a different standard for executives than staff… for sales than for engineering… it may be that women are held to a different standard than men.When it is exposed, it is not usually denied. And you'll be expected to "get on board with it."

The cult has basically only two purposes, recruiting new members and fund-raising

Well, that pretty much defines any business, doesn’t it?

But don’t take my charismatic word for it. Research further with some of these suggested readings. Also watch this space for the Dean’s thoughts on fighting those Manipulators.
~~ CB

Suggested Reading:

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com

Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization

The Organization Man

The Paranoid Corporation and 8 Other Ways Your Company Can Be Crazy: Advice from an Organizational Shrink

Jul 15, 2005

Workplace Dangers: Idea stealers

Freshman Seminar with Miss Minchin - Session 2

It's happened to nearly everyone. You pitch an idea to your boss, or share a thought with your colleague and next thing you know that other person is taking credit for it as their own. What does one do in this situation? Well, there are several approaches:

Vigilante approach: Demand justice at high noon. Set out to expose the idea stealer’s traitorous ways, regardless of whether he or she is your boss. Set out on a smear campaign designed to make others see him for the slimy weak thoughtless leech that he is. Be sure to jump up and shout "that was my idea" and offer to "take it outside" when it happens.

Passive-aggressive approach: Secretly fume and imagine the idea stealer being crushed under a giant boulder while you pout in meetings. Give him the cold shoulder. Refuse to meet with him unless he agrees to have your conversations recorded. Then as these guys did, feed him an awful idea that he just can't resist taking credit for, and then sit back and enjoy his demise.

Zen approach: If it's your boss, accept the fact that your job is to make your boss look good. Your boss probably doesn't even realize the idea came from you, but will remember how valuable you are to her success, and will keep you close by; even taking you to the next company she works for. If it's your colleague, remind yourself that you are all part of the same team and be happy for him when he gets promoted over you. Remember that it's accomplishments, not ideas that you list on your resume. Get yourself on the projects you want to work on and contemplate letting go of your attachment to recognition while you practice yoga on your lunch hour.

Direct approach: If a colleague tells you that the boss just congratulated her for suggesting your grand idea, you can march into the boss's office and say "Bernice tells me you really liked my idea! I can't wait to start implementing it." Or as suggested in this excellent article on e-magnify.com, if the idea-stealer makes his move during a meeting, stand up and say 'Thank you, Bernie. I'm so happy to hear that you were listening when I proposed [idea]. I'm looking forward to working together on this project..."

Collaborative approach: As Nigel Nicholson put it, you can feel good about the clear value of your ideas to your boss and your colleagues. Be proactive by scheduling meetings to discuss specific project ideas and document everything. This makes it easier for the boss to remember that the idea came from you. Nicholson also suggests that you give feedback to your boss. Let her know how much you appreciate recognition for your ideas.

You'll see that some approaches work better than others, and a good combination of approaches will likely work best. In any case it is never a bad idea to document everything. At the very least, during your annual review you can remind your boss of the ideas you suggested and how successful the implementation of those ideas has been. Having a timeline to refer to makes this conversation much easier, and reminds you of the value that you know you bring to any job.

Jul 6, 2005

Actually a Cowboy

Session 3: Deciphering the Dress Code
Instructor, Caroline Bender

Now that it is mid-summer, it’s likely you have received the dress code memo – the one that vaguely scolds you for violating a policy you were unaware of until receiving the memo, and without telling you how you did so.

Used to be that when you were reprimanded, you knew it. Used to be that when they didn’t like what you were wearing, they sent you home.

Do as I imply
Today, the Company is confusingly schizophrenic about dress. It wants to have that flexible-and-fun reputation, but also wants you to be the kind of employee who doesn’t really take advantage of it. So they send this:

if you would wear it to a beach party, a backyard barbeque, or a nightclub, you probably shouldn't wear it to work...

(probably.) Notice how this puts you on your own recognizance. Because the Company is afraid that if it requires you to wear pants in the office, you might go work for someone who doesn’t. On the other hand, these are the kinds of “intangibles” they consider when looking for who should move up and who should move on.

But when your only guidelines are

While dress is, for the most part, a matter of individual taste, management reserves the right to determine what is acceptable or appropriate depending on the job functions performed...

what is a girl to do?

Who will tell you 'bout yourself?
I “came up” a secretary (as we would say it in the South) just one generation removed from hats and gloves; in fact, Easter pictures testify it wasn’t quite “removed.” We had a lot of rules of dress, and not just of the White v. Labor Day variety. Never sleeveless, never bare-legged, never open toes. And never, I learned the hard way, a pair of jeans. Being dressed down for dressing down is indeed humiliating, but if it happens to you young enough, you know that it really is for your own good. Somebody needs to tell you what you clearly don't know.

The best thing I took away from that encounter was this line:
"Blue jeans are not appropriate workwear… unless you actually are a cowboy."

I wasn’t yet 20 years old, and didn’t have much of a business wardrobe. I had tried to economize, and didn’t realize that it was better to repeat than to resort to…. Dungarees.

Casual Anyday
I can’t recall how Casual Friday happened. It just sort of….happened. Millionaire Gen-X geniuses founded on-line companies and became the Bosses while the tail end of the Baby Boom was changing out of their running shoes in the lobby. The intention was to relax some of the Big Eighties new business conservativism. What they meant, I believe, was “jacket and tie optional,” “khakis OK,” and an acceptance of the goatee.

In 1994, Discount Store News cautioned that the hosiery business was down 20%, due entirely to the popularity of Casual Friday. In that same week, Footwear News and the Daily News Record suggested casual men’s shoes and linen suites, respectively, as a way for apparel designers to stay in the game. Eleven years later, Friday is no more casual than any other day, and there isn’t a suit or a shoe in the place.

Correcting the market
Together we can swing this pendulum back to center, and you’ll want to get on-board with this one. Because even if -- right now -- you enjoy the free for all, imagine these scenarios:

    • Missing a growth opportunity because you’re not presentable
    • Having to confront your own staff for limboing under the already-low bar you yourself have set
    • Introducing your braless sneaker-wearing boss to your top prospect

Universal dress code
The Company memo incorrectly assumes the Workforce knows the difference anymore between a beach party, a nightclub, and a board meeting. Know this: office-to-evening does not mean slipping your “Reform School Chick” satin-trimmed scoop neck T over your bathing suit.

What the Company memo wants to say, but is afraid to:

Save your jeans for Friday
Better to repeat your one great outfit for a single day than to repeat your jeans for 5. They’ll feel more like a treat as well.

Always dress for meetings
Even on a Friday, and especially if you are running them.
Corporate-wear (golf shirts, oxfords, and the like) is an acceptable compromise.

Accept a few “nevers.”
Challenge yourself to draw a line between work clothes and play clothes. Even on a Friday, learn to say Never to

the beach wear:
flip flops
halter tops
Shorts…unless you actually are in Bermuda

the backyard barbecue:
ball caps
t-shirts (with or without witty sayings)
sneakers… unless you actually are a gym coach

the nightclub:
belly shirts
mini skirts
sequins… unless you actually are a magician's assistant

Be a trendsetter
You know what you can afford, what suits your body, your personal style and your position. Don’t let lax business rules set the tone for your business persona. You wouldn’t hand in sloppy work. You wouldn’t show up late to your own presentation. You wouldn’t eat an apple throughout a conference call. Dress like you know better. It’s all part of the same package.

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