Bob Markman, a talented financial advisor of my acquaintance sees Japan entering a lengthy period of decline. His logic: China will become an economic superpower and the other “Tiger” nations will continue to thrive. Since the rest of Asia has long memories, Japan’s actions before and during World War II will lead to the rest of Asia excluding it from joint ventures and regional development efforts.

Time and the global economy will reveal Markman’s ability to prognosticate. I thought of his analysis after reading that both CompuServe and America On Line initially chose to deal with Netscape, largely spurning Microsoft. Not very long ago, Microsoft announced its entry into the on-line services business, describing cut-throat pricing and bundled interface software. This led to jitters throughout the on-line services industry, and a great quote from Steven Case of AOL: “Tell Bill Gates this will be his Vietnam!”

I thought of Markman’s analysis again now that both CompuServe and AOL have signed deals with Microsoft. It appears America On Line follows the lead of America On Earth, which counts Japan and Germany among its close allies.

Some of us admire Microsoft’s aggressive business practices, others decry them. Regardless, I wonder if it will find itself in the position Markman predicts for Japan: will companies base future alliances on the memory of Microsoft’s past tactics, or will they follow the American model, pragmatically allying with former enemies?

The same issues apply on an individual level – to you and your business relationships, which usually follow the Asian model. Adversarial relationships can last a long time.
People care deeply about the programs they sponsor and adopt. People view projects, programs, vendors … stuff they’ve bought into … the way they think of their pets (hence “pet project”) or maybe their children. They … we … become personally involved, and sometimes lose perspective completely.

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to focus on winning this one issue, losing track of the larger context in which you’re operating. When you choose tactics to win that damage your relationships in the organization, you’ve reduced your ability to win the next point. Eventually, the process of winning will result in your complete inability to function, and you’ll have to move on to the next jungle, where you can start your practice of slash-and-burn agriculture all over again.

So here’s some practical advice: choose antagonistic relationships (the word “enemy” is so melodramatic!) carefully.

Whenever you’re trying to make a point, win an argument, sell a program, or whatever, you’ll encounter resistance from one quarter or another. I suggest the following 5-step approach:

1. Take a deep breath and decide how important it is to you. Is it worth your full effort, or does it make more sense to simply make your case and live with whatever decision happens?

2. Exploit your relationships with key decision-makers, guiding them to the “right” perspective, which is to say, yours. If you haven’t built strong relationships yet, get going. They’re more important than all the logic you can muster.

3. Build a relationship with those taking the opposite side. Try to win them over, if not to your opinion than to understanding you’re taking a legitimate, professional position. Create mutual respect.

4. Find something to create the appearance of a compromise – something to give your adversaries in the process. In other words, make it look like both sides win … to your adversaries, not just to outside parties.

5. Don’t be a sore loser. If it doesn’t go your way, don’t walk away grumbling about office politics and plotting your revenge. This is an opportunity to show some class. Take advantage of it. Buy the winner lunch and figure out how you can jointly sponsor the next program.

And how should you deal with your adversaries in the future? Opinion: holding grudges is a mistake. Forgetting character is an even bigger mistake.

This one first ran March 4, 1996. It’s still one of my favorites and some of the best advice I’ve ever given. If I hadn’t written it then, I’d write it now and wouldn’t change one word of it.

– Bob

* * *

“I’ve worked my tail off for 20 years and what do I get?” complained a former co-worker on his last day. “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

Here’s what I didn’t point out: we all work under an unstated employment contract. Based on financial mathematics, it supersedes all written contracts, union protections and employment laws.

It’s called the 70% rule (by me), and nobody ever seems to mention it. It says, “If you don’t deliver at least 70% more than your salary in value, you’d better start making other arrangements.”

Here’s why. Let’s imagine you earn $40,000 per year. Add 25% for fringe benefits, taxes and so forth, and you get $50,000. Office space, furniture, telephone, personal computer, and other facilities and overhead expenses — at least $10,000 per year — brings to $60,000 the amount your employer spends each year for your services.

Indexed mutual funds earn about 12% per year over the long haul. By paying you the money, your employer forgoes that income — $7,200 the first year. Add it in and you’re up to a whopping $67,200 per year. In round numbers you find the true cost of having you around comes to your salary plus 70%.

According to the 70% rule, working hard doesn’t matter. Managing the coffee fund doesn’t matter. Being right all the time doesn’t matter, and probably annoys everyone when you point it out, too. Your loyalty and all the great things you did five years ago don’t matter either.

If your job doesn’t add enough value, the quality of your work doesn’t matter, and you — not your employer — are responsible for recognizing the fragility of your situation.

Only one thing matters: delivering more in perceived value than you absorb in costs — your salary plus 70%. (Why perceived? Think of unheard trees falling in uninhabited forests. As with quality, recipients, not providers, define value. Nobody has an accounting system that can show the real dollar value each employee delivers, so value in this context is very much a matter of faith and perception.)

Ask yourself how much value you actually deliver. If your company suddenly decided to stop doing what you do, would it lose more than it saves from your salary plus 70%? Who at senior levels of your organization understands and believes in the value you deliver?

Here’s a harder question: will you and your job deliver the same value next year? The year after?

How many batch Cobol programmers failed to ask this question and now wonder what happened to their careers? They delivered value right up until the point nobody needed much batch programming anymore. Then these hardworking, skilled programmers had no way of delivering enough value in the new environment.

American workers have believed in the idea of job security for decades. You won’t find security in employer goodwill anymore. You won’t find it in union contracts, either, nor in an in-flight magazine or a 3-day seminar on making a fortune in real estate in your spare time.

You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist.

What does exist is opportunity. You have to read your own tea-leaves and peer into your own crystal ball — that’s your job, not your employer’s. Then, you have to ask for the kinds of opportunities that will give you next year’s skills, so you can continue to add value in the future. Good employers give their employees opportunities to grow.

You can still fall victim to office politics. Dumb decisions in the executive suite can run your organization into the porcelain facility. The latest management fad can catch you napping or, worse, you can support the old management fad two weeks after your new manager jumped on a different bandwagon. The dollar can rise in international markets, harming the export situation.

Heck, the sun could go nova prematurely.

In the long run, though, the 70% rule puts you in control of your career, and provides the surest guide you have to continued opportunity and job satisfaction.