||"A helpful guide for recent college graduates."
- Jean Lee,
"In the Workplace,"
Bloomberg News Radio Network
". . . arms us with advice to make the adjustment from the cushy world of school to the oft-harsh realities of the working one a little easier. The book is written with cynicism, humor and up-to-the-minute pop culture references. Soden writes with a bluntness and language to which we can all relate."
The Pioneer, California State University, Hayward
I Went to College for This?
True Stuff About Life in the Business World and How to Make Your Way Through It
Published by Peterson's | 1994; 234 pages; ISBN 1-56079-339-2 | $11.95US; Paperback
PART PRACTICAL GUIDE, PART SUBVERSIVE TRACT, Soden's I Went to College for This? is a candid and humorous look at life in the cubicle jungle. Although aimed primarily at recent college graduates, the author's wry wit and painfully-learned lessons will draw knowing smiles from any of us who've toiled within sight of wood-panelled offices with little more than an in-box and three flimsy walls to call our own.
Here, for example, is Soden on a typical corporate convulsion:
Standardize or individualize? In business lingo this is known as centralizing or decentralizing. The question always is, how much independence should the separate parts of a company have (whether those parts are people or departments). Independence gives greater freedom at the expense of control. Unlike the other culture polarities, any given company is usually going from one pole to the other and will probably reverse directions later on in its life.
Here's an example of what this looks like. Dwane, an influential v.p., is sick of sending his copies to the company's Department of Copying Services. It takes forever. The copies come back screwed up. He'd like to make his own copies, but corporate procedures prohibit it. So he stands up and says, "Hey! I know what's wrong! Our company's emphasis on control is strangling us. We need to get rid of that expensive tub of a copy machine, the Miracle 8000, and let each department get their own copier. We can save money by firing the staff in the Department of Copying Services and we'll be able to get our copies faster."
So they do, and everything works fine for a while. Dwane leaves the company, and Susumo replaces him. Soon Susumo is bugged because he notices that there is a copy machine every five feet down the hallway, and they're all different brands. Each department has its own service contract on its own machine, costing the company a fortune. Departments that don't have their own machine are agitating to get one, and in the meantime are paying other departments through a time-wasting interdepartmental charging system to get their copies made. So Susumo says, "Hey! I know what's wrong! We've got no control over what all the different departments are doing. We're duplicating efforts. If we pool our budgets and workload we can get the Miracle 8000 copy machine, hire a staff to run it, and do everything faster, cheaper and better." And so they do.
The same principle can apply to all kinds of issues. Should the sales staff work on individual commissions, which encourages independence but creates rivalries, or should it pool its commissions, which helps cooperation but might reduce ambition?
Typically, younger, smaller and faster companies are less centralized, older, bigger and slower ones more so. Most companies are more one than the other, but the wind can be blowing either way: It might be a steady breeze towards centralization in an already centralized administration, or a hurricane blast of decentralization blowing like a blizzard through the redwoods, leaving the old-timers feeling naked and chilly.
Once you've gauged the direction and velocity, you can decide what you'll do. If there's a hurricane out there, don't try to fight it; it was probably started by the top blowhard. If it's not much more than a gust, you might get points by suggesting a little more of whatever the company doesn't have.
In support of the book, Soden did dozens of radio interviews targeted at young audiences, and wrote a series of columns in the national college magazine Campus Circle.
Click here to read an excerpt from I Went to College for This?