Deploy your curiosity superpower to unlock the secrets of your company

Boost your career by being informed at work

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As described in a previous post, curiosity can be a superpower. So, how can you use your curiosity to supercharge your career?

Look at this list of questions. Are you curious about any of them?

  • What goals have been set for your CEO?
  • How much money did your senior leaders make last year?
  • How old are the members of your Board of Directors?
  • How much debt does the company have and when is re-payment due?
  • What are the biggest risks facing the company?
  • How do outsiders see your company?
  • Which investment funds own a significant amount of your company stock?
  • How much diversity is there on the company’s senior team and Board of Directors?
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One of the most common complaints in big organizations is that there is not enough communication — employees feel like they don’t know what is going on. This feedback shows up in employee surveys, exit interviews and lunchroom complaint sessions. There is some truth to it — it is really hard to communicate consistently and effectively to thousands of employees in multiple locations and multiple countries who have different schedules and varied access to computers. It is always a challenge.

Take Control and Be Curious — Five Sources of Information

Don’t rely solely on your company sending information to you. Take control. Be curious. Seek out information on your own. If you work in a publicly-traded US company, you have access to far more data and information than you might realize. Crack the corporate code and use these five sources to dig up interesting information about your company:

  1. Company Intranet: Most big companies have an intranet where they post information and stories relevant to employees. Usually you’ll find information about events (meetings, book clubs, learning opportunities), processes (such as performance review reminders), general interest stories (about customers, employees, community events, etc.) and financial information about the state of the company. I’m constantly amazed by how many employees never bother to check the intranet. Make the intranet your homepage and check it every day. Pay attention to the information and the stories and to who is telling them. It helps you to learn the company priorities and to get to know your senior leaders.
  2. Google Alerts: Set a Google alert for your company. Go to www.google.com/alerts to set it up. You can set up alerts for all sorts of topics — in this case, enter your company name and the company stock symbol for once a day or once a week updates. You’ll start to get links to stories in the news or from websites regarding your company — including stock and investing information, press releases, new customers, potential acquisitions, stories about injuries and union activity, and more. You never know what will come through — especially if you work for a company with multiple locations. Scan the results and read the articles that seem most interesting to you.
  3. Investor Section of website: Look at your company through the eyes of an investor — what are the upsides of the company? The downsides and risks? Go to your company’s standard website and look for the Investor Relations section. You’ll find discussions and descriptions of your company from a perspective that is different than your employee perspective.
  4. Analyst calls: Once a quarter, every publicly-held US company holds a conference call with Wall Street analysts on the day the quarterly earnings are announced. These calls are open to the public. You can find the access information via the Investor Relations section of your company’s website — there is usually a call-in number and a web login option. I always try to listen to the analyst calls in order to stay current on the financial health of the company. For me, the most interesting part is actually the question and answer section. Only analysts are allowed to ask questions, and the content and tone of the questions reveal a lot about how Wall Street currently regards the company. For example, in my last company, the retailer was doing well with the financials, but the analysts were relentless in asking probing question about margin and inflation. It turns out that the strong financials were boosted by inflation, and it was not a sustainable improvement. This helped me understand the importance of margin for a strong business. As you listen, you might not understand everything. But deploy your curiosity superpower — take notes and dig deeper after the call to learn and expand your knowledge.
  5. Government filings: One most informative — and often overlooked — sources of data are the various reports required for publicly-held US-based companies. These reports are tailored to the government and investors, but they are available to everyone. Employees can learn a lot from these reports. Twenty years ago this information was more challenging to get — now it is all available through company websites. Keep reading for details and an example for some of the most interesting reports.
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Key Government Reports that can Reveal Secrets

  • Annual Report: A company’s annual report is published soon after the end of its fiscal year and reports financial and other results for the previous fiscal year.
  • 10-K Report: A 10-K report is a standard government report that is sometimes embedded in the annual report. You can find a thorough definition of a 10-K report here on Investopedia.com. Basically a 10-K report includes key information such as describing the business, customers and risk, major changes like acquisitions, union negotiations, financials, stock performance, comparing segments of the business, cash flow, debt, contractual obligations and more.
  • 8-K Report: 8-K reports are used as needed by companies to describe key business changes like bankruptcy, mergers or Board of Directors (BOD)Changes during the year. Read this on Investopedia for more details about 8-K reports.
  • Proxy Statements: Proxy statements are where a lot of interesting information shows up regarding key leaders for the company. Proxy statements share key information that will be discussed or voted on at shareholder meetings; read more about proxy statements here on Investopedia. Proxy statements generally cover Board of Director (BOD) information such as committee descriptions, members, pay, ages and stock ownership. Similar information is provided for a few senior officers of the company in addition to details about their goals.

Finding Interesting Facts from the Walgreens Government Reports

Here is an example of the type of information you can find in government reports. You can use a similar approach to learn more about your company. For this example, I chose Walgreens, because it is a household name in the US. I have never worked for Walgreens and probably never will. However, I am a very happy shareholder of the company, so I follow it pretty closely. To find their government filings, do this:

  • Go to Walgreens.com and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. In small print, under Company Information, click on Investor Relations. It will redirect you to this site: http://investor.walgreensbootsalliance.com/ . The parent company had a big merger with a British company a few years ago and now goes by Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). See — you already learned something new!
  • Click on Annual Reports/ Proxies to access key reports.

Some fascinating data from the 10-K and Proxy Reports for Walgreens

The 2016 Annual Report includes the WBA 10-K filing. You can learn about the business — US versus International versus Wholesale segments. For example, they employ 360,000 people of whom 120,000 are part-time. One of their named risk factors is the ACA (Affordable Care Act US Healthcare legislation) that affects their pharmacy pricing strategies. Personally, I have strong feelings about the cost of healthcare in the US. Extensive financial data about Walgreens is recorded in the annual report as well.

From the 2016 Proxy Report, you can learn that the Board of Directors has 10 members — three of them are women and their ages range from 49–75. The base compensation for an average BOD member at Walgreens is $95,000 per year (more if they lead a committee), and they get $190,000 in stock as well. Pretty good deal for them. This is important information about the people who oversee your CEO and make key decisions about your compensation and future. The 2016 Proxy report also shows how the top five executives at Walgreens are compensated (base salary and incentives). Interestingly, the Chairman and the CEO do not take a base salary at all — they only get stock in order to align with shareholder interests. For the three who do get a base salary, the salaries range between $937,000-$977,000, and the three all received bonuses in the $1.4 million range.

Hopefully this article has ignited your curiosity! Use these information resources to reveal secrets about your own company.