Jason Calacanis – Angel Investor or Man with a Mediocre Mission

Corporate Life:

Here is some new insight into what works in the corporate world!

Originally posted on How To Get To The Top:

Although one’s management style here at Amalgamated Industries is a little dated, for example I like my people to wear jackets and ties in the office and drink tea from cups not mugs there is a young whippersnapper from across the pond who has some interesting points. I should mention that he often wears a baseball chapeaux reversed but that does not necessarily make him a hardened criminal.

Jason off to a Union meetingJason off to a Union meeting

He is Jason Calacanis, I wonder if he is related to the Suffolk Calacanises, lovely people one used to hunt with his Lordship. Anyway, apologies, I digress, Mr Calacanis has some pointed advice for young people who are just starting their careers:

In your career you will find that life is a zero sum game: the winners get the prime positions and the person who comes in second place for that position is the first loser—not…

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Management by Smartphone

The smartphone (with or without the i-prefix) is an integral part of the body and soul of every corporate manager (and non-manager) to the point where anyone using a device that merely enables you to talk and listen might as well be non-existent.

Unlike for naive mortals, in the hands of the corporate wizard, the smartphone is not a mere electronic device. It is the ultimate weapon that combines the power of control, confusion, denial, deficiency, one-upmanship, redirection, (mis)management, amusement and much more.

The smartphone is the best way to prove that you never start, I mean, stop working and, in turn, ensuring that your subordinates don’t. This is easily achieved by setting reminders to yourself (on the smartphone, of course) to generate one-liners (rumor has it that there are easy-to-use, free applications that can do this for you) such as, “hope you guys have completed the ppt deck”, “are we all set with the new product launch?” or, even more importantly, “have you reminded Liz to ensure that John has booked the limo to pick up the customer tomorrow morning?” What is most important is the timing of these emails, the best times being closer to midnight and in no case any time during daylight hours. And it must have the tag line, “Sent from my iPhone/Blackberry/you-know-the-game” for authenticity about you being on the move.

In addition to being able to make preemptive strikes as described above, the smartphone can be used as a massive routing device. To the veteran manager, it is child’s play to redirect a detailed email to a colleague or subordinate with a curt message varying from “FYI” or “what do you think?” all the way to “cannot open the large attachment on my iPhone – could you please take care of this” – and move on to the next ‘important’ mail item such as a stock market analysis link sent by a friendly business acquaintance.

The smartphone also offers the invaluable feature of being ‘on’ or ‘off’ in an instant. You may be on a conference call one instant and excuse yourself the next with one of the approved, industry-standard excuses – “sorry, bad cell reception”, “I am going through airport security”, “the blessed battery is dying – I swear I charged it half an hour ago”, “the doctor is calling me”, to name a few. You firmly establish the fact that you, the ever busy corporate problem solver, want to be involved but are handicapped by, yes, your smartphone. “I wish we were back in the days of face-to-face meetings”, you say with a chuckle and march forward.

Amongst the arsenal of tricks at the disposal of the pretentious manager, the smartphone is undoubtedly right at the top!

The Helicopter Manager

Do you hear the buzz above your cubicle or sense a shadow lengthening on your desk? It is your helicopter manager hovering around, keeping a protective, though annoying, eye on you.

The helicopter manager behaves pretty much like the helicopter parents, who are constantly monitoring and annoying, if not choking, their kids. This type of manager is not to be confused with the Seagull Manager whose actions may appear to be somewhat similar but whose motives are definitely different.

The helicopter manager is very endearing at the beginning. When you are a novice entering the corporate maze, this manager takes charge and makes you feel at home (people with helicopter parents, please excuse the pun). He points out everything from where you could sharpen your pencil to the shortest route to the restroom. He personally introduces you to people in the mail room and helps tackle the IT guys who set up your computer, no mean task even for the CEO of your company.

But soon the hospitality and the kindness start wearing you off and you start noticing the subtle ways in which your colleagues attempt to perform escape acts – pretending to be on the phone, having a coughing fit requiring a visit to the water cooler or even trying to disappear under the table or behind closets when the manager walks by. You soon find yourself joining this select group of researchers in pursuit of the utopian solution to the threat.

The helicopter manager treats everyone as though they were permanently in the kindergarten class. She not only acts on the basis that everyone and everything requires monitoring and supervision but is also prepared to co-perform every activity that each subordinate is required to complete. Here are some samples of such a manager’s behavior:

“I am just checking to see if you read the email that I sent yesterday and you acknowledged today.”

“Have you scheduled time to complete the 5-minute activity that is due six months from now – just don’t lose sight of it.”

“I liked the brief that you wrote for our press release. I just made a few corrections to two of the paragraphs and rewrote the other ten – good job!”

“I changed the variable name in your program from country-origin to country-of-origin; makes it much clearer I think.”

