Episode 0005 · December 8, 2022

The podcast about what to do next.

Recession-proofing Your Promotion

Paul role-plays as Jim, a hapless and cranky young product/project manager at some company or other. Jim hankered for a promotion, oh how he hankered, but now there’s a recession looming, and Jim—well, he’s never experienced one before. So he’s come to ask Rich for advice. How do you thrive in a recession? What do you need to do to get the big account, or the big promotion, when things are looking kind of dire? Rich, of course, has bullet points.

Paul Ford: Hey Rich. Let’s imagine, instead of being Paul, I’m Jim. I am a mid-level person. I’m a manager at an organization.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: And I have been reading the paper and the paper says that a recession is coming.

Rich Ziade: Okay…

Paul Ford: I’ve never seen one of these before. What are they?

Rich Ziade: You’re 29, aren’t you?

Paul Ford: Yes, I am. 

Rich Ziade: Um essentially, the American economy, by default is supposed to grow.

Paul Ford: It’s the best part about it!

Rich Ziade: And then sometimes it kind of stops growing or grows a lot less. It recedes. Ooh, yeah.

Paul Ford: Like the tide going out.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. And what happens with recessions is if you’re still kind of humming along, assuming growth, you could fall through the cracks. You could, you could–so what happens is businesses, the economy in general kind of hangs back. Christmas budget, Christmas gift budget goes down.

Paul Ford: Parties get smaller.

Rich Ziade: Parties get smaller. [00:01:00] Companies spend less. Companies hire less. When companies hire less, that means, oh, companies give less raises. That means you have less spending power. So it’s this vicious cycle of sort of a throttling down of the economy. Um, and it’s, it can be, it can be rough. It can be rough. 

Paul Ford: So about two years ago,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I got promoted to Associate Product Director.

Rich Ziade: Congratulations Jim!

Paul Ford: Thank you, thank you!

Rich Ziade: That’s great that’s great. Whose ass did you kiss to get that promotion?

Paul Ford: Well, I–

Rich Ziade: I know you don’t appreciate me even insinuating such

Paul Ford: Well I — I advocated for myself. I filled out my self review.

Rich Ziade: Fine..

Paul Ford: I was, I was–

Rich Ziade: Congrats Jim.

Paul Ford: Thank you.

Rich Ziade: Congrats. Congrats. 

Paul Ford: So I would normally be up for a promotion again this year. I want to make Associate Senior Product Director.

Rich Ziade: Mmm, which I assume would mean a raise as well.

Paul Ford: I’d love a raise but–when I go on all the [00:02:00] various websites that tell me how to be,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: They seem to either be focused on getting me to start a union. 

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm. 

Paul Ford: Getting me to, uh, accept that I’m going to get laid off,

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm. 

Paul Ford: And telling me what to do. Or they tell me, just hold on, hold on,

Rich Ziade: Hang in there.

Paul Ford: Go to your job and keep your head really low.

Rich Ziade: Uh-hmm.

Paul Ford: And I’m suspicious of all that because deep down,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I work for a pretty big organization. I was pretty ambitious. I get good reviews,

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: I get, you know, three stars, four stars,

Rich Ziade: Eh, Okay… Okay..

Paul Ford: You know, I get a-

Rich Ziade: Usually get a bonus at the end of the year?

Paul Ford: I usually get a small bonus at the end of the year.

Rich Ziade: So you might be worried about that too,

Paul Ford: I’m not, I’m-

Rich Ziade: In these tough times.

Paul Ford: Yes, I wanna buy a house,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And here we are and the US economy is contracting and you’re about 700 years older than I am,

Rich Ziade: Mmmm.

Paul Ford: So…is that right? Should I just not buy a house? Should I just kind of hide under the desk and hope that the grim reaper doesn’t come for me? What am I supposed to do?

Rich Ziade: I’m [00:03:00] not gonna get into whether you should buy a house or not. Uh, that’s a personal choice, and you have to look at that in the context of the, of your entire financial picture. Do not hide under the desk! That’s a bad scene. 

