By Barbara Poole
I am writing this tonight on the way to St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a place I never thought I would visit. A world of mystery, harshness, and over-reaching government. Of all the places to find an analogy to life in corporate America, this was the last place I thought I would find it. But there is one. I learned that Russian police have such meager salaries that they seek to fatten their wallets by harassing tourists for money. It goes like this: at any moment, a tourist can expect to be approached by a policeman, who demands passport and documents for inspection. The cop finds “an irregularity” and immediately demands payment of a fine. If you push back, he will eventually go away without the fine. However, if you’re not a Russian native, you will not be as lucky. Another situation involves petty thieves who will throw a wallet on the street, and wait until an unsuspecting tourist picks it up. At that moment, he leaps out and demands that the tourist pay back the money he “stole” from the wallet. While wallet scams can happen in Russia, we’re also talking about petty crimincals in other metro areas where people are desparate for survival.
Times are tough in today’s job economy. And in corporate America, the landscape is just as rough. How often does it happen that employees in companies that are experiencing layoffs and restructurings are called out for faulty reports, hours irregularitiess, or any infractions too many to list here? The fact is that as jobs become more precious, people become more intense in their desire for self preservation. Whether it is a “document irregularity”, or a symbolic wallet on the street, savvy employees learn the art of being participant observers in the movie called work. They are as much in the movie as they are observing it, giving themselves strategic advantage over those who will intentionally trip them up for their own gain. The moral of the story: Push back if the message you receive is a faulty one, and whatever you do, run from a wallet on the sidewalk like it has the plague.