“Yeah, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, kay? Ah, we sort of need to play catch up.” If you hang out in Corporate America for any length of time, you will run into a number of “Lumberghs” (Gary Cole’s character from the movie Office Space, and the new HipChat commercials). And while these bastions of bureaucracy might not get that endless/pointless meetings, TPS reports, and inflexible schedules are relics from a less-efficient era, they are also likely to be in positions of authority.
If your boss habitually wastes resources, and fails to see the issue, it can put you in a very difficult spot. Most of the time, you can’t just call them on it (well, you could, but you might end up in the bread line), but you also can’t just sit there and watch your company stagnate. What do you do, then, when path dependency is stronger than common sense? Use your other five:
This could be the hardest one on the list. When we see something that doesn’t work as well as it should, most of us leap right to a possible solution. However, we can sometimes be so anxious to solve a problem that we never stop to ask, “Has anyone tried this before?” Before you go trying to re-invent the box, take a beat, get the facts. There’s no inefficiency greater than duplicated effort.
That said, don’t fall for any bullshit. As you start to learn what has been tried before, be ready to sniff out the genuine non-starters. Some ideas were probably abandoned due to legitimate roadblocks, but others may have been given up due to temporary circumstances (like a budget crunch), neglect, or just plain laziness. Never underestimate the power of resistance to change.
The best idea in the world will get you nowhere if you don’t have the necessary buy-in. If you want your boss to behave differently, first show her how it benefits her. Figure out what is important to her, then try and view things from her position. Will your plan save her department money, increase next quarter’s sales, or impress her boss? If at all possible, never bring someone a problem; bring them an opportunity.
Office politics are no longer as Draconian as in the first few seasons of Mad Men. Most competent supervisors, managers, and executives recognize that good ideas can come from any level of the company. But, a certain etiquette is still observed. It may feel awkward, but talk to your boss first. Going over your boss’ head is the quickest way to piss him off. Always try to preserve the chain of command.
At some point, however, you will need to take action. What if you have identified a problem, done your due diligence, presented an informed solution in a way that speaks to your boss’ needs, and she still says “no”? Well, then you have a decision to make: is this change so profoundly necessary that it is worth risking your job? It very well might be. If so, take it to anyone who will listen. A truly good idea will almost always be heard. At the very least, even if you find yourself uploading your resume to Indeed.com, you will know that you did everything you could.