Five Tips to Thrive in Corporate America

by Mike Shea on 12 March 2012

Tips from a 15 year vet

Last Saturday, on 10 March, I hit my 15 year anniversary with my company. A co-worker, who probably didn't know what he was getting into, was kind enough to ask me for my "old timer" tips to survive and thrive in our environment. I spent a little time considering the question and the usefulness of such tips, wrote some stuff down, and ended up with the five I think are probably the most important.

This is all going to sound a little like self-help crap, so be prepared or simply turn away. I will never hold it against you if your time is better spent elsewhere. For the rest of you, I'll keep this short so you can get back to making things, loving your family and friends, and being awesome.

Now, the tips:

Focus on what you love, what you're great at, and what others value from you

This one comes from the corporate self-help book, Good to Great, when looking at companies, but it works just as well as a personal venn diagram. When you find this nice thing, this activity that you love to do, that you do well, and that you get paid to do - keeping doing it better and better. Don't fall into the Peter principle and get promoted away from what you loved in the first place. Don't expect your boss, your co-workers, or your company to help you get you where you want or help you stay there. Like habit 1 of the most popular cult-like self-help book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People says, take responsibility for your current and future state.

Reading List:

Stay organized

Get control of your world. Stay on top of email, meet deadlines, deliver what you promise, and quit going to useless meetings. Get control over the inputs and outputs of your life. Stay more organized than your bosses, your clients, or your co-workers and you'll be more valuable to all of them. You'll also be a lot happier than if you're chasing your own tail trying to catch up most of the day.

Reading List:

Build relationships

Organizational charts, titles, ranks, and hierarchies don't matter. Only the relationships you build with people, at all levels, and in all companies, will matter. Be nice to everyone, up, down, or sideways. Learn about them. Listen. Understand what drives them. Learn who is really valuable and which crazy bastards to stay away from. Be nice, even to the crazies. You never know who will be your boss in ten years so never assume you can be a jerk to anyone.

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Embrace technological change

Learn how to accept and embrace technological change, especially when it's threatening your market. This is a good one to keep tip one in check, since that thing you're so good at might be obsolete in ten years. Always be looking forward at what people will find valuable and how technology will change the market. Be as agile as a start-up company even if you're a middle manager in a 200,000 person company.

Learn to write and communicate well

People will always value good writing and good communication. This is a skill that, if you don't have it, may take you ten years to develop. If you understand the importance of clear communication, you can learn how to do it. If you avoid it like you're in the 3rd grade, you'll never get good at it. Clear writing and communicating means clear thoughts and clear purpose.

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That's never all

There are a million other little tips, but I think those are the big ones. As always, it's a lot easier to say all this crap than to actually do it, but sometimes, after spending fifteen years working at a single place, it's worth figuring out what works well and what doesn't. Come up with your own list and figure out what works best for you.