How to Win the Ground War at Work


A great philosopher once said that love is a battlefield. That may or may not be true, but you might be interested to know that work is also a battlefield.

To succeed, to win, you need to plan for the long term. You need more than skills and tactics, you need a strategy. But why bother dreaming up your own strategy when you can just steal one from Napoleon Bonaparte: “An army marches on its stomach.” Don’t see the connection? Let me walk you through it.

Companies often talk about themselves in terms of “teams,” but it might be more accurate to think about your company as an army. You have objectives, assets, personnel, competitors, and landscapes. There are victories, losses, retreats, and even casualties. But as in war, the most important thing at work is logistics.

Logistics: supplies and equipment and schedules… Still awake? Good, because this is your new battle plan for work.

“Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.”
Karl Von Clausewitz

Caveat

I know, I know. You’re a software developer, a graphic designer, a marketing guru, an accountant, a QA tester. Logistics isn’t your job. That stuff should be handled by the IT team, or by the administrative assistants. But the thing is, the more people you rely on to do your job, the weaker you are at doing your job. Do you really want to tell your boss that you can only do your job if there is a small contingent of other people to help you out with the basics?

Remember: You were not hired solely to do one complex task; you were hired to help make your company successful. So if you want to be more valuable, then you need to be more helpful.

“We will either find a way, or make one.”
– Hannibal

Software

Most modern companies rely on various software applications to get through the daily grind, and most of the key applications are not new. Microsoft dreamed up a lot of them, and Adobe engineered most of the others.

Yet despite the fact that these programs (like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) have been around for over fifteen years, a remarkable number of people in the corporate world do not know how to use them well (or at all!).

Surprised? You would think that senior professionals who have been in the same lines of work for several decades would eventually pick up more than the basics of how to use the most common software tools in our business world. But they haven’t.

This is where you come in. You’re young and sharp. You’re comfortable with these programs. With a little extra time and effort, you could become a power user. Run through some tutorials and learn how to use as many little widgets on as many menus as possible.

Now let people know! You need to become the go-to person when senior folks have a problem. I don’t mean an IT problem. I mean a document-deadline-save-the-company problem. Proposals, presentations, and everything in between are critical to your company, and critical to making your boss look good.

Prove to your co-workers that you can fix up their documents fast, prove that you can make them look better than they can themselves, prove that you can fix those annoying little problems, prove that you can make their lives easier. The more you can help get things done quickly and properly, the more valuable you are to the team.

Supplies

Binders, pens, paper, clips, the paper-cutter shaped like a machete, the electrical 3-hole punch that makes the terrible grinding sound, and the enormous industrial stapler that could fasten a few cows together in one go. All of these things are necessary to putting together the inevitable proposal package or meeting materials, and at least one of these objects is always mysteriously missing ten minutes before the big event.

So it pays to know where the other one is. You know, the old one, the one in back of the supply closet, the one your friend is secretly holding hostage in her office so she never has to stand in line for the good one. That one.

Your boss won’t care how clever you were about making her materials show up on time, but she will definitely care if you don’t make it happen. So track down all the tools of your trade, and deliver the goods.

“So the important thing in a military operation is victory, not persistence.”
– Sun Tzu

Equipment

This is the big cousin of Supplies. Equipment in the office can include a lot of things, but the one that is always, always, always a problem is the printer.

Every office on planet Earth contains a major workhorse printer. A double-sided, full-color, collating, stapling printer. And it never works. There is always a note taped to this machine saying that it is out of order. There is always a repairman poking his head into its innards with an enormous toolbox at his side. And you know better than to ever rely on this machine, right? Right?

Hopefully, there are several smaller but more reliable printers scattered around your office. Maybe one for each department, and probably a few tiny ones in the executives’ offices. So the next thing you need to do is make sure you have these other printers set up on your computer. When the workhorse is out of commission, you need to be able to seamlessly switch to another machine and get the job done on time. You also might want to learn how print two-sided jobs on them, manually, or trick them into collating things properly.

Your boss doesn’t want another excuse about how the printer is out of order. Your boss wants the materials. Now.

But there’s more about the printer. Like all battlefield gear, it is subject to wear and tear. Find out where they keep the toner cartridges, the paper of every size and color, and the staples that go in the auto-stapler. Learn how to clear the impossible paper jams, how to empty the hole-punch clipping catcher.

Because the moment you have to go ask someone else for help is a moment when that other person is more valuable than you are.

“War is a competition of incompetence – the least incompetent usually win.”
– Pakistani General Tiger, after losing Bangladesh

Time

Time is a tool, a very important tool that you could probably use more of. Deadlines are tight, and then they are suddenly made tighter so the boss can get out of the office earlier. You’re waiting on other people to finish your project, and they’re waiting on someone else. And time is a-wastin’.

Find and use whatever tools you have to manage your time. Program reminders into your calendar to send you emails about meetings, about deadlines, about pestering other people to give you what they owe you. It is all too easy to send out your requests and ask for feedback, and then suddenly whole days or weeks go by and your work is at a standstill.

And that’s your problem.

The Big Picture

Your work life is complicated. It is complicated by a lot of people, by policies and laws, by money and ego and fear and paper jams. And unless you win the lottery or invent the Post-It Note, then you’re probably in it for the long haul. So settle in, figure out your strategies, and get to work. But when you run out of big ideas to prove how great you are, then it is time to focus on some small ideas instead. Mastering your office logistics can make you as popular as it makes you indispensable, and those are both good things.

“If it’s stupid but works, it isn’t stupid.”
– Anonymous


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Joseph Lewis is a writer and editor who has worked in the public and private sectors, including military, health care, and technology firms. Visit Joe's site

Discussion

  1. Martin Leblanc on the 6th November

    Nice post. I love the quotes :-)

  2. Stephanie Lewis on the 6th November

    So true. So true. I was the graphic designer AND the tech person AND the paper jam clearer AND the box hauler AND the mailroom girl…. all at the same place at the same time. I can’t stress how important it is to wear several hats at work.

  3. Jason on the 7th November

    It’s On…

  4. Devpn on the 7th November

    Right on target, great post Jospeh.

  5. Ted Goas on the 8th November

    Nice post… I liked the quotes too. Good points on thinking ‘big picture,’ also.

  6. Christine Martino on the 8th November

    So right. Is it weird that I kind of enjoy fixing printer/copier problems? I’m just a little ol’ graphic designer, but I like being an office hero from time to time. :)

  7. SOCOM Sales on the 10th November

    Excellent topic. Any work blog that quotes Sun Tzu is #1 in my book.

  8. Jesus H. Christ on the 11th November

    > A great philosopher once said that love is a battlefield.

    Hahaha, That wasn’t a philosopher! You got that from Jordan Sparks’ song “Battlefield (Get Your Armor)”.

    • Joseph Lewis on the 12th November

      Dear reader,

      That opening line is what we in the industry call a “joke.” Sometimes adults say silly things just for fun! I’m sorry about the confusion.

      Also, “Love is a Battlefield” is a Pat Benetar song from 1983, but thanks for guessing.

  9. Stephanie Lewis on the 12th November

    Woo hoo! Pat Benetar!

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