Paul Ford: Okay..

Rich Ziade: Yeah, so what you wanna do–look, let me speak from the perspective of, of, you know, a business, uh, entrepreneur who had hundreds of people work for me. There’s a calculation you do, which is, how critical is this person to the org? Like, render yourself absolutely key, such that if they touch the bandaid, not even rip it off, it is absolute pain for them. Render yourself critical. So hiding under the desk is probably not gonna succeed. You’re probably not gonna be able to do that.

Paul Ford: Okay fine so,

Rich Ziade: Get out of, get up, sit in your chair!

Paul Ford: It sounds like what you’re saying is I, whenever I do anything, I should email my boss.

Rich Ziade: No, don’t do that. That’s not good either.

Paul Ford: So what do I do?

Rich Ziade: Um, If you take a look at what the mechanisms are for why a business would be [00:04:00] stable and thrive, right? You are in the machine. You are one of the gears in the machine.

Continuing to put yourself. And render yourself key to stability and growth for that company means that they need you. Such that when they do have to sit down and that’s a grim, I’ve been in that meeting where you have to kind of sit down and like look at the list and we gotta shave off X dollars. It’s actually very clinical.

Is it? Oh, we cannot let Jim go. That would just be devastating. We’re not gonna do it.

Paul Ford: Let me be Paul for a minute, Jim, and I’ll talk to Jim.Jim, can you hear me?

Paul Ford (Jim): “Yes, I can hear you”.

Paul Ford: Okay, Jim, what you need to do is be aware of the fact that when it gets tough, you’re a line on a spreadsheet because everything’s a line on a spreadsheet.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: The CEO is aligned on a spreadsheet.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: They’re all there. When they do these meetings, the CEO’s there and his salary is there, like it’s not-

Rich Ziade: Bosses have bosses, even CEOs,

Paul Ford: And so somewhere [00:05:00] down that list is you, Jim.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: You are an FTE, a full-time employee, and your salary is known.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And your position is known and the value you bring to the organization is calculated in some sort of hand wavy way.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. 

Paul Ford: You gotta figure out, you’re a little cell on that spreadsheet and you gotta figure out how to start waving a flag. You gotta come out of that spreadsheet.

Rich Ziade: Yeah! yeah.

Paul Ford: But it’s not about getting attention to you. Don’t draw attention to yourself as a line on a spreadsheet,

Rich Ziade: Especially for senior people. Senior people frown on that.

They, they read it pretty quickly and they’re like, oh, you don’t value my time.

Paul Ford: Okay, so you’re telling me I’ll be Jim again. You’re telling me, rich, that if they are, my entire job is to make sure that if they look at that spreadsheet and think, “what if we get rid of the Jim line?”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. 

Paul Ford: They go, “Ooh, hold on a minute.” 

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Yes. Well, they, they will, they will do that, right? Like they, they will do that down the list. Usually it’s layers below. It’s like, Hey, department head, [00:06:00] you need to go shave off 800 grand off your, off your next year’s budget. Give me the names.

Paul Ford: But this is inhuman and I’m a valuable person, rich.

Rich Ziade: I know, but recessions test the existential will of companies.

Paul Ford: Again, this is Paul Recessions are wonderful for spreadsheet vendors,

Rich Ziade: Yeah [chuckles].

Paul Ford: and terrible for employees.

Rich Ziade: They’re rough. I mean, and, and you know what, what drives them? What drives them is this sense that.

Under the status quo, the whole endeavor may be at risk, so we’re gonna have to, um, uh, shed some weight. We’re gonna have to throw some, some stuff off the boat, right? Like, yeah, there’s, because we don’t want the whole thing to sink.

That’s the driver, right?

Paul Ford: All right, rich. I accept that I’m a line on a spreadsheet and I accept that you’re gonna tell me what to do and that I need to do it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So I go to work, I log in.

I do my tasks in the, in the, the task management [00:07:00] system.

I email my boss, I talk to,

Rich Ziade: Sounds like a pretty lousy job. 

