Anyone that thinks they can make a Company run to their personal rhythm should read this article. Not saying it can’t happen, just saying you need to be Tony Stark to make it happen and let’s face it, we’re not Tony though of course we would all like to have him as our IT guy and Tailor. Companies have their own rhythms for a lot of reasons.
Here is how I see it: Companies, specially Corporations are big, complex systems with many moving parts and processes that agglutinate all of it together and make the unintelligible day-to-day into something we can digest, relate to and work through to accomplish our designed goals, which inevitably means they run at their own speed.
There are not one but many reasons for that: the more people you put to work together or just together, the more complex things can get. And that’s just human dynamics as in “who likes who” and that kind of basic (yet still hard to master) stuff. Add business complexity as in processes and relationships, interactions, goals and metrics and you will find yourself with this huge mechanism that just can’t move at the same relative speed you can. Try picturing moving Cybertron. You get the picture.
Sometimes though we feel tempted to defy this solid truth. Sometimes we feel the need to push harder hoping that the response time of the Company will change. Every now and then we hear from someone that makes it happen and we immediately assign them the category of Heroes, Visionaries, Leaders . Most of those times though we don’t see the brush that paints that picture, all we see is the decorated canvas and the illusion of speed and haste becomes real.
How did they do it? What levers did they pull? Who did they talk to or what did they do to get the Company moving so fast around what they wanted? Did it actually happen that way?
Well…I can tell you right away that the general answer to most of those questions and others you may have is NO, they didn’t alter the Company’s speed, life or bureaucratic behavior. In the end, that’s impossible unless you are, again, Tony, owner of the company and absolute master of it’s destiny.
We’ve only heard of a few people (really, just a handful) able to do that, and there is a reason for it too: the one way to move a Company is to have the power to shape it differently all the way from the Top. Can you imagine what would happen if it was the other way round, if it was a bottom-up thing? Can you imagine what would happen to a Company that’s constantly changing from the bottom up?
So how did they do it? How were they able to advance in their careers or get something awesome out of the Companies they worked for? Experience tells me that even geniuses need to knock on doors and be patient sometimes but what else did they do?
Here’s my stab at it in the form of a short list of 4 things you can actually do yourself.
1. They don’t talk as much as most people do, but they listen more than many say they do. Not a shocker right? You need to pay attention to your surroundings, you need to study your context, the ecosystem of the Company and it’s Culture. Be more an anthropologist, an observer. It is all about understanding how things work, who is who and who does what, the why’s and whatnots. And how can you do that if you don’t ask questions and pay a lot of attention to the answers? Listening is still the #1 skill you need to hone if you are to make it happen.
If power comes from knowledge, you need to learn stuff. How can you learn if you’re not listening? If you want to shape your future don’t try moving the Company in another direction, that’s impossible. Rather, realize which direction is flowing from the Company and jump into it. Be quiet enough to identify it and once you’ve done, just move.
2. They understand they don’t need shortcuts, just proper planning. I’ve heard it too many times: “shortcuts are for losers”, “work hard, it will take long but you’ll get there” and stuff like that and honestly, those are not very comforting. Sometimes people do take shortcuts but even those can only take them so far and it only seems unfair to those of us who work hard, and harder past hard.
That’s when planning becomes a critical skill and it won’t surprise you to know that in order to plan accordingly you first need to….yes, listen. Find information, process it, understand it and then put it to good use. What is you want to do at this point in your career while a certain Company employs you? Do you want to be promoted? Get more money? Both? So learn enough of it’s cycles first…and then put it all on the table and start your planning. The key aspect to it is that you can only do it if you know the Company or are experienced enough to understand it’s dynamics and work them through your plan.
It doesn’t even need to be a master plan so put away your spreadsheet. It just needs to make sense as in: use the Company’s direction and speed to your favor.
3. They take risks, just not the silly ones.There is such a thing as “being burned” in a Company. Of course it happens. Take a look at Steve Jobs’s history to mention one and you’ll see what I mean. There are risks and there are Risks.
If you’ve paid attention to the first two things up there by now you know the importance of learning and planning. Risks are basically part of the result of following those two and they are unavoidable sometimes. They appear mostly when you start hitting the right buttons but again, some risks are Risky, note the capital R please.
If you’ve learned enough of the Company and have a plan then you’ll know which Risks can really swamp your career and force you down or even out of the Company. You will know because they will be very explicit: you will know they either affect a person, a process or multiple instances of both (more than 1 person, more than 1 process). If you do affect those and you didn’t see it coming…you missed points 1 and 2 up there.
4. Look for friends and sponsors rather than allies. A Company is not a battlefield. There is Victory that implies the gruesome spectacle wars present and too many authors would have you believe that. I can’t see it that way even though we know there’s such a thing as politics within Companies as well.
Why friends and not allies? Basically because allies are more prone to switch their interests in their own directions than friends. Why sponsors over allies as well? Basically because they know even before you do the reasons to sponsor you and they understand they can benefit from it without necessarily changing their minds in the process of sponsoring you. Friends and Sponsors will tell you when you’re close or far from your targets, while allies might just let you slip.
Rome wasn’t built in one day though maybe by Roman standards it was. The one thing we really know is that it took many, many Romans to do so. Same thing here: you can’t run fast alone, it’s a Company you’re running against. If you’ve read points 1 to 3 you now Know the Company, came up with a Plan, assessed the Risks you can take and have found some Friends and Sponsors to help you with the one single task that makes a difference.
Execute. That’s the final word for you. What those brilliant minds did at different speeds in different contexts but still better than most of us was execute which basically means they acted on a plan that was based on the knowledge they acquired of the Company they work for and took some risk they previously assessed with the help of proper sponsors, even friends.
A final thought on this is I bet there are more intelligent ways to put it but to me what it means is that no matter how hard I work, how fast I run, if I don’t do it in such a way that the Company can understand it, benefit from it and deem it desirable, then all I’ve done is waste my time.