What your boss wants from you: Part 1

August 9, 2007, 4:50 PM UTC
Fortune

picture1.jpgThis begins a series of short instructions to you, as employees, informing you of the various things your boss, no matter who he or she may be, probably requires of you, regardless of what business you are in, what level of the tree you inhabit, or whether they are crazy or not.

I think these may be useful. I spend a lot of time poking fun, and sometimes a sharp stick in the eye, at bosses, for their various depredations. What I don’t often talk about is what we employees do to drive our poor senior officers around the bend. There is no guaranteeing that if we give the boss what he or she wants, the situation between us will improve. Bosses are irrational. But these are a good start. Here’s the first:

#1. Be there.

I knew an executive not long ago, we’ll call him Barry. Barry was in charge of new media. Now, every year in Las Vegas there is a gigantic rat scramble called the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s not really all about consumer electronics. It’s a huge gathering of nerds, techs and visionaries from every business discipline that is interested in the future of business as we know it. More than 100,000 attend. It’s insane for about a week. Anybody who is anybody or wishes to appear as somebody is there from Gates on down. Apple (AAPL), in its extreme creative grandiosity, actually programs a competitive convention in the Bay Area for technoids who wish to follow their eightfold path. Barry’s company sent about 35 people there, including its executive vice presidents of just about everything. The only one who took vacation that week was Barry. He was in Hawaii. I hope he liked Hawaii, because about eight months later he was given the opportunity to spend the rest of his future there.

Last week, my company announced its earnings. One of my guys took the opportunity to take a well-earned vacation. When he returned I took him into my office. “Have a good time in Ecuador, Mark?” I inquired politely.

“Oh yes,” he said. “It’s great there.”

“I have no doubt,” I said. “Please sit down.” He sat and looked up at me with big, limpid eyes. “Mark,” I continued with maximum cordiality and blandness, “don’t ever take a vacation during earnings week again. The fact that you did so indicates to me that you’re not really thinking about how you fit into the work around here. It shows your head is not in the game. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” said Mark. And then he went away.

But not too far. He’s no dummy.