Paul Ford: Well… I do pretty well. I work from home. I have a good setup,

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: and I have a nice window I look out of, and a golden retriever, and I’m a mid-level Project Manager.

Rich Ziade: Do you go to work at all? 

Paul Ford: No. Well, we don’t really go to work that much anymore. The office is there.

Rich Ziade: You should go to work 

Paul Ford: Why? Everybody’s remote now?

Rich Ziade: Well, I, I think part of rendering, rendering yourself critical and elevating your visibility and connecting with others, frankly. Um, uh, part I think, I think it’s hard to get noticed when you’re home, uh, when they have to make these hard decisions to feel it, to feel like you have to show your, you know, your productivity highlight reel during that one meeting you have once a week for 30 minutes with your boss is not great.

Paul Ford: So, you’re saying I should go in and, and go to [00:08:00] every office and talk to everyone and show them that I’m there?

Rich Ziade: I think, I think connecting with others is a valuable part of the tool set to rendering yourself important and essential to a place. Yes, and I think it’s good.

Paul Ford: But hold on,

Rich Ziade: I think it’s also good,

Paul Ford: Let me be Paul again. Hey, Jim. When you go into the office, your job is not to walk around and tell everybody how great you are you are. Here’s your job. “What are you working on? How’s that going? Is there anything I can do to help?”.

Rich Ziade: Connect.

Paul Ford: Alright, I’ll be Jim again, “Rich. I’m willing to go into the office at least three days a week and I’ll, I’ll ask people what they’re up to and I don’t mind. A little extra work”.

Rich Ziade: Um, if you’re a manager, you may be worried about hitting your numbers or you may be worried about, um… 

Paul Ford: But wait, Rich, my manager’s job is to advocate for his people and build their careers.

Rich Ziade: That’s part of his job. It’s part of his job. His job, and again, we’re gonna have to grossly generalize here, [00:09:00] maybe to hit a certain sales target or it maybe to make sure, um, the, um, the QA failure rate is less than 1% for the widgets that come outta the factory.

Who knows what, how people’s success gets measured differently depending on what their job is. Part of it is, of course, keeping their team happy, and that should be part of it. The best thing you can do is to internalize the goals of your manager. It is an amazingly powerful thing to do because what you’re essentially saying is, I feel your pain and I’m here to help you.

Paul Ford: But I don’t wanna become a suck up brown-nosing piece of garbage.

Rich Ziade: Jim, you’ve got broader issues. That’s clear. I don’t know if it’s a dad thing, but here we are. Um, nobody–good managers don’t respond well to sucking up. They never do. They just never do. In fact, they, they see right through it. Um, and they’re like, they feel swindled.

Paul Ford: Okay, [00:10:00] Rich, I’m gonna go into the office and I’m gonna say hi to people. I’ll have a cup of coffee and then I’m gonna go to my boss’s office. What do you want me to say?

Rich Ziade: “How are things”?

Paul Ford: Okay. How are things? You be the boss.

Rich Ziade: How are things? Um, oh, you’re asking me right now?

Paul Ford: Sure!

Rich Ziade: Um…

Paul Ford: I need help, man. 

Rich Ziade: Good. The Philly office, the numbers just came in. Um, I don’t know how to bring them up. Uh, we expected better, um, better deals to come through. They’re not coming through. Um, I, I’m wondering if we should throw an event or spend on Mark. I don’t know. Um, but I gotta roll these up. Boston looks good. New York looks good.

Philly. Um, Is falling short. And I’m, I’m a little anxious about it cause they’re gonna look at Northeast. They don’t care that it’s Philly. 

Paul Ford: Hey, boss. do you mind-

Rich Ziade: You can call me Rich, Jim.

Paul Ford: Oh.

Rich Ziade: You’ve worked for me for seven years. You still call me Boss.

