Whether you have had the chance of experiencing corporate life on your own or not, you are surely familiar with some of the common characteristics of leading such a life. Interestingly, I have observed that the view of this life is fairly different among various categories of people. Broadly speaking, these are the various segments of people who look at corporate life with different perspectives.
- Those who have never experienced corporate life and have no close relatives who are involved in such madness
- Those who have someone close involved in corporate life
- Those who have experienced corporate life themselves and are still involved in it
- Those who have experienced corporate life and have since then given up the madness
The first two segments are made up of people who look at corporate life from the outside. The latter two have had a chance to look at the inner mechanisms that run the corporate machine.
The Outside Perspective
Most people who have been blessed with a life where they do not have to taste the vagaries of corporate life think it is a cool place to be (unfortunately). They hear about easy access to free coffee machines, an air-conditioned environment, conferences to interesting and exotic locations and much more. For many the corporate world provides the first opportunity to travel in flights or travel abroad and therefore it is seen as a ticket to better exposure to different worlds.
Keep in mind though, that those who have close relatives (especially spouses) involved in the corporate world will often be given an image of how these perks come with a lot of stress. There will also be talk of the immense pressure that they handle when on offsite conferences. Even late-night drinks and dinner parties are a pain because bosses must be catered to and corporate politics must be kept in mind. One is never off guard!
The Inside Perspective
For those who still get up in the morning to reach office on time, have some motivation that keeps them going. It is either the salary that gets credited at the end of the month, the desire for more power over time or the thrill of completing a project. This is by no means an exhaustive list and there are surely many other motivations that drive corporate slaves to continue in what they are doing.
It is probably these motivations that keep executives from ‘seeing’ what it is really like despite being exposed to the scenario day in and day out! Things may seem relatively simple while you are in junior and middle management. As a junior all you need to do is learn, meet your financial targets and if you have not gotten into any kind of trouble with human resources, you are good.
As middle management, another layer of managing a team gets added and you start to deal with varying levels of performance from your team. At this stage some politics and game play start to creep into your working space. Favoritism is one area that shows its ugly head. Should you promote the grumpy silent worker or the charming young boy who is forever trying to help you with your work?
But the real games start once you are in top management. There is less need for knowing how to get the job done and more need to play people, manipulate them and get your agenda to be considered by all.
Irrespective of what level you are at, some perks remain constant. There are long coffee breaks, loads of gossip about various other employees, lunch hour that extends into office time, snacks at all meeting to stuff yourself with, brainstorming sessions that allow you to snooze, meetings that have an agenda but seem to fly all over the place and more.
What About the Work?
Work does get done in offices and it is not all relaxation and perks. However, one does think of the kind of productivity that would have been achieved if the surroundings were more conducive to actual work. In fact, it is interesting to see some great work being done sometimes and one feels that all is not lost.
However, who is doing this work, who is getting the credit, the number of times someone was stepped over, the effort required to push this proposal forward and such bureaucratic issues are not generally brought to the forefront when something is achieved. But there are always some dead skeletons in the cupboard if one was to look.
But What’s the Mantra?
Having reached ‘top-management’ and then quit the corporate world soon after, I can surely understand why I could not have been a part of this world for long. All those who have reached this level will know that domain knowledge and skill is not what you require once you have passes a certain level. What you need are these:
- Charisma – An essential quality to be able to charm your way through. This is required to manage your bosses, your juniors, the associated departments and the secretary! The charisma allows you to get your way when you want specific points to be highlighted in the agenda. It helps when you want your boss to lend you an ear. It helps when you want to spread gossip about someone else by chatting about it to others. Before you know it, you have been able to further your cause or bring someone else’s empire down in no time. That’s what corporate life is all about – concentrate on how you can win and how the other can lose!
- Managing Boredom – Acting class will go a long way in furthering your career. You need to be a great actor to feign interest in the boring meetings that you are expected to attend. These meetings can be about monthly reviews, award functions, 10-year celebrations, open houses where excruciatingly mundane questions shall be asked and practically anything under the sun. Even when they are about work or a specific project that needs to be completed, you may leave the meeting room wondering what really got accomplished. However, if you let out any sign of being bored in any of these, it will be the start of the end of your career! So, if you did not take your dramatics class seriously in school, brush up on some of these aspects. A poker face is not good enough. That may only help you from staying in the company. Expressions of avid interest and participation in all inane and meaningless conversation (especially with you boss and other superiors) will go a long way.
- Perform Robotic Schedules – The last thing that you need to be able to do is to stick to schedules and timings and perform basic tasks with robotic efficiency. Punching in your card on time and making sure you spend much more than the mandatory time inside office is one such thing. Writing detailed minutes of the meetings in great style for everyone to read (especially if they were nodding off during the meeting) is another. These tasks may differ from one corporate to another based on their ‘policies’ and ‘belief systems’ but be sure that they will exist in every company.
- Socializing – This is one skill that is extremely important as you go up the corporate ladder. As it is, domain knowledge and skill become increasingly redundant as you move up. Irrespective of what you have to offer in your area of expertise, you need socializing skills to be able to present your ideas to the right person at the right level of intoxication. Sometimes they work better over the golf course when the party in power has just scored a hole in one.
If you want to make your way up the corporate ladder quickly, make sure you go to finishing school, pay attention to your dramatics, practice meditation with your eyes open and learn tricks to remember names and faces in your formative years. With these under your belt, there is nothing that can stop you – even if you have minimal domain knowledge!