pissing off one group at a time

With my recent graduation from business school, many colleagues, peers, friends, and family have been asking me what’s next, and how work is going.  They kind of go hand in hand (though a negative answer to the latter doesn’t mean that I’m rushing forward to something in the former).

At work, the biggest development has been that we have started moving away from the status quo and just building up our resources and onto actual new, (hopefully) meaningful initiatives.  I have learned a couple of valuable lessons already in doing so.

The first one is rather obvious – no matter what you do, you’re going to piss someone off with whatever it is you’re trying to get done.  If it’s new, then at the very least the status quo folks will be unhappy.  My goal is to piss off just one group at a time.  Furthermore, I try to keep the effort sufficiently segregated that one will not be pissed off either on behalf of someone else or out of sympathy or some other weird connection.  This is more than the “you can only please 80% of the people 20% of the time” or whatever the saying is.  I’m challenging the status quo, and impacting (and therefore potentially upsetting) 90% of an entire group at a time.

The second part is that it takes perhaps even more political guile than I had realized to piss off only one group at a time.  The issue is that these groups are layered.  Some layers are cooperative and open-minded, some are less so.  And it’s important to keep the more receptive layers happy.  In a way, they end up being allies against the less friendly sub-groups, but at the heart it’s just about keeping good relationships on solid footing.  I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with politics, but I don’t try to manipulate as a standard method of operation.  It’s just simply illogical to burn bridges with potential allies.

The dangerous thing about these layers and sub-groups is that other people know that they are the receptive ones, too.  Which means they often get inundated with calls, e-mails, etc trying to get them to help because others are less tractable.  Even when I employ alternative means of communicating – offers for lunch, coffee, stopping by randomly – they can be less than receptive due to simple overload.  This is especially problematic at a small organization, such as Santa Clara.  So in one’s efforts to be friendly and reach out, it’s possible you might start to singe some bridges.

The point of this post is not to “educate” readers (do I even have a dozen?  who knows) that one cannot make everyone happy at the same time.  It is a little bit about how one should often forget happy and be willing to accept controlled annoyance.

All of the business school methods and techniques about management, inter-office politics, etc really start to take useful shapes when the MBA is done and the real world starts to envelop one’s actions (before it’s kind of a blend – learn something new tonight, try it out tomorrow.  Now it’s “assimilate everything you’ve learned and apply it all at once”).  Sometimes they are “useful” in demonstrating how tough things can be.