Paul Ford: Thanks, Mr. Rich. Can I have the Philly numbers for a minute? I’ll, I’m not gonna share them with [00:11:00]anybody, but I do think with Boston, we did a nice thing with that platform and,

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: and that marketing work, and so I was part of that and I, I don’t know, maybe this’ll work. I don’t know. I just wanna see. Is that cool?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, go take–I mean, sure. Just don’t, you know, don’t broadcast out. Not a lot of people know yet.

Paul Ford: Are you around tomorrow?

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Okay. Let me just, I, I’ll, I’ll report back. I’ll send you an email or I’ll come by.

Rich Ziade: Okay, that–okay, end scene. 

Paul Ford: Okay. so that you’re telling me that in order to thrive in a recession, I have to deliver value to the company more so than I might be doing now.

Rich Ziade: I mean, the company is, you know, I–it always amazes me how sunflowers bend towards the sun.

Paul Ford: Sure..

Rich Ziade: It’s actually kinda wild companies are gonna bend towards the actors within them that [00:12:00] make it more successful and resilient. That is a natural sort of weird, macro social outcome of companies. That’s just how the world works. Um,

Paul Ford: But I’m still crabby about this. It seems to all be about money.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Well, no, not necessarily. You could be in a nonprofit and a nonprofit may be trying to find a new donor, or there’s a big whatever. Um, companies have most companies most, let’s, let’s zoom out. Most organizations have motivations in a macro sense, Right? Uh, and, and what are those motivations? They are oftentimes to make money for their owners and to take care of their employees, employees to provide a stable place to work for people. But ultimately you don’t start a comp–I be wary of the company whose mission statement is to provide people with stable jobs.

It can’t be that, that can’t be the end.

Paul Ford: That’s the role of a [00:13:00] union.

Rich Ziade: That’s the role of a union. That’s the role of a government, that’s a role of a commune,

Paul Ford: Not of a government that hires people, but of a government of policy. 

Rich Ziade: A policy, a company, a, a company performing as a selfish actor brings stability, and that is counterintuitive because it sounds greedy and selfish, but that’s not what it is.

Paul Ford: We’re back to the spreadsheet, and this is hard. This part is very hard because, you know, it, it essentially is one of those narratives where people go, you know, God, they just treat people like lines on a spreadsheet. And the actual honest answer is yes, you do. When you work at in management at a company, a big part of your week is you look at a list of humans and resources on a spreadsheet,

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And you sum them up and you go, how’s that going?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And once a month somebody comes and shows you the spreadsheet again,

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And says, looks like we’re going this direction. And you go, boy, we’re gonna have to change that spreadsheet.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: That is tough. Like, 

Rich Ziade: That is tough. That is tough.

Paul Ford: But, but I, I really do feel like when we, when, as you’re [00:14:00] giving these points, right? The recession makes that spreadsheet more important every day to your bosses.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And you need to know that you’re on it and it doesn’t mean you’re good or bad or whatever. I remember processing really hard when I was in my twenties trying to figure out like the fact that I could be laid off.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Was really upsetting to me. It didn’t feel fair, right? Like I would do my job.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then there were times where I did a terrible job and I kept expecting to get laid off and nobody cared. So it goes in all sorts of different directions.

Rich Ziade: Of course.

Paul Ford: Being on the spreadsheet sucks, but I don’t, there is no, it is above the pay grade of Ziade and Ford Advisors to fix that.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Like that’s, you know– so Rich, okay. I’m gonna do these things. It still feels like I’m sucking up to my boss, but I’m gonna believe that by being helpful, that’s okay. 

Rich Ziade: Yeah…

Paul Ford: Anything else, that’s gonna turn me into a suck up in office brown nosing weasel employee?

Rich Ziade: Uh, I, no, uh, but I will give you some bad news and then hopefully a way to navigate outta [00:15:00] the bad news. You may do all of this and you may do real well, and you may still not get, you may still not get what you deserve. Um, humans, uh, defend their territory. They defend their status. Um, if a manager, if your manager sees you as an absolute rockstar. Uh, the good ones advocate for you and wanna see you get promoted, the bad ones, um, view you as a threat and will actually either- A take credit for your work and not recognize, not, not help you, um, project out your abilities in, in a way that’ll, that’ll benefit you because they see it as a threat to them, right?

