Little did I know what I was getting into when I took the job, but after a few months I’d noticed a pattern in how employees interacted with the C-suite. Rather than opening debates or seeking input about the pros and cons over any given item, the execs would expect everyone to agree with them whether or not it was the right thing.
When someone made statements contrary to what the CxOs wanted to hear, they were most likely demoted or replaced by somebody who would agree with them. It didn’t matter if what you said was realistic; what mattered most to the CxOs was that you agreed to what they said.
I found out that the company culture hadn’t always been this way. But a new CEO had turned communication into a one-sided path, and the rest of the suits had followed. As you can probably guess, morale was not exactly high at this company and a fair number of employees got out when they could. However, a few of them played by the “rules” and stayed put.
The way to keep your dignity: Just say no
I was not one of them. I was put in charge of a project that ultimately led to my dismissal. The project was to migrate both our main site and disaster recovery site to two different data centers. The problem was that once in a while we would have blackouts that would outlast our UPS units, and we couldn’t install generators due to space constraints (and probably couldn't get the permit for our location even if there was space). Migrating to new data center locations was the way to go.
At this point in the project, we’d been able to navigate most of the hurdles to get the main data center site up and running; we simply needed to move all our systems there after all the planning. I gave the bosses a realistic timeline to get the project completed, but it was too long. They asked me to revise the timeline, but the job was not doable in the window they wanted. Needless to say, I was replaced.
I moved on to another job but heard through the grapevine what happened afterward.
The way to keep a job: Just say yes
The person who replaced me lasted for a short time, but also got canned. The CxOs then moved on to Project Leader No. 3. This one didn’t mind telling senior management what they wanted to hear and stayed around a while.
The third candidate continued with my initial project plan, but with a crucial change: an aggressive timeline, so much so that nobody on the team could take a day off for at least several months straight. Pity the employee who got sick!
One of the main hurdles in prepping the data center was our need to get the MPLS connection from our telecom company to connect all our sites to the new location -- a process that takes at least three months.
Project Leader No. 3 decided to both switch telecom providers and move to another data center location a bit cheaper and farther away (win-win, he said). He canceled the service established with the data center provider that was already in place, but also lost the lead time required for the telecom to make the needed changes.
He thought he could get the new data center up and running in three months. It turned out to take more than a year, mostly because the new telecom vendor was in the process of changing the type of service offered.
Despite missing the deadline, Project Leader No. 3 was not replaced. I suppose the secret to success at this company was knowing exactly what to say and what not to say to the CxOs, no matter the results.