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Help! How Can I Find Out What's Really Going on at My Company?

Dear Ron,
There have been a lot of high-level meetings going on at my company about restructuring in ways that will affect my job and that of my colleagues. I'm not super plugged-in here, so how would you advise quickly developing some sources of information so I can get a read on what's coming?
You're right--you need to start getting some reliable and timely information about what's in store for you, rather than just waiting for the ax to fall. Therefore you should work to develop a number of sources, and don't discount the value of the rumor mill. Keep your ear to ground, and have multiple sources to validate or deny what you're hearing. These sources can come from any number of folks you've met at the upper levels of your company; there's nothing wrong with asking them in an appropriate manner a question like "What's your take on where we might go with respect to X?" While you may not get a completely straight answer, pay attention to their body language and facial expressions when they answer you- they might reveal, for example, that something's probably not going to happen, or that it's tricky or difficult, or at least give you some more clues to what's going on. (Getting a read on people's physical responses is also why it's a good idea to poke your head out of your email inbox occasionally and circulate among people in person).

What you want to do is match some of these clues you're getting with other sources of information such as patterns of emails and memos. Another thing to keep in mind is to be sure to maintain good relations with administrative staff like secretaries and executive assistants. These folks are often privy to key information early on and may be willing to share it with you. And again, pay attention to their body language and facial expressions when they answer your questions. Also remember that one part of developing these relationships is sharing information you may have access to when appropriate. But know that your reliability, too, will be tested when you do so.

Over time, you want to develop a reliable circle of people to tap into about key developments at your company. Of course, even then you can be surprised, but you'll at least have done all you can to prepare for what might be coming.

One client of mine, an executive at a telecommunications firm, owed much of his success there to his stellar information-gathering network. Over time, he had developed a group of mentors and advisers to help him anticipate and prepare for major changes at his company. And for a senior level executive, having this is critically important. Almost as soon as the top brass at his company left a meeting where major decisions were made, he would get a heads-up from his sources. This allowed him to reposition everything he did to quickly adapt to the change. So when his boss came to him to tell him about major moves, he was often already in a position to address them. At one point, he was able to get himself appointed to head a highly-visible task force by virtue of his having heard about it in advance. And procuring this leadership position ultimately led to his promotion at the company in a very short period of time.

That's the kind of early warning and response system you should be trying to develop. Good luck.

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