Keep in mind he sent 4 last weekend, and the boss made a point of saying he noticed.
With increasing frequency, I’ve noticed the usual cast of success gurus touting that people should “merchandise your work”. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means making sure the work you do is visible to management, both presenting every little thing in a positive light and then drawing attention to it. It means spend less time DOING work, and more time BRAGGING about what little work you do. Merchandise it!
This might sound like good advice on an individual level. After all, if your boss doesn’t know what you’re spending your time on, you’ve got a problem. However, the solution isn’t to go around celebrating every little thing and calling attention to yourself. Oh, sure, it might work. For a while. But very quickly other people who do the work in the office— your peers and underlings— will notice. And they will resent you.
They will sabotage you.
They will document what’s really going on.
They will be out to get you. And though they may fail, they will persist and try to extract some price.
And they will spread rumors about who you really are, not just at the office, but all over town.
And they will be right to do so. Because really, one person walking around the office merchandising their work is like one wheel talking about all the hard work it’s doing moving the car down the road. The other wheels, well, they’re not going to like that.
But the boss insists!
A much bigger problem than one person merchandising their work is when the boss (or senior management) starts suggesting that everyone should do it. Many bosses got promoted for their individual success and have trouble managing the people under them. They probably got where they are by doing work and merchandising it well so people noticed them, so when there’s trouble or someone needs advice, they may suggest that people who want to get ahead do the same.
But this is lazy. It suggests that rather than try to evaluate the work of others, that instead workers evaluate themselves and then get rewarded by how well they present it. And the consequences of management encouraging an environment where everyone merchandises their work is that productivity will drop dramatically.
The result is never that people do more or better work. No, the incentives have shifted, and people pick up on it. Talking about work has now become more valued than doing work. What happen is:
- People spend time trying to figure out whether something is likely to be seen and whether it is likely to succeed and of course how easy it is.
- People fight to get easy, safe work with high visibility.
- People try to avoid the difficult or risky projects, even if they have visibility.
- The hard work without visibility never gets done.
The whole system of work gets reversed, as you can see in this chart.
Because before someone might choose to do a difficult assignment, because if it succeeds they will get credit for undertaking it, but not be penalized too much if it fails because everyone knew it was hard. But if the bosses aren’t evaluating difficulty or risk any more, and are just hearing people present things, then how hard or risky something is will no longer be clear.
A healthy company has managers and executives who notice what work gets done. They notice how hard things are, and have some sense of how risky a project is so that they can retain people willing to take the difficult projects. A corrupt company creates a situation where bosses are too lazy to bother noticing what’s going on— probably because they’re all too busy merchandising THEIR work for the executives. Most companies are somewhere in between, but it’s easy for things to get out of control, because evaluating work accurately is hard.
So next time a boss tells you to merchandise your work, take them to heart and merchandise your work ON YOUR RESUME and get yourself out of there before it all goes to Hell.
PowerPoint is a red flag