Don’t work for furniture.
Years ago Texas legislators coined a term for peers – almost all of whom were men until the early 70’s – who were so ineffectual and inconsequential that they didn’t matter in the least: furniture. You wouldn’t know such a member was there during a session unless you bumped into them.
Just the other day a colleague called me to vent a little about how much trouble she was having filling a job. The job specs aren’t that difficult and we both know people who are qualified to do it. Candidates aren’t the issue. Neither is culture, climate, comp or any other c-word you can think of.
The problem, she said, was this:
All professional disciplines have networks and now, thanks to the advent of the web, smart phones and #SoMe, personal and corporate reputations are easy to uncover with a few clicks or swipes. Word on the street (even if that street is now a digital highway) is that the hiring manager for this job is furniture.
And not the sleek lightweight Ikea stuff either. Heavy old dinged pine veneer and plywood I suspect.
Who wants to work for furniture?
The notion here is simple. When you join an organization or move to a new role in your current one you want to really benefit from the boss-subordinate relationship. In a phrase, you want to learn. If you end up being friends with your boss great – but the question is: how does any role expand your knowledge?
You won’t learn from furniture unless required to frequently polish it or walk around it as it gets in your way. My OD friends would label this a “blocker”.
Kidding aside there is no less attractive sobriquet to be saddled with. What’s humorous in the abstract becomes career-derailing in reality for the furniture and the unfortunate stools – or stooges – supporting same.
How can you detect furniture when looking at new opportunities? Does the potential manager:
- Use words like “me” or “we”
- Use technology appropriately or cling to paper, process and procedure from 1999
- Display current knowledge on the state of your discipline
- Readily discuss business issues the team is facing and how they’re addressing
- Predict with any clarity the near-term (1-2 years) needs of the organization
- Talk confidently about failures they’ve had and what the team learned from them
- Provide examples of risks taken by the team and how they proceeded
Working for a blocker – someone resistant to change, learning or just plain action – is not just frustrating: its career-impacting. Time wasted in a role bound up resisting change is time not spent running, falling, learning, getting up and trying again.
We call that run-fall-get up process “experience”.
Look out for the furniture in your life, and keep the easy chairs at home where they belong.