Very few of us have true power in the world of work (WOW). Our jobs seem to be defined by title, pay and position on the organization chart. We all get on the corporate line and wait our turn.
From my 32 years in Silicon Valley I found that most employees fell into one of the following categories.
1. Pushers: They are constantly pushing their agenda which is mostly about themselves. They always feel they deserve a higher title and more money. They tend to feel under appreciated and under recognized. if you do give them recognition, you are simply feeding the monster. Never happy, they expect more. Folks in this category don’t take criticism very well. Criticism doesn’t fit in with their myopic view of the worth. Now this doesn’t mean that pushers don’t do a good job. Many do. It’s just that they can never not do a poor job even when they do. These people do best when they become “indispensable” to someone higher up on the food chain.
2. Soldiers. Most employees in a company fall into this grayish category. They gripe and complain now and then but they show up and do their job. Unlike the pusher recognition for them is in knowing that they are competent at their work. They believe in the old adage of working their way up through the organization. They believe in seniority often marked by anniversary pins or other gifts. The problem is that as they climb they tend to treat other employees in the same manner as they were treated. Tend to be big about attending company meetings and birthday parties with cake. Generally not big about challenging the status quo even if the company ship is sinking. They will focus on the tactical if given the choice. The process is more important than the strategic. Doing things right is preferable to doing the right thing. They are the classic zoo animal employee.
3. Moral Minority: They are the “shit” disturbers in a company. They challenge anything that doesn’t make sense to the welfare of the employees of a company (in their humble opinion). If it ain’t fair these folks will speak up. It is rarely about them directly but usually they will benefit from the very thing that they are complaining about. They are the victim protectors of the company. They are somewhat like the pushers but it is not about them (or so they say). In the pushers case it is always about them.
4. Enablers: A very small population of a company. These are the innovators and influencers. They keep the bigger picture in mind, try not to get tangled up in the small stuff and usually can be identified by a singleness of purpose. If they are not directly creating new products or strategies, they are the people who influence change.
Since most of you don’t have hierarchical power you can either go into your hole and be a soldier (and best be a good soldier) or you can become an enabler. Enablers are influencers. They make things happen when no one else can. If you want success by taking this path there are some things you’ll need to be aware of.
1. Forget about title and money. They are anchors by which the organizational “enforcers” can control you. I am not saying you should work for free and not have career aspirations. Just don’t let them get in the way of what you are passionate about.
2. Influence rather than enforce. The more you hide behind your title and position on the org chart the more folks will try to go around you. Finance, legal and HR are typical enforcers and then they complain about why people don’t respect them. Duh! Better to develop a strong network of allies and friends and help them through the many corporate and organizational barriers than spend your time quoting and reciting rules and regulations. Yes, you have to stay within the law but no you don’t have always stay in a process.
3. Don’t let the process be the natural end of what defines you. Every time you tell people “this is the policy” or “you can’t do that” you lose effectiveness and more importantly, credibility.
4. Don’t hide behind your boss. The worst of all sins. Many employees define themselves based on what they believe their boss wants versus what is right for the company. You need to have an adult relationship with both your boss and the other employees in a company. Don’t disempower yourself by constantly bringing up the fact that your boss wants this of that or won’t stand for this or that. Stand on your own two feet. You can’t be all things to all people but they can at least know you are your own person.
5. Understand the company business and not just from one perspective but from as many as you are able to comprehend.
A short story.
In my last “job” we had a great vice president of HR and he understood this concept. But he grew frustrated with his relationship with both the CEO and the board and after about a year, he left. The reporting line of HR was changed to legal (Jesus, what a bright thought!). It was a descent into linear, bureaucratic HELL. HR suddenly became the big stick without the talk softly. My well-meaning but operational minded boss couldn’t protect the organization from the change. I am not sure than anyone could. The head of legal had a very traditional concept of HR. If my boss hadn’t been down one headcount, I would have left on the spot. But I stayed for 4 months living in this morass and watching HR lose credibility by the week. In the end I had to leave.
Thank the Gods that my strength (like it or not) is leaving. It is easier for me than most. I am good in a crisis (think bases loaded relief pitcher) and I am good at detaching and going away.
So I left.
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