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Corporate survival guide Part 1

Corporate survival guide Part 1

In the last 10 years I have worked at three large corporations. Although each had its individual challenges, I soon recognized that there are certain patterns that they all had in common. In this post, I will share some of the learnings I made that will make life easier for you if you are just starting out in or want to make your life at a corporation easier.

1. Don't try to get your sense of personal value or satisfaction from your job

This may sound strange, but trust me it makes a huge difference. As much as I have identified with my work and what a company stands for, it is slippery ground when one gets so emotionally involved, that ones job becomes the driving force in life. Besides the obvious fact that our personal relationships, our health and general well-being are much more important 'life KPI's', being too close to what happens at work leads to stress.

We intuitively tend to believe that to do our work well, we have to be deeply emotionally invested. Although that may be relevant in some cases (NPO's perhaps), in my experience the opposite is actually true. When you are not overly emotionally invested or linking your work performance or success to your sense of personal satisfaction, you tend to think clearer and make decisions with less attachment.

Your colleagues and clients will immediately pick up, that you are generally relaxed and professional about what is going on. I am not saying that it is not necessary to care or aim to have high standards. It's just not necessary to go overboard with personal emotional involvement related to business outcomes.

The main exception to this, is in our dealings with our clients, co-workers and partners. Here being emotionally open and connected is actually very helpful to understand the issue at hand and jointly find better solutions. (Here is a post on why empathy is important in business.)

2. Anti-stress recipe: reduce your emotional investment

Man on beach praying

Instead, simply aim to do your work well, to execute with integrity and to be sincere and dependable in your efforts. Trust me, it's enough. Being too emotionally involved in how well a project is going, will inevitably result in feeling stressed or disappointed, when things eventually get held up or go south. One thing that can make life at corporations so taxing, is that there are many parts to the whole and equally many dependencies. This means that outcomes are not always in your (teams) hands.

Unless you are a very centered person, this stress and disappointment will show in your dealings with your family, your colleagues and clients. What companies actually need, are employees that are willing to bring their best to the table day after day, without being too judgmental or dismissive of how a large company works. Initially it was frustrating for me, but once I accepted that a corporation has the disadvantage of generally being slow and process driven, I was able to adapt my role to best work in this situation. (Obviously corporations have advantages, more on that in another post)

3. Brief tasks to colleagues & partners with plenty of time ahead

A calendar open on the table

One of the best hacks for getting things done at a large company, is to brief your colleagues well in advance and set clear deadlines. I used to let my spontaneous, spur of the moment character try to run the show, and well, it caused a lot of friction. Generally anyone that works in a corporation is neck deep in tasks, compliance and process topics and doing their best to handle multiple things at once. No one needs someone swooping in at the last minute to "get something done".

A better way is to setup a quick 10-15 Minute meeting or call, go over the topic at hand, explain it's value, and then jointly agree on a realistic date when it should be completed. That's it. Most people will avoid missing deadlines or being unreliable, as it is not considered professional behavior. Provided you have a good overview of everything coming up and plan accordingly, this will make sure things get done with the least amount of friction possible.

4. Managerial leverage and enabling teams

I picked up this concept reading "High Output Management." The book is legendary in Silicon Valley. It’s basically a crash course for managers by former Intel CEO Andy Grove. Managerial leverage means that managers make best use of their time, when they spend small amounts of it, on things that have a high impact. Hence the leverage. (Here is a great brief summary of the book.)

Cover of "High Output Management" by Andrew S. Grove

Sharing your knowledge or training others is one of the best examples of a high leverage activity. Once more people in your company know what you know, or how to do what you do, you have removed the bottleneck: you. Some people might say: "But that's what makes me valuable to my company!" This type of statement is driven by fear and believing that being indispensable equals job security. Being indispensable may offer some security in the short term, however it is also a pretty sure way to not get promoted... who will follow in your position?

Being a valuable employee

What makes you valuable to your company, is your contribution to helping the company be successful as a whole. Spending the limited time you have on having a big positive impact through managerial leverage, is a proven and efficient avenue for success.

There you have it, more on this in future posts... there is still a lot of ground to cover.

Title Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

Man on beach Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Calendar Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash


Erik Heirman

Erik Heirman

I believe technology should be at the service of society. I trust in agile methodology & principles, client centric innovation and design thinking.

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