10 things you should know in order to grow in the corporate world
Practical advice for entry- and mid-level employees
This article is elaborated upon my answer originally in Quora What are 10 things I should know in order to grow in the corporate world?
- Work on your people skills. Build a network with purpose and learn how to be diplomatic. Develop patience to deal with a variety of individuals in the organization, some will rub you the wrong way with their mannerisms, some will work too slow or too fast, others may be gunning for your position, while a handful may be exercising ego trips at your expense. Smile often, learn to say hi and make an effort to learn names. Technical expertise alone is rarely sufficient in helping you rise up the ranks.
- Tone it down! Flashy, attention-seeking and impulsive personalities risk getting isolated early in the game. This is not freshman year in college. You can be sociable and upbeat but not disruptive, the latter being highly subjective, hence requires cautious calibration on your part. If you are repeatedly signalling ‘look at me’ from the way you talk to the way you dress, you may attract negative attention instead. Fully grasp the culture of not just the company but the floor your are on and the group or team you are in. Especially when starting out, its always best to exhibit self-control and side with neutral behavior. If your personality significantly clashes with the company culture, offering little room to adapt, best to seek employment elsewhere.
- Seek responsibility without real-time reward. Take on added responsibility without complaining about the lack of immediate reward for the added responsibility you volunteered to take on. The greater the responsibility the brighter the spotlight on you. Coming across as enterprising and patient will reflect maturity on your part and sooner or later you will begin to separate yourself from the herd.
- Know the motivations of two hierarchies above you. Your boss’ boss will typically impact you more than your immediate boss. Be visible up two levels at least and be in the know of things. Quite often I find subordinates to be invisible to broader management. Its never a good sign when you have been working at an organization for a few years and your boss’ boss says ‘whats his name again?’ Find excuses to connect with seniors in the group, in meetings, hallways or over coffee, etc. You will have more information about the ongoing developments in the organization and maybe even pick up any red flags ahead of time. Maybe your boss is about to get transferred or fired, maybe your entire team is being sacked — knowing people who are in charge of such decisions, and more importantly them knowing you are someone of value, may literally save your job.
- Socialize outside of work but avoid getting carried away. Hanging out with colleagues over the weekend or after work is the likely the best way to bond but it may also be a double-edged sword. Loose lips catch up fast with what you did last weekend. Be friendly yet ‘contained.’ Stepping into a bar or on a golf course does not automatically give you the NOC (No Objection Certificate) to ‘be yourself’ as you would be around your childhood friend. Like it or not you are always being judged irrespective of the environment.
- Never discuss problems, only discuss solutions. Virtually everyone is good at identifying roadblocks and bottlenecks in a company. To stand out you must try to go deeper than the superficial challenges and also seek corrective action. This requires you to undertake thoughtful review of solutions and options. People should walk away from you sensing you possess a ‘problem-solving’ mindset — a huge boost to your intangibles.
- Identify multiple mentors both inside and outside your company. They will help you navigate past land mines! Corporate politics and competitive pressures can be ruthless for someone unfamiliar with the landscape. What gets reflected on annual reviews is not just a result of your effort but also the perception of your effort. Having experienced ‘third-party’ observers, mentors and guides can help you structure your effort for maximum result including improving productivity, prioritizing effort, capturing effort in results, making sure effort and its results are noticed by the right people and avoiding any pitfalls along the way, e.g. focusing on low-value activities and projects, not taking advantage of continuous learning programs, being unaware of shifts in industry trends that may directly or indirectly impact your role, etc.
- Always be cordial and friendly with the administrative assistants. They wield far more influence than you might think. Don’t be too obvious in flattery but always make time to get to know them. Whether you are trying to schedule a meeting with management or wanting to be noticed for something that may have slipped under the manager’s radar, assistants typically have the informal ear of management. They can be good sources of information and internal PR.
- Always sign up for training and courses even if it means sacrificing weekends. These are brownie points for sure but more importantly will build your individual capacity. It becomes extra hard to hold back bonuses and promotions from someone who is going the extra mile. Workshops and seminars are also a fantastic way to network up the corporate chain.
- Be invested in the organization. Don’t be known for being a desktop jockey, instead spend time across teams, across offices and get direct feel for operations and work dynamics. If you are seen walking about, talking with and knowing people across business units, you will build credibility as someone genuinely invested in the company. Few people know much outside of their immediate teams and they don’t come across as entrenched. Be different!