I have a friend who was recently promoted to the corporate office, and in her new role she is getting her first taste of the politics and “career management” culture that can sometimes be present in that type of environment. People can appear to be constantly on stage, and to newcomers it can seem as though no one is genuine amidst what seems like non stop corporate clichés, manufactured praise and managing up. Individuals who work hard, get noticed and achieve that promotion can start second guessing their choice when they land in a world of endless meetings and overblown egos. People can be torn between being themselves and adapting to fit into the new way of working. There are five things that I think might serve you well if you find yourself making the trip to “Corporate”.
Even there… people are looking for leaders
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in or what the corporate office is like. Organizations are always looking for leaders and you have a great opportunity to be that person from the first day you show up. People are drawn to those who can ask good questions, make others around them consider new ideas, and ask why when no one else will. It’s not about being contrary but it is about helping to change the conversation where you believe that is necessary, even if it seems no one else does.
You get to consult for just a little while
Use the fact that you are new to get away with more questions. Ask everything, learn fast, explore. You have a brief window where everyone expects you to ask questions and you can still observe things with an outside perspective. Organizations need that. They need a fresh look at themselves, their processes, their sacred cows. You can add a tremendous amount of value by giving them that fresh look, and you can also help others see the benefit of asking why from time to time.
If things feel wrong…they might be
I remember working for a business where the more I looked at a particular division, the more I wondered why the wheels hadn’t yet come off. The processes were broken, the leaders were misguided and the focus was concentrated on the internal workings of the business instead of the customer. I started to believe that everything I knew about business was wrong and this must be the right way to run one. Just when I was questioning everything I had come to believe, the business tanked. New leadership was brought in and we began the process of building a stronger more sustainable enterprise. Turns out lots of people thought we were operating in a way that was unsustainable, but no one said anything—at least not loud enough and not to the right people.
Follow the right people
By all means learn as much as you can and find mentors that can help you. Just make sure you find mentors who not only appear to be successful but who actually are successful by doing things you believe to be right. If you take a snapshot of any organization you will see a group of people who appear to be getting the job done but if you watch the whole movie you will find that only the ones getting it done the right way are still there 5 or 10 years from now. You want to make sure you follow people who not only get the results you would like to have, but who also have the practices, the integrity and the leadership capabilities that you respect.
If you didn’t have good instincts, leadership potential, people who respected your opinion and your operating methods, you wouldn’t be at the corporate office in the first place. Remember that one of the ways leaders in the home office keep things fresh or shake things up is by bringing in talent they believe will help raise the bar. Don’t assume that tenure is mistaken for performance and remember that you are just as capable as others in the meeting. Say things in an appropriate way, but don’t keep them to yourself. Chances are, someone else is thinking it too. They just fear the risk in saying it. If people believe you to be focused on making things better rather than furthering your agenda, they will usually welcome your thoughts and thank you for sharing them.
Climbing the corporate ladder can be daunting and full of pitfalls. The corporate office isn’t usuallly full of bad people but in some businesses it can become a place where the culture isn’t easy or sometimes even productive. For the most part, the people who are unhappy and less succesful over time are the ones who work too hard to become what they think corporate wants rather than sharing what they already have.
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