Corporate Culture

Does the Giant Corporation You Work for Chew You Up and Spit You Out?

It seems that college graduates are turning their backs on working for large corporations. According to an Accenture survey, only 15 percent of 2015 college graduates aspired to work for large companies. This mirrors an earlier Bentley University study, where only 13 percent of surveyed millennials were interested in “climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president.” Many millennials (67 percent according to the Bentley study) are aspiring to work for themselves. Indeed, the "2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report" identified a growing number of under 35-year-old ´millennipreneurs´.

Millennials are snubbing large companies and setting up on their own. Why? A PWC report posits perceived rigid culture and dinasauric working practices of large organizations as possible factors: Millennials feel constrained by what they see as outdated traditional working practices. Sixtyfive percent said they felt that rigid hierarchies and outdated management styles failed to get the most out of younger recruits.

So there you have it, millennials feel that their core values of independence, innovation, fulfillment, meaning, progression, flexibility, and ongoing learning opportunities will be stifled in the corporate cosmos. But how true is this? Modern corporations have gone through some major organizational makeovers in the last few decades and the opportunity for millennipreneurs to live their values and make their mark within established large companies has never been better; but it requires a determined mindset, resilience and some nifty maneuvering, Here are a few pointers for young recruits to foster intrapreneurship within established companies:

1. Shape your own destiny.

Noel Tichy once said, "control your destiny or someone else will."  Personal mastery and a determined vision around your core values affords you some armor against the corporate grinder and can keep the entrepreneurial flame ablaze. Contrary to perception, there are plenty of opportunities within large companies for self-determined and independently-minded individuals to have a varied career through internal job hopping, in-role job redefinition and taking on an internal consultancy position.

My advice: map out a personal vision for yourself. A good resource is Michael Ray´s The Highest Goal.

Related: How to Identify Intrapreneurs Within Your Company

2. Wear a startup hat.

There is a perception that you advance in large companies by wearing the corporate hat. This is an out-of-date mental model that belongs back in the industrial age where agenda-setting and ideas were conceived in the top hierarchy and filtered down the organigram chart. Modern corporations are looking for their employees to innovate and are constantly restructuring their organizations to de-hierarchise and stimulate greater employee contribution and engagement; indeed, the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends highlights the current emergence of small empowered networks within large companies. The thing that holds us back is mindset -- an entrenched perception around corporate conformity.

Related: 6 Steps for Converting Employees Into Intrapreneurs

My advice: take a sprint and ignore comments such as “don´t be so keen” and “learn to walk before you can run.”

3. Look through the lens of innovation.

Einstein once wrote, “the important thing is not to stop questioning.”  Innovation and change can happen at all levels of the organization. Every process you follow, every project you work on, every presentation you produce, every problem you encounter, look at ways to innovate and improve things. You will doubtless come across comments such as “that´s not the way things are done around here,” and in certain cases, there may be non-negotiable compliance issues. Don´t worry about the naysayers; being seen as someone who is a keen problem solver who drives innovation and change will get noticed where it matters.

My advice: If you have a great idea that will improve the way the work gets done, work to make it happen.

4. Learn the art of influencing.

Innovation and pushing through new ideas requires the ability to influence key stakeholders on the value of your idea or fresh approach – this is true whether you work in a startup or an established multinational. When our ideas get blocked or shot down, it is tempting to blame others or the organizational culture; when, in fact, there are certain things within our control to promote our ideas and get endorsement and sponsorship. Learn different influencing strategies (Cohen and Bradford´s Influence Without Authority is a good starting point).

Related: Intrapreneurship is the New Entrepreneurship

My advice: Avoid hierarchical ruts by viewing people around you as a network of stakeholders rather than people of status.

5. Become a thought leader.

One way of increasing influence without having formal power is to cultivate expert power in the form of thought leadership. Growing a reputation of being a master in your field has never been easier with blogging and social media. Steadily publishing on blogs as a guest contributor, starting your own website, using the pulse facility on LinkedIn to publish your ideas or becoming an active commentator in groups is an excellent way to develop thought leadership. In a recent HBR article, Dorie Clark argues, “When you share your knowledge publicly, your expertise can be recognized – and you’ll reap the benefits in the form of new client inquiries, respect from your peers, and opportunities you likely can’t yet imagine.” Your bosses and peers will notice if you regularly publish on reputable blogs and have a healthy number of followers on LinkedIn/Twitter and that will give you thought leader status and pay professional dividends.

My advice: Read, publish on social media, solicit feedback and present at internal and external conferences. 

If you are part of the estimated 2.5 billion people born between 1980 and 2000 who are establishing themselves in the workplace, don´t readily discard working for large companies. Structures and attitudes are steadily changing within corporates and innovative, passionate, independently-minded millennipreneurs are carving out interesting and fulfilling intrapreneurial careers for themselves within these once highbound cultures.