“I know you are working on collating the monthly sales figures for all our 500 sales reps. Can you email me the spreadsheet as each number is completed – I can then cross-check this with my own numbers that I will be independently collating in parallel. This will make the final comparison exercise that we will do together much easier. And, oh, please don’t forget to use the ‘comma’ separator for numbers greater than thousand.”

So, what is the moral of the story – the next time you hear the buzzing sound, run like hell!

Pass The Buck

While some skills to prosper in the corporate world might be considered optional extras, passing the buck is a fundamental trait that one cannot do without. In fact, if you don’t have this skill you probably don’t belong there – and most certainly will not be climbing the organizational ladder any time soon.

An amateur manager says, “I will do it”, while the professional (which, for ease of reference, is what we will call our pass-the-buck veteran) will always come up with a quick, “I will get it done”. First and foremost, you need to get rid of any thoughts of doing any task yourself – if you can do so this without batting an eyelid, you are half way there.

Often, passing the buck is referred to by its more respectable name – delegation. While delegation is meant to give authority to someone else to act on your behalf, without absolving yourself of ownership and responsibility for the issue on hand, the professional would brush aside such nuances with a dismissive wave of the hand.

With sufficient practice and experience, the pass-the-buck game can be played in multiple dimensions/ directions. You can pass laterally or vertically, up or down, within the organizational chain. Passing down any and all tasks that come your way to your subordinates is the easiest of the three and can be done with some degree of legitimacy, in the name of carrying out your ‘managerial duties’. It helps if you have a sizable department(s) under you.

Passing horizontally in the organization requires intricate knowledge of real and imaginary duties of different sections of the organization. The more complex the organization structure the easier this task becomes. For example, if you are asked to organize a conference call, your response should be, “Yes, as soon as I can get Facilities Management to allocate a conference room for this; then, I will get the Procurement department to get us a telephone instrument with speaker; and then ask the Networking department to install and verify connectivity – I will chase these things down”.

Passing the buck upwards requires the skills of a grandmaster. Even to think of assigning blame, sorry responsibility, to your boss, most likely a more accomplished professional than you, requires above-average courage. Such an act might involve saying something like this to your superior: “I have completed the sales report for one of the hundred territories under you; you can easily incorporate the figures for the other ninety-nine as the figures have not changed much from last month”.

Passing the buck is a skillful game that must necessarily defy the common saying – ‘What goes up must come down’. If it comes down, you have obviously failed!

The Seagull Manager

The seagull manager is such an integral part of the corporate scene that it is difficult to separate the two with any reasonable or even unreasonable force.

Those unfortunate souls who are not up to speed on corporate nuances, please educate yourself here. The seagull manager is sort of fun to watch from the periphery, if you have managed to stay outside the sphere of influence which, I hasten to add, is considerable and, more often than not, includes the entire organization. It is definitely prudent to assume that you would be showered with you-know-what sooner or later and be prepared with suitable cleansing agents.

The seagull manager descends on meetings in the blink of an eye. Let us say you are discussing the layout for a new office and attempting to logically divide the space based on departments and who needs to work with whom. In comes the seagull manager (call him ‘SM’ for ease of reference) and the conversation goes like this:

SM: Hi guys, what are you all up to?

Staff-1 (trying to hide the papers in front of her): Well, not much…..just reviewing some stuff …….

SM (quickly glancing at some other papers on the table): Oh, I notice some layouts being worked on…… let us see….. is this the space for the HR folks? Why are they next to the Payroll people?

Staff-2 (desperate to avoid the reset button in the layout exercise): We were told they needed to interact …. Moreover, this was finalized in our last meeting and ……..

SM (already looking at a text message on his phone): No, no….. that is not correct.. you need to revisit and review this.

Staff-1 (panic clearly showing on her face): So, what would you suggest?

SM: Come on guys, learn to work smart – you know the requirements, don’t you? I can’t be doing your job for you…..I need to deal with other things now… (runs off).

There you have the seagull effect – intrude, criticize, confuse and leave!

Seagull managers have a very distinguishing trait in their armor – deliberate lack of knowledge, making them eminently incapable of offering any solutions even if they wanted to. But they are quick to pounce on opportunities to point out imaginary problems and non-existent risks. For instance, in a project review meeting, when everything looks good and under control, the SM can put the brakes on, if not put the entire project in reverse gear, with something like, “But what if Peter goes on vacation from tomorrow? We should build an effective backup for everyone’s activities before we move forward with the product launch. Jane, could you look into mitigating this (non) risk?”

Seagull managers ply their trade globally and are immune to changes in location, departments and roles – mere feeble attempts by organizations to limit their sphere of damage. The only known way to counter their attack is to buy good raincoats!

The Magic of Numbers

What is a world without corporations? What is a corporation without an interwoven medley of departments? And what is an array of departments without a group of bean counters at the center – the Finance department? Numbers rule the corporate world – let us see how.

