How I’m Skirting the Rules

Why It’s Smart to Spend 40 Percent of Your Work Day Not Doing Your Job Description

Jocelyn Greenky, an office culture and politics expert, shares why hard work isn’t the only way to get promoted, and how to skirt the rules on the job for success.

Jocelyn Greenky is the hilarious, smart, cool big sister you probably wish you had at work to turn to for honest advice on how to navigate those endlessly confusing office politics. She learned herself by working at big companies such as Hachette Filipacchi and Wenner Media, where she held top leadership titles such as corporate editorial director. Jocelyn then followed her entrepreneurial longings to launch startups such as Colin Cowie Enterprises and Sider Road Media, a boutique consulting firm that offers branding and growth strategy to businesses both old and new. Jocelyn also co-wrote The Big Sister’s Guide to the World of Work: The Inside Rules Every Working Girl Should Know after word spread of her rule-skirting career wisdom through the corporate grape vine. Literally hundreds of women would call her to get her tell-it-like-it-is take on their workplace dilemmas (think: My boss hates my guts. What should I do?). She proved to be just as candid and charming in person as she is in her writing style when we met her at a recent Skirting the Rules and Chantelle “Art of Being” salon. Here Jocelyn shares her own hard-won advice on how best to navigate office culture to help you climb the career ladder with less struggle.

I’m Skirting the Rules by teaching how the GPS for succeeding in the work world is different for women than it is for men. I was really pissed off that lots of the career advice floating around actually makes women feel filled with self doubt because they were not raised to play by the traditionally-male rules. That’s why I co-wrote The Big Sister’s Guide to the World of Work.

I had been hired. I had hired. I had been fired. I had fired. In the meantime, many were moving smoothly forward so I started to pay attention to the successful co-workers. Once it clicked for me, I was able to understand the bigger system and easily found ways to get around annoying obstacles. Working became a true passion rather than a chore.  So many people have come to my office throughout all my career stops asking for my advice that I knew it was time to share on a broader basis. I love to work and love helping guide as many as I can.

I believe the most powerful feminine strength that helps women get ahead are two things: multitasking and being present. It may sound cliché—and studies conflict as to whether it is truly beneficial or not to multitask at work—but I really believe women’s tendency to try to accomplish a variety of tasks at one time is a huge asset. Just look at a working mom. She makes every minute count to also be there for her children.  I am a working mother who deeply understands the many pulls at any given moment as it relates to career management, children, free time, me time, and, of course, dedicating yourself to your partner.

Part of the beauty of women is many of us are all in 100 percent when at work, truly dedicating every ounce of our being and concentration to our colleagues, bosses, and teams to ensure communication, projects and relationships go as smoothly as possible.

However, the thing I think women could really learn from men is that getting ahead isn’t just about being productive. For example, men tend to tackle their bosses’ requests first even if they have lots of other pressing to-dos. On the other hand, women tend to try to get everything done. That’s because men instinctually keep score and back scratch—or do favors—when it’s in their best interest to do so! I think most women aren’t discriminating about who we do favors for, we’re just nice.

The biggest risk I ever took was co-founding BriteBean, a B2B digital bridge between recipe sites and grocers. Even if you know you have an amazing idea, it’s so critical to pick a partner who is on the same page as you. New businesses will change and you will be hit with unexpected evolutions. Having the joint sea legs to manage is the most important decision to make. Asking your potential partner the right questions upfront is important to ensure you have work expectations ironed out. You should ask each other how much time you’re each willing to dedicate? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Will you be working with me on a daily basis? Are you working on other projects? If your title is COO and mine is CEO, what are our specific roles—are we equal?

An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when I decided to get divorced. It was an enormous decision, but I started to turn into someone I didn’t like. I learned that you can try to change yourself, but if you’re not changing the situation nothing will change, you’ll still feel like crap. Listening to your gut and professionals, you can work on yourself and make yourself feel better.

My secret talent is being able to balance what my gut is telling me with professional advice. So many many women who come to me didn’t seek out the experts when they first started struggling with, say, making a career transition or issue in the office because they told themselves, “I can handle it.”Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Listening to professional guidance was key for me to better understand my options and then take a path I felt comfortable with. Create your own personal board of advisors or find a professional you truly connect with so you can make sound decisions that you won’t regret later.

My biggest rebel move is signing off business emails to female colleagues with an ‘xo.’ It’s a short way to show support for other women, a symbol of solidarity for each other in the quest for equality in the workplace. I actually coined the #xoxo trend XO Nation.

A woman is most powerful at work when she has clear goals in mind and does what she sets out to do with grace and confidence. She’s not afraid to ask for help or to have issues clarified. One way to be more productive is to practice the 60/40 rule, where you spend 60 percent of you work day doing what’s in your actual job description, and the other 40 percent making connections, building your reputation, and practicing that strategic ‘back scratching’ that guys are so good at. It’s not a waste of time, but actually the most effective way to grow your career.

A time I wish I’d listened to my inner knowing more in the beginning of my career, I let stress get the best of me and should have listened to myself and weighed out the options before I made decisions. I’ve learned instead of pouncing on an opportunity, to take time to think about the outcome as it would affect next week, three months, and a year from now.  What are the upsides and downsides of the decision? Start by writing down all the possibilities of what could happen—both positive and negative—before you act.

The female disruptor who most inspires me and why is Rosa Parks.  Her refusal to be bullied and determination and will power to stand up for herself in light of all odds against her in an era of stress and violence, makes her my hero. She refused to budge and that one act launched a game-changing movement. There are many examples of women over the ages who are awe inspiring because of their innate leadership skills.

My advice to my younger self would be to stop bitching so much about being stressed at work because it only drove my friends, family, and co-workers away. I could have used that energy instead to create better options for my career by looking for ways to leverage my lousy job situation into something less lousy. I was brainwashed into believing that I was stuck, that I had no options, that I had to ‘pay my dues,’ instead of looking for alternatives. Most women don’t actively seek out options like guys tend to because monogamy is our default mode. Many of my male colleagues have told me that they’re always thinking about their exit strategies—even before they’ve committed to a job!

My favorite ‘mini skirt’ is being mindful about which tasks will have the most impact to get me closer to my goals. To be more strategic, try writing down everything you do and who it benefits for one week. Organizing your actions on paper helps you become conscious of what tasks and relationships have the biggest career payoffs.