Paul Ford: To be fair, let them take credit for your work as long as they also do advocate for you.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Yes. Don’t, don’t get upset if they take credit for your work,

Rich Ziade: That’s right.

Paul Ford: Get upset if they take credit for your work and then suppress your success.

Rich Ziade: And here is the number one anti-political, the most, no, [00:16:00] let me do it again. Here is the most powerful political tool you can use.

Your work, it is going to get out. Word will get out. Talk to your peers. Talk about how you solved the thing openly, and it is a brutally neutralizing thing, and I’m saying this as, as someone who ran an agency and helped our clients navigate really rough political waters, the number one thing we would say to them is, get this work out and everyone will line up and will get on your side because they will want to be near your success. Work. Your work output is the most powerful political tool.

Paul Ford: Here is, this is a very abstract lesson, but it’s completely real. Social reality is nowhere near as potent as reality reality.

Rich Ziade: Reality reality [chuckles].

Paul Ford: But people forget [00:17:00] that because they can’t see or touch reality reality. Especially we were building digital things. But the true, it’s, it’s true of opening the new store or going into the new market or dealing with the problem in front of you.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: The, what people immediately react to is, well, you know, Mike is gonna get really upset about this.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: We need to work around that. And now everybody’s orienting around, Mike getting upset. If you can just go do your work, and maybe you do need to go home and not be at the office for a minute, but more likely you just need to go in the office and get some work done.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: You’ll be amazed at how much more stable you are.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: If you find yourself constantly working around what humans expect as opposed to getting something done, then start looking. Because you will be the first on the block,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And you may not have the ability to change that.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Your work output, your work product is much more powerful than oral arguments.

Paul Ford: It’s real. It’s real.

Rich Ziade: It’s just the reality of life [chuckles].

Paul Ford: But not in the local, not [00:18:00] this week,

Rich Ziade: Not this week.

Paul Ford: But over a six month period.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And that’s the hardest thing to process. And in fact, what it does is it gets everybody motivated to be political.

Rich Ziade: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

Paul Ford: Alright, Rich. 

Rich Ziade: Umm hang in there, everyone, um, uh, I don’t know if there will be a recession, regardless. I don’t know if we need to, 

Paul Ford: David Solomon says there will be, and he’s a DJ.

Rich Ziade: Well, David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs,

Paul Ford: And he’s a DJ.

Rich Ziade: Said there’s a possibility there will be a recession.

Paul Ford: Do you think he has a little DJ booth in his office at Goldman Sachs and when he brings you in to yell at you, he’s just like, hold on a minute. And then he like puts up his hand cause the drop is coming and then it’s like you’re [beat drop], “Oh you’re fired”.

Rich Ziade: Ah, that’s a rough, that’s a drop!

Paul Ford: I don’t think that you can DJ a reduction in force at Goldman Sachs. I think that’s not cool.

Rich Ziade: It’s not cool.

Paul Ford: So I doubt he does that.

Rich Ziade: I don’t think he does.

Paul Ford: The board would have a strong opinion.

Rich Ziade: Yeah um, we, uh, we hope you find this useful. 

Paul Ford: Poor Jim. Jim’s a little crabby. He needs to get in the [00:19:00] office and just like perk up and put on a bow.

Rich Ziade: Um, hit us up, we are @ZiadeFord on Twitter, we are everywhere. Podcasts go and hello@ZiadeFord.com if you’ve got topic ideas or you need advice on anything, we are here in the spirit of generosity, Paul.

Paul Ford: Hang in there folks, recessions happen. We will get through it and uh, we’ll keep talking. We’ll keep figuring it all out Rich. That’s what we do.

Rich Ziade: Kitty cat hanging off a tree, a tree branch.

Paul Ford: Hang in there. 

Rich Ziade: Hang in there. Have a great week.

Paul Ford: Bye. 

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