Numbers come in various shapes and complexities – forecasts, budgets, sales, inventory, labor hours, direct cost, indirect cost and many more real and imaginary figures, often fondly referred to as metrics. And newer measures are invented every day – sales per FTE (got you there – stands for Full Time Employee), ratio of seasonally adjusted inventory of items in the warehouse versus the factory shop floor and, in the digital age, clicks on icon-A versus icon-Y on your company website.

While the Finance or Accounts department is the custodian of numbers in a company, they by no means have monopoly over the generation or, more interestingly and intriguingly, the interpretation of these. The Sales department usually takes the lead in showing a positive growth in anything and everything. The Head of Projects will always have you believe that all projects are well under control while repeatedly asking for more money. The HR department can always show you that your department (in fact, all departments) is overstaffed at any point in time, even after the tenth round of layoffs for the year. The best magic is of course reserved for the highest levels such as Board meetings and shareholders briefing, where the uninformed audience (Board members included) is taken on a roller coaster ride and comes tumbling down with graphs and spreadsheets. The hapless individuals are often seen running for their lives after the event!

The power and beauty of data analysis is that the same data can be used to camouflage, sorry ‘reveal’, exactly opposite results. Pundits of analysis will convincingly show you how any data can be shown to align with any position on the 360-degree circus, I mean view, that is such an integral part of the corporate culture. For example, your year-to-date sales might be down 300% this year compared to last year but by showing the figures as a comparison of sales between the same 22.5 hour period (carefully chosen window of time) this year and the previous three years, you could be seen to have achieved a 1200% growth, ‘year-on-year’ to boot!

A simple and effective way to mesmerize people without revealing the plain truth is to divide (sometimes, multiply and add too) basic numbers. It helps a lot if you have categories within categories. If you have a large inventory of slow moving computers in your product portfolio, you combine the sales of several similar (and dissimilar) products and define a new measure called, ‘dollar sales achieved in mid to small devices per marketing dollar spent’ and your managers, staff and others will have no clue as to how you are doing. Another proven method of providing misleading information is to reorganize. An overstaffed services department could quickly be segregated into engineering design, solution development, delivery management, quality assurance (add a PMO – Project Management Office – if you feel like it) with the same (or more!) number of people and it will take several months, if not years, for the organization to figure out that it is the proverbial old wine in a newer, bigger bottle.

In the corporate world, one can add a new dimension to a popular saying – Lies, damn lies and statistics…….. AND Ratios!

Deniability

In the game of corporate chess played by professionals, deniability is a move reserved only for the grandmasters – comparable in strategic importance to the capture of the opponent’s queen.

For the common man, deniability might sound like a legal process to be practised only by the defense attorney in a murder case. The term might even be confused with the word, ‘disclaimer’, that dutifully appears at the end of just about every document in today’s business world. Let us try and understand this corporate phenomenon in a simple (wink, smile!) manner – while, of course, denying any (un)intended consequences!

Deniability in its simple form is the art of making promises without any intention to fulfill those. Take for example the HR Manager who promises you a salary review and potential increase after 6 months of ‘good performance’ to entice you into joining the company, taking a significant cut in your then current remuneration. Your line manager, when the magical six months are up, will plead ignorance (yes, you are learning fast the different shades of deniability) of any earlier promises made. Your attempts at raising the issue with the HR Manager will be met with strange occurrences of selective amnesia! The more conscientious HR Manager might point you to the recent changes in Section 14.3 of the HR policy that prohibits reviews before 12 months of continuous service!

More sophisticated forms of deniability require significant planning. During the sales cycle for a major ERP system, the deployment engineers are deliberately absent so that the ‘knowledgeable’ sales team of the vendor, which could include executives all the way up to the head of sales, can position the company’s offering as the panacea for all evils. All questions from the customer regarding the system’s capabilities are met with an emphatic ‘yes’. The customer signs up to what they consider a great deal and it is now time for deploying what promises to be the mother of all systems. When the vendor’s deployment team starts explaining the conditions under which the system would function and the time it would take to reorganize the company’s processes to use the new system, the customer is naturally taken aback. In sheer naivety, they try to recall the discussions during the sales process, all knowledge of which the vendor’s delivery team promptly denies! Thus begins a long cycle of acrimonious mudslinging between the two companies, even as the sales team moves on to greener pastures!

In practicing the art of deniability, one should be skillful in using ambiguous words and stating partial truths. You never say, “it works” but state something like, “it has never been known to have failed in the past”. If the customer asks, “will we get 24/7 support”, you aggressively counter with, “you may call me on my cell at any time”. The answer to, “are there any outstanding issues with the product”, is, “all known errors to-date have been fixed in the latest release”. After gaining adequate experience in handling these situations, your responses and conversation will begin to have an automatic stamp of deniability. This is when you graduate from being a mere practitioner of the art to being a mentor to others!

Deniability has come to pass as a strategic tool in corporate management – in much the same way as spying on your private life goes under the name of ‘market intelligence’ and ‘personalization’ (topics that deserve to be individually dealt with in their own right!). One can only nostalgically look back upon the times when a deal used to be sealed with a handshake!