Living in the “Real World” and Charting Your Career Path
Many of my clients have lamented about a broken system in their company, or the riddle of politics which hinders their upward progression. They admit to frustration and a desire to ‘change’ the way it works. Well, here’s a newsflash; unless you are the CEO, and often even that position doesn’t give you the power you want due to Board constraints and shareholder expectation, you have to play by the rules of the organization in which you live.
Companies never function solely according to their organizational charts. Organizations are made up of people and personalities, which often equate to politics, power plays, and turf wars. None of this is dictated or remedied by an organizational chart. Period.
Folks need to wake up to that reality AND realize that work is not as we defined it 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even 1 year ago!
A few thoughts – which should not come as much of a surprise – to consider as we enter into the second half of the year…and perhaps to some, the second half of your life:
Corporate stability is a myth. As much as we would love to hover in the mother ship, with the health benefits, matching 401k’s, and executive perks, one harsh fact remains: we are only as safe as the company for which we work. AND, our professional future is 100% dependent on the company’s growth trajectory. The battleships of corporate America are sinking at an alarming rate. Harsh – yet true – and if you don’t believe me, just look around at giants who are in jeopardy due to changing trends in our world (aka: retail is moving to online) or due to missteps in this highly competitive market: Neiman Marcus, Sears, Macy’s, and Kodak, There is no sure thing anywhere. So what do we do about that? Well…net:
We own it. At the end of the day, our corporate employers owe us nothing. If we put all our eggs in one basket, when that basket does not bring us to the Promised Land, then we can blame no one but ourselves. We must keep our network outside the company JUST AS FRESH as the one inside our company. We are insular at our own peril. Whether you are a corporate executive, individual contributor, or fledgling entrepreneur – we must stay current and relevant. We are ultimately responsible for our careers…how we bend, sway, respond, and rebound will dictate our end game.
We have to learn the system in which we work – not fight it. We have to learn how to use it. Every organization has a ‘secret chart’ or ‘a list’ which denotes the real decision makers, the short cuts to get things accomplished, and how things really work. If we want to play the game, we have to learn the spoken and unspoken rules, and use them to accomplish our objective.
Unhappy? Well, you have come to a fork in the road. I have a few clients who are simply miserable in their jobs. There is no sugar coating it. They feel under appreciated, de-valued, or they simply don’t feel they are getting what they deserve in pay, title, recognition, or progression. Well, welcome to the world of “life is not always fair.” The choice is this: ask yourself, “what makes me so desirable…I mean, would I hire me?” and “what is it that everybody else is doing that I am not doing?” Whew…the answers to those two questions, though possibly painful to answer, will steer you in the right direction. AND if at that point you have the clear ‘ah-ha’ that says, “what am I still doing here?! I don’t fit anymore. I have no future here!!” then TAKE THE REINS.
As Pollyanna as this may sound, there is an entire world of opportunity out there. Sure – truly being the master of your own destiny is tougher than one thinks. Yet, remember, you are the master of your own destiny within or outside a company. If the decision is made to move forward, you will no longer be on the corporate train. Yet, how liberating to know that you have an open field in which to play.
Finally, we need to have friends. This should be an obvious statement; yet, what I have observed is that many think if they are smart enough, shrewd enough, and have an unblemished track record they will get ahead. Wrong. This is never a guarantee. Having strong relationships is a critical success factor for those running a career marathon. The larger the company and the tighter the industry, this becomes an imperative. Peers must become allies, not competitors. This is not company politics, by the way, this is wanting the best for everyone and by doing so, all boats rise within the company – including yours.
From my perspective, we cannot only think about our jobs, our work, our careers, and even our lives as only where we are right now…we need to change the frame to where we want to be, how we want to contribute. This also means we listen to those inner voices which are whispering in our ears...then we must heed the message. We will not single-handedly change the culture, system, or unspoken rules of any organization in which we work. We must realize this, learn it, adapt to it, and use it. And if we make the decision we can’t or don’t want to; then realize another decision will be awaiting you.