Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dealing with the Home Office

Waiting for the RestroomA recent webinar participant had a couple of complicated questions, so we made a phone-date to chat when I knew I would be spending an hour or so in a Chicago rush hour.  So, while I was in the warm embrace of traffic, we talked sales tax. 

Warning, the language gets a tiny bit crude a little later.  Just letting you know in case you have delicate sensibilities.

A problem she was having that ran through all of her questions was the problem of dealing with her corporate office.  She was kind of the chief-cook-and-bottle-washer in the office at a branch location of a much larger (though not gigantic) company.  She had grown so frustrated at the inconsistent guidance she was getting that she decided to sign up for all four of our webinars.  Yay for her!

The conversation eventually evolved to talking about what she could do to solve the problem with corporate.  Before I tell you the answer I gave her, let me put a different disclaimer than usual here: there's a reason I finally decided to start my own company.

I have spent years in the corporate world and years presenting seminars on regulatory issues (like sales and use taxes).  I have heard this complaint more than a few times. I gave her this precious bit of wisdom:

"These problems are above your paygrade."

Folks, I want you all to learn about sales and use taxes.  I want you to care about sales and use taxes.  I want you to care about your company.  And your company should want these things too.  But if, once you've learned, they refuse to listen to you, then relax.  This problem has now sailed WAY above your paygrade (but you can still be smug knowing you're better informed about sales and use taxes than they are).

See, if you're at the right paygrade, then when you complain, people will listen to you.  And they may change things.  They may do it grudgingly, but they'll at least pay attention and give you explanations.  But if they won't do that; if they pretty much ignore your concerns, or respond in a blow-you-off kind of way, than the issue is above your paygrade.  Simple.  They've just told you in their own special way.

But that doesn't make you feel that much better, does it?  Because when it all blows up, you're still gonna get in trouble, right?

Email is a wonderful thing because it solves a problem that I had back in the day.  Back then, pre-email, we had to write "cover your ass" memos whenever we felt that an issue we had raised had been ignored.  So we wrote something like, "in regards to the meeting we had today on the Johnson Project, I just want to confirm that you said that I should just forget about it."  And our bosses would immediately spot that as a CYA memo.  This was not a career enhancing move, but was usually the only thing we could do that would get us off the hook when the proverbial poop hit the fan. 

Today, you kids have email.  So you probably haven't even HAD a meeting.  You've been exchanging emails with your boss that document the entire Johnson Project conversation.  So when someone starts chucking poop, you've got cover.

So make sure you raise the issues via email, then go home at 5 and watch The Simpsons.  Relax.  Then go back to work in the morning, ready to face the bright new day, with a song in your heart, and ready to deal with some fascinating new sales tax issue. 

And if you're corporate, listen!  Those people may actually know more about it than YOU do.  And if they won't listen to YOU, then it's obviously above your paygrade too.

You see, what it comes down to is that if they don't listen to you and respect your opinion, then you obviously don't need to worry about it anymore.

Now I know that some of you more responsible readers are going to still take ownership of the problem and want to solve it for the good of the company.  And that's admirable and I don't want to discourage this.  So please learn and try to solve the problems.  But I don't want you to get ulcers and migraines from the frustration of dealing with people that don't care as much as you do.  I have the ulcers to prove it. 

At some point in time, go home and watch the Simpsons.  

As I said, there's a reason I am out of that world. 

And just to show you how hip I am, feel free to watch Family Guy too.

The Sales Tax Guy

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Picture note: the image above is hosted on Flickr. If you'd like to see more, click on the photo. 

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