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It took me years to comprehend and digest why people function so differently in the corporate world, as compared to where I was coming from. On one hand, the traits of having a vision, clarity of thought, being determined and ambitious, creative and innovative, helped me excel in my career, as they were highly valued in this competitive culture, yet on the other hand, I found that when it came to people skills, particularly networking, leveraging influence and positioning, my value system was very different to the one I was thrown into. Turns out my parents didn’t raise a kid who was ready to face the cutthroat corporate environment, which is typically the case with other fresh grads as well who come from a protective and safe background. You are generally left high and dry to figure everything out on your own, the hard way.
Whether we like it or not, the corporate world is the real world. In order that you don’t take too much time in finding your footing in this space, I’m sharing with you some insider unwritten rules of the game: call it my top 10 lessons, fun rants, honest musings, or whatever you may- nobody will tell you this, I promise.
1. Your worth to the company and its people is tied to your last performance rating/evaluation.
I’m not kidding. You are as good as your last month’s appraisal. Even if you were a top performer five years in a row, if for whatever reason you did not manage to get a top rating this year, you’re doomed. And to play the rating game is like being in a warzone, it’s a bloodbath out there. Yeah, yeah, I know, all companies are not the same. You may think that in your amazing company, they really sit down and evaluate all your results, compare them to your peers, iron out the differences in work plan and workload, and give you a fair assessment on where you stand. But if you go to work thinking this is how evaluation will be done at the end of the year, you are in for a huge setback.
2. People are nice to you only when you are influential or they need you; once the need or influence changes, so does their behavior.
Can you believe that someone who literally becomes your best friend over time as you work with them day in, day out, for years would even stop saying hi as soon as your role changes? As if that wasn’t enough to shock the living hell out of you, time passes and before you know it, they’re back in your team with a bang, having the audacity to become your best friend again?! I’ve experienced this twice, and I’m still baffled as to how people can manage such extreme level of fakeness. Maybe they think I suffer from amnesia?
3. Promotions are not linked to performance; at best, they are linked to the perception of your performance.
What does that even mean? Well, we all view things with our own perceptive lens- my map of the world could be drastically different to your map, based on my values, beliefs, experiences, culture and communication. When you are working in a diverse, multi-ethnic organization, where people come from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, the way each person views the world, filters information, processes it and then makes meaning out of it could differ significantly. Perception is reality- so it is imperative that you portray the right perception of your work and results to the decision makers who matter and will decide on your promotion.
4. Being at the right opportunity at the right time is more important than results.
We all know that fortunate know-it-all dude who got promoted before everyone else, despite having mediocre results. How did he manage to do that? Probably not by whining and nagging, right? Building your image, network and exposure can get you places you never even thought of. Don’t rely on your boss to do it for you. Create a network of influential leaders, sponsors and mentors who know you and your achievements. When you get it right, as soon as an opportunity knocks the door, you are the person who is top of mind for all the decision makers.
5. When you are the star, most mistakes are forgiven.
That’s a big one. I have had the privilege to make some lethal mistakes that could have ensured my immediate departure from the company, yet those were overlooked as I was delivering results as per the management’s perception and expectations. Yet, at the same time, I’ve also seen cases when they are just fishing for mistakes to happen, just so they can let you kiss your job goodbye. The key is to be diligent and cautious all the time, especially when you are not performing as per expectations, because even a slightest issue can get you into trouble.
6. Higher paid opinions are more valued than low paid data and facts.
So there’s the real, actual data and facts, and then there are opinions and positioning. Higher paid opinions are directly proportional to higher value and worth, in most organizations. Yes, the years of experience are not gained for nothing; they do matter. And when the topic at hand is subjective and people have multiple data points and views, the top management has all the right and authority to give everyone else a shut up call and do as they please. The earlier you learn it, the better.
7. Know when to speak up and disagree with senior management.
Most companies encourage straight talk and let you speak your mind. However, they don’t tell you that if you do that too often, you might be labeled as one with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or just a negative, skeptical cynic. Before you blurt out your mind, know what is at stake, consider how your opinion could be perceived, and figure out if there is a conflict of interest in what you are saying and what the company wants. Be strategic and data based if you are going to disagree, and deliver your message in a non-confrontational tone. As we know, it’s usually not the words; it’s the tone that gets people off their chairs. There will be times when you have to choose between being in the right or being employed. It’s your choice. At the end of the day, you are a cog in a big machine.
8. There’s a fine line between gaining experience and getting rusted. Know when to draw that line.
So, you think, since you have 10 years of experience in your category of business, you would not only be highly valuable to your company, but also a great catch for your competitors? Well, think again! In those 10 years, you have been pretty much doing the same thing over and over again, working with almost the same people, and haven’t delivered results that could be quoted as being slam dunks. Why would anyone be interested in you, as compared to this other guy who has worked in three different organizations, small and big, rolled up his sleeves to deliver on the unique roles offered, all while building his skill set and leading diverse, multicultural teams to achieve stellar results? The lesson here: don’t get rusted. Don’t gather dust on the shelf. Know the difference.
9. Never associate your self-worth to your position and performance in the company.
It does feel great when you are the champ, being seen as someone who consistently delivers results, leads from the front and is influential and smart. But what happens when you are not all of this? And there will be times when you’re not, because even if you’re Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, you are bound to fail along the way. How do you react when you fail? Do you tie up your self-worth, self-esteem and everything in between with your job? You will be absolutely miserable if you do that. While fortune does favor the bold, keep in mind there are so many factors that are outside your circle of influence that determine your career path and success in the company. If you were to beat yourself up for failing at those, it wouldn’t be all that fair. Broaden your pie of self-worth and take pride in all the other roles you have in life when the going at work gets tough.
10. Once you learn the rules of the game, it is easy to thrive on mediocrity and comfort zone. Opt otherwise.
Don’t be a victim of your own success. After having spent years learning all the rules of the game, now you know how to play it with precision, and this is exactly when it is so easy to fall into the trap of mediocrity and comfort zone- the trap of “so what’s.” So what if I don’t have stellar results; I can position things differently, and no one else has results either. So what if I got passed over for promotion this year; I have the right sponsors that will look out for me next year. So what if I’m on a dud assignment for the last three years; at least I have a stable high paying job. This is what I call the kiss of death. Detrimental to your learning and growth, this path ensures you get rusted. You don’t have to go down this road. Have zero tolerance for mediocrity. Push your boundaries and break the monotony.