Easily put and straight to the point: isn’t that what we all want when we join a Corporation? To grow fast and strong, to become a leader and of course make a lot of money in the process while everyone celebrates your success and builds a statue of you right at the main entrance to the Company’s Headquarters. Only, it is never like that.
There is no climbing ranks upward actually. It’s more like a platform game, like one of those first versions of Donkey Kong that had you jumping barrels, climbing, then jumping some more, moving just one step ahead, a few back, then climbing again. You get the idea: it’s never linear and it’s full of obstacles.
There is no easy way of getting to the top, though there are “ways” if you know what I mean. Each one has a catch of course as there’s nothing given in a Corporation. Below are just 3 past experiences I had when growing into a new role as examples.
“Ale, it’s all about who you know.” said my friend while he bit on a french fry.
“Well, I do know a lot of people in this Company.” was my proud answer. I was sure I had impressed the guy.
“Great! Quick question for you: if needed, would any of your contacts vouch for you?” came the quite unexpected question. I know he didn’t want to offend me or anything, but it certainly felt he was trying to say something and din’t care if he did offend me a bit in the process.
“I would think so.” I said. Somehow it didn’t sound as confident as I thought it did in my mind.
“Ah. I thought so. Ale, it’s not about knowing people, it’s about making certain you know the right ones, and by right I mean the ones that can say “no, don’t fire him”, or “yes, promote him”. He said in a very natural and smug way, smirking. I could have thrown my plate at his face at that moment.
“Remember the trifecta: Onwer, Money, Business, or CEO, CFO and COO. If you can’t get close to them, then identify anyone in similar roles within your organization and get to know them. The owner of the org will remember you. The finance guy will reveal good information you can use, and the operations guy will test you and if you pass, he’ll be your champion.” he continued, munching away his fries. I was hypnotized. It just made sense.
Of course, he didn’t explain how to get to those guys or how to get their attention. It was a nice dinner though. He even had the grace to choke on a french fry at the end.
The catch here is easy: meet the right people and they’ll help. Meet the wrong ones and they’ll try.
“Nobody told you this because you’re not listening. They will fire you.” said my self-proclaimed mentor at the time. This was actually the very first time he was trying to help me, for me.
“They can’t fire me, you know that. I’m 3 times in a row Top Performer and got promoted twice in 18 months. I’m the one Senior Rep of the team.”. It was a statement that was half true and half empty. I knew I was good but I had heard the truth in my mentor’s words. Results were my strong suit, what had went wrong?
“You didn’t pay attention to them. Numbers are good, but you knocked a few cans in the way up there. Nobody likes a smart-ass, smart-ass.” came the unasked answer to my silent question. It was as if he didn’t hear what I said what what I had thought.
“You can still make it happen but you need to shut up and listen to them. Play their game, not yours or at least not yours alone.” he continued. I was mute and hurt, but I couldn’t say his words didn’t make sense. I waited until he was done, and then just said “Thank you”.
Numbers alone won’t make it happen for you, no matter how fast or how good you are. Eventually you will find opposition because guess what: nobody likes a smart-ass, and that’s how you look when your whole point is based on numbers (your numbers) alone. The risk here is you might get burnt really bad.
“Be patient, you don’t know it all yet.” I said to an employee I had just promoted to supervisor. He was good but had gotten cocky of late. He was not getting very good responses from his team.
“I am but they just don’t get it, why won’t they hear me? I’m the boss!” he said an realized at that exact moment he was throwing a tantrum, but he couldn’t take it back.
“They don’t, they won’t and that’s because you are just their boss, no more.” I said. I didn’t want to hurt him, but he had to hear it from me. “What are you sharing with them of your real experience? How are you helping them if you’re only telling them what they need to do? How can they do what you want if they don’t understand that you can indeed help them because you’ve done it before and you’re actually good at it?” I kept going. He was mute and hurt but open, vulnerable.
I closed it: “It took you so long to get here, you have such a great perspective and you’re missing the point: you have to share back. Let them come to you, listen, and help them when they ask for help. They will come then and trust me, they will listen.” .
I couldn’t tell if he was silently agreeing with me or just brooding, but in the end he did listen. He got there not because I had promoted him but because it was just the right time for him to get there. His career had been paced and solid with a few setbacks but amazing success. He knew that by heart but forgot about it the minute being the boss got into his head. That’s the catch: it can take too long so when it comes, you forget how you got there in the first place.
There are other ways of getting there but I’ll say just this: in Corporations it’s never about you, but them. Make it about people and you’ll do just fine. Make it about the Corporation…and fail.