Being an employee of a company, big or small, means that you will have to convince someone to help you with your job who is not in your direct chain of command. These tend to be called cross-functional teams or task forces, or simply a favor. Who do you ask to help you out?
In my last position, I learned the value of alignment. In fact, this became my word of the year for 2014 as I finished my dissertation and started working on a global strategy for my current employer. In a long paper, the front needs to align with the middle and the end. In the corporate world, the leadership team’s goals need to align with the CEO’s. Think of it like an inflatable boat with six riders. You want an even number of people with paddles, equally balanced on each side of the boat all pulling the same direction. If one person is facing backwards, that will impede your progress tremendously and could send you spinning.
Let’s bring in some game theory to this discussion. Game theory relies on the assumption that people are rational and act only to maximize their payoffs. We’ve all worked with an irrational person before (real or perceived), so sometimes we need to take this into account when we approach people to help us. Let’s start examine both:
- Rational players act to maximize payoffs. Your challenge is to find the individual who benefits personally from helping you. The way I did it is I would seek to understand how my future collaborator is paid from a bonus perspective (or rewarded). If my project helps her increase her potential payout, she will be more likely to help me (that is, unless there are other projects that increase the payout more and she does not have time to help me).
- Irrational players act, well, irrationally. Politics might play into it, and personal problems or favoritism can help as well. For example, people who really like you may volunteer to help with your project even if there is a neutral or negative effect to their payoffs. If you have made some enemies, they may step to block you or simply decline your request, even if it increases their personal payoffs.
If you are being ignored or the individual is not taking the same priority you would like him to take, there may be an alignment issue with his comp plan and your project, or he is just an irrational being. Escalation or blame will probably only make the problem worse; if you start to bring out the big guns be prepared for what will happen next. The colloquialism, “Pick your battles” comes to mind. Just because you are right doesn’t mean that your actions will benefit you or the greater good. It’s probably the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn over time. You may have to ignore certain problems and let them proceed to their own resolution. Bad behaviors will resolve themselves over time, and some are OK to let wither and die.
One final piece of advice is even if you follow the steps above, your priorities may not match someone else’s priorities. I liken it to watching a boss make a decision that looks goofy. You probably don’t have all the information that your superior has, so what you perceive as a stupid decision or idiotic move may in fact be the best decision among poor choices. If you need a real world example of this, ask yourself which major promise from our sitting President’s campaign in 2008 remains broken (and will probably stay that way). Sometimes there are reasons why things are they way they are.
Up next, the lovely world of finance!