10 less-than-ethical ways to get ahead

Itching for advancement, no matter what it takes? Alan Norton offers a wry look at some strategies for those who are unencumbered by a moral code.

It's a new year and a good time to strategize ways to get that long-overlooked promotion you deserve. Admittedly, there are risks involved with the 10 strategies listed below, but where has playing it safe gotten you thus far?

1: Gift your boss

A gift to your boss can go a long way toward your advancement. Don't waste your efforts on lower management who have no say in your future. And don't give money — that's bribery! Instead, cater to your boss's vices. And don't skimp on the gift. No doubt your boss has expensive tastes and you want the gift to be remembered, so get the best. The ROI will be well worth the money spent when you consider the future income stream from your soon-to-be-received raise. Gifting works only with naïve, shallow bosses, so be judicious about where you fling the bling.

2: Suck up to your boss

Being the Yes Man is a time-honored tradition for those who lack the highest valued skill sets. You will likely lose a few friends in the process, but hey, it's a small price to pay to get that bigger paycheck. Besides, if you don't take the role of manager's pet, someone else will.

3: Lie about your nonexistent virtues

There is no need to lead a virtuous life. It is so much work and so tedious! All you need to do is tell others about your charity work in the community, your acts of kindness toward animals and the lesser hominoids, and all those old ladies you have helped across the street. The fact that you haven't actually done any of these is totally irrelevant. They will never know the difference.

4: Exaggerate your work

Chances are that your managers don't really know what you do, so it's easy to make your work sound like it should be nominated for the Turing Award. Drop a few buzzwords whenever the opportunity arises and snow your boss with a blizzard of technical jargon. The more obscure your area of expertise, the better. Of course, you will have to restrict access to your actual work to successfully carry out the ruse. But that can easily be accomplished by leaking only a few bits and pieces when details are requested.

5: Talk down the competition

It is so easy to hurt the image of the competition. A few words here and a few negative rumors there will raise your status as surely as it will lower theirs. Nevermind the patent leather shoe marks on your co-worker's backs; they will eventually heal. Climbing the corporate ladder is a contact sport.

6: Sabotage

One way to bring down those rising stars in your group a peg or two is to throw a virtual shoe into their work. You have to be creative enough to point the finger at the right person without being caught and without doing damage to your group or company. Good luck with that.

7: Cheat the numbers

A few extra hours added to the "hours worked" column on your timesheet here or there will rarely be noticed, but it may be just enough to show that you work harder than your peers. Besides, it's not really cheating if you take your work home with you. During performance appraisal time, don't forget to inflate the numbers that show how much money you saved the company. There is a teeny tiny catch: It may be illegal where you work. But it's only fraud if you get caught.

8: Hack the system

Remember when you learned about the classmate who hacked into the school computer and changed his grades? You were angry — not because he got away with it, but because you didn't think of it first. It is so easy to deceive those who rely on "system data" at work. Just hack into the HR system and nudge your performance rating up a point or two. If you're really ambitious, slip a few letters of commendation into your personnel file when no one is looking. You know you deserve them. Don't worry about getting caught. If your rewriting of history is discovered, you can always work for USCYBERCOM or the FBI Cyber Crime unit. Well, then again, maybe not.

9: Blackmail

Blackmail is such an ugly word. Consider it coerced behavioral modification for the stubborn. If you have a co-worker who is impossible to work with, you can always leave. But why give up a good job in tough times when an alternate strategy can get rid of that pesky peer? Present your boss with an "either he goes or I go" ultimatum. You can simply refuse to work with the bad egg. It's risky business, though. You better be awfully good at what you do. If your boss decides that you are the bad egg, you might be the one to go.

10: Incite mutiny

If all else fails, it is time to bring out the heavy guns. A little bit of discontent sown amongst your crewmates can lead to a change of captains. Managers are moved on to greener pastures all the time and who knows, you might be doing them a big favor. You only have to whisper the right words to the right people to tilt the decision in your direction. It's a crapshoot, assuming it does work. You might get a new manager who's more favorable to you and your future advancement — or you might wind up with the manager from Hades.

The bottom line

We like to think of ourselves as "civilized" beings. After all, we have a conscience that guides our behavior. But when we want something, the human mind seems to have an endless capacity to rationalize the most unethical of acts. In many ways, our bad behavior is not all that dissimilar from the bad behavior of animals. There are numerous examples of "unethical" behavior in the animal kingdom, from ravens that steal and gorillas that lie to the cuckoo bird that tricks another bird species into raising their young and the cuckoo chicks that murder their non-cuckoo nest mates. Like it or not, humans deceive, cheat, steal, and lie to get ahead and probably always will.

If you do decide to employ any of these strategies of advancement, don't blame me if they do not work out well for you. You are completely on your own. I've got you sussed if you try any of these on my watch. I'm not gonna take it.


Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a wri...

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