Getting Ahead in Large Organizations

I was speaking with a colleague the other day about managing careers in large organizations. He’s a mid-career but has only been in the corporate world for a few years whereas I’ve been a part of it since I graduated college. He could not understand why he wasn’t growing and why he would get trampled in meetings. It can get EXTREMELY frustrating very quickly when you feel you are putting significant effort in your job and not getting the recognition you feel you deserve. So I shared with him a few things I picked up over the years that have helped me navigate the corporate mess in an effort to become more than “just a number“. After speaking for a while he found it difficult to believe that career management required so much effort but I explained that the idea is to minimize being in a position where the people around you have all the power without your direct influence.

Success (growth) in large organizations comes down to 3 things:

  • PERFORMANCE: How well do you do your job? This is the most basic expectation and the highest priority. This is where most of your time should be spent if you are a young employee or if you’ve recently switched jobs/industries. The ultimate goal is to become a SME (subject matter expert) in whatever it is you’re doing. It will take time and dedication to get there but the reward is immeasurable.
  • IMAGE: When people hear your name what do they think/say? What image or brand have you created for yourself? It’s okay to ask your peers for their inputs and is an essential aspect of your development. Are you the one that always leaves early? Works late? Some things can be damaging to your reputation and I’ve seen flexibility to be a critically important trait. Be willing to go beyond your scope of work to make that impression.
  • EXPOSURE: Who knows you? It’s important to engage not only with management within your specific function but also those functions that you work indirectly with as well. If you’re in engineering, have you reached out to the sourcing director? How about the manager of another product line? Volunteering your time and joining an affinity group are great ways to network with senior leadership and build relationships.

All three aspects above are equally important and must be actively managed on a daily basis. Here are some additional things that can help:

  1. Manage your management: Set and align ALL your work priorities and expectations with your management and do so OFTEN. This should be a discussion purely on your accomplishments, goals, priorities, achievements, training, growth, etc. You may be doing what seems like a phenomenal job to you, but if you’re manager doesn’t think what you’re doing is worthwhile then it’s all for nothing. I can’t stress this enough… ensure you are aligned with your manager on work scope and priority. If something is unclear, meet and resolve the expectation quickly. This leads me to…
  2. Manage Expectations (yours of others and others’ expectations of you):
    • Start every conversation, every meeting, everything you say with a precursor. “This is why we are meeting”, “this is a draft, I need your inputs before I go further”, etc. Setting the tone makes people realize where you are coming from and specifically where you need their input. This is crucial in setting people’s expectations and understanding the role they are playing for you.
    • If you feel there is misalignment on what is expected of you to deliver, follow up and set it right. Ask for help in communicating the right message. Meet with others one-on-one regularly to ensure you’re chasing after the right goals.
    • Communicate YOUR expectations of OTHERS (including managers). What do you want them to do for you? There’s a lot of value they can bring and they need to be looked as a resource for you as well, not just the other way around. Tell them how they can help.
  3. Sell yourself: Be a talker AND a doer. It’s not about being arrogant, it’s about communicating your achievements and accomplishments and the value you bring to the organization.
    • If you’re all talk and don’t deliver, you’re reputation will suffer and you will have a poor image among your peers.
    • If you deliver and don’t sell yourself, you won’t get the recognition you deserve.
    • Do both and you’ll be identified and recognized as a valuable resource in the team.
  4. Use your network: Who do you have on your side? Who can you rely on for help? Who can vouch for you? Do you have a mentor? A sponsor? Who in your circle is an influencer that is not directly in your management that can help guide you? If you don’t have one, build your network and find one.
  5. Push for your development: Never wait to be developed… push them to develop you. Don’t expect them to take care of you, they never will. Large organizations cannot keep up with the demands of the thousands of employees. It’s up to you to take the right steps and own your career path.

Yes, these things take significant energy and effort, but I came to the conclusion long ago that they are VITAL for corporate success. It can be looked at as unfortunate but it is the reality if you want to grow within a large organization.

What have you done at work that set you apart and got you recognized? Please share in the comments below!

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