Thursday, May 27, 2004

Art of surviving

So you want to be a CEO? Reality TV show Survivor can teach you how to beat your enemies at office politics, writes SUMIKO TAN.

THE professors at Harvard Business School will sniff at this, but I believe reality TV has tips on how to climb up the corporate ladder.

In particular, Survivor, the mother of all reality TV shows.

Unless you’ve been stuck on Mars, you’d know that Survivor features a group of people abandoned in some God-forsaken place. They are divided into “tribes” and take part in contests. Every few days, someone is voted off until there are only two people left.

A “tribal council” made up of players who have been kicked out earlier then votes for the US$1mil (RM3.8mil) winner.

Before you snort in derision, consider the similarities: in both the show and the corporate world, people fight tooth and nail for a prize – money in Survivor, and a promotion (and money, too) in the latter.

People “play-act” in both so-called reality worlds – playing to the camera in Survivor, and putting on a “work face” in the office, as opposed to being their true selves at home.

And in both worlds, it is dog-eat-dog as people scheme, schmooze and claw their way to the top.

So, what lessons can you glean from TV?

Here are 15 Machiavellian strategies:

Strategy No.1 – Be likeable: No matter how much of an individualist you are or how much you disdain your colleagues, make friends (Hatch, Jerri, Jon). You need allies at work. If anything else, they can help ease the tedium of office life.
But don’t make your friendships so exclusive that they shut out others. In your journey up the ladder of success, you’ll need all the friends you can find.

Always maintain a harmonious relationship with everyone around you.

This is especially crucial when you aren’t particularly talented in anything.

Strategy No.2 – Team work matters: You may think you are the sharpest arrow in the bag (Heidi, Alicia) but, hold on. When you’re placed in a group situation, you can’t fly solo. Co-operate or you will be labelled arrogant.

Strategy No.3 – Sniff out power: Always align yourself with those in power, for you can ride on their coat-tails as they rise (Amber and Rob M.). Be friendly to them.
Ingratiate yourself, if you have to.

Strategy No.4 – Know thy enemy: While you may be on smiling terms with everyone, here’s Fact Of Life No.1: Not everyone will like you.
Blame it on chemistry. Accept this. Then, know thy enemy and his weakness so that you’ll know where exactly to plunge the knife, and when.

Say, you sense a colleague is lobbying to get you kicked out of a plum assignment. Quickly, seek out another colleague whom the first chap also detests – and vice versa – and play them against each other. (Rob M., Tom and Rupert).

That way, you shift attention away from yourself.

The two will slug it out and one of them will be eliminated, narrowing down the number of people you will have to compete with eventually.

Strategy No.5 – Early ties bind: Believe it or not, loyalty exists in both cut-throat worlds. (Rudy, Rupert).
Have you ever wondered why the company hasn’t retrenched a long-time employee who had obviously hit his use-by date years ago?

Chances are, the boss is someone whom he embarked his working life with eons ago, and who is now his guardian angel.

They were part of the same “tribe” and their bond means the unproductive worker will not be voted out.

And don’t be so silly as to gripe to your boss about his old tribe-mate.

Strategy No.6 – Have a good work ethic: No matter how much you make your colleagues laugh, nobody likes a lazy fellow. If you’re a good-for-nothing-won’t-lift-a-finger Survivor/worker, alliances and friendships can take you only so far. You must put in some work.

Strategy No.7 – Win awards: But if your work ethic sucks, assert yourself at the right moments to win awards. There’s nothing like getting recognised for something to make people forget you’ve been coasting all along.

Strategy No.8 – Stay under the radar (also known as UTR): The UTR strategy was used to great effect by winners like Tina, Vecepia, Brian, Sandra and Amber.
They weren’t obnoxious but neither were they overly nice. They did their share of work but didn’t go overboard. They won challenges but nothing that would make them seem a threat – at least not at first.

Going UTR also means you’ll not be arrowed to do too much work, or be blamed if anything goes wrong.

But when it comes to the final tribal council (or “appraisal time” in work parlance), get out from under the radar and embark on shameless self-promotion.

Strategy No.9 – Good looks matter: Fact Of Life No.2: Good-lookers attract more attention. (Elisabeth, Amber, Jenna M.). Use your physical assets wisely, though. Flaunt them only to the opposite sex.
When around your gender mates, be modest.

Strategy No.10 – Success breeds contempt: Fact Of Life No.3: Everyone hates a winner (Tina, Ethan, Hatch). If you’re always aceing the big assignments, don’t be surprised if your colleagues start giving you the cold shoulder.
Be modest and watch your back.

Strategy No.11 – Never make deals/promises you can’t keep: You’ll get a bad reputation and your words will come back to haunt you (Rob M.).

Strategy No.12 – Never believe that deals/promises made to you will be kept:
It’s a jungle out there, okay (Lex, Rupert)?

Strategy No.13 – Keep your emotions at bay:
There’s no need to get emotionally involved (Lil, Kathy). As in Survivor, it’s all about the game.

Or, in the office, work. Be patient, keep a cool head and hone your listening skills. You never know what you might pick up.

Strategy No.14 – Have a good game plan: Obvious? Not really. Most go into a game without a plan (Tom, Rupert). Be clear about your goal (to be manager next year...) and strategies ( staying under the radar until appraisal time) and stick to them. Yet ...

Strategy No.15 – Go with the flow: Be flexible enough to change tack as the game shifts (Sandra). If you see an opportunity to advance yourself, dump whatever plan you already have and lie if you have to, if it will get you what you want.
So there you have it. Machiavellian methods to rise to the top, courtesy of Survivor – not that my colleagues and I practise any of them, of course.

Or, hmmm, do we? – The Straits Times Singapore/Asia News Network

The Star 27/5/2004

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