I've been around the block a few times in my career, to the point where the road in my rearview mirror is longer than the road ahead. So I often get asked rumination-type questions to assist colleagues and the next generation of compensation practitioners. "What tips 'n tricks have you learned?" "You've seen this scenario before. What would work, and why?" "What should I do?" and conversely "What shouldn't I do?"
And the big question; "If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?"
Which leads me to consider, that which was the biggest mistake of my career.
The Political Animal
I confess, I just wasn't good at office politics. Couldn't play the game well at all. In fact, for a very long time, I was probably naive, assuming that delivering good job performance would be enough to advance my career. So I didn't take sides, I didn't suck up and more often than not I tended to stay to myself. I was the quiet one in the group, never crowding the boss to be seen and get attention. Never faking a laugh at lame jokes. Not pretending to be someone I wasn't.
Big mistake. Because that petty gamesmanship of "yes man thinking" happens every day, and likely everywhere. For some employees, it works. For some, it beats focusing on job performance.
Back in my workspace, I tended to blurt things out the way they were, as numbers don't lie. Data is what data is. Policies and procedures are established for a reason. I was as transparent as possible in my dealings with others, strove for equity of treatment among employee groups and kept a view toward what would help employees and the business. On the other hand, I didn't play golf and didn't frequent the casinos (one particular company), so in some instances, I didn't fit in, outside the office or within.
Perhaps you recall my P.I.E. in-your-face article from a few years back? During my career, while I focused on Performance, other colleagues spent their time worrying about Image and Exposure. Sad to say, but in my experience fitting in and being a buddy with the boss often seemed to beat out performance and results, or at least where I worked, and for whom I worked. Perhaps it's different, and better, where you work.
As a Compensation leader, I didn't hesitate to say NO!, especially when the requests were illogical, cost too much, created more problems than solved, went against policy, or in general was a bad idea. But I found that, if senior management wanted a YES they weren't worried about the same concerns that I struggled with. They didn't have to explain over-the-top decisions to employees who didn't receive that "special" treatment.
It was my phone that rang with the "What about me?" demands. My boss didn't get those calls.
My biggest takeaway was that it did matter that you laughed at the boss' jokes and that you were quick to agree with exception requests from those higher up the food chain. Otherwise, well, I found that keeping your head down and doing your job wasn't a career-enhancing move for me, at least in some environments.
Looking Back - and Forward
In reading over what I've written here it may seem to some that I'm bitter over some of my experiences, but really I'm not. Or at least not anymore <g>. Not much. I hit my head against the wall enough times to finally realize how the game is played. Maybe it's not fair, but that's the way it is/was, at least for me. But perhaps I can pass on a few tips 'n tricks for you to consider for your own career.
- Make sure you know your boss and they know you. Develop and maintain a friendly, professional relationship. Remaining in your office can look like you're hiding.
- Force yourself to be an active player in your staff environment. You need to be seen and heard.
- Be flexible in your decision-making and recommendations, even if sometimes it hurts. Don't become viewed only as the cop or gatekeeper, but as someone able to solve problems, and who understands when senior management needs a win.
- Remember the long game, picking your battles for when it's really important. The small stuff is just that. Petty disagreements rarely have a winner.
- You may not play the chosen sport of your leadership, but know what's going on and at a minimum check the news for the scores. That way at least you're in the conversation, part of the group.
But I still hold the line with one piece of advice. No matter what, don't be a suck-up and a limp-wristed sell-out. Stand out as a professional in your craft. Trading in your soul for career advancement demands a higher cost than I was ever willing to pay.
I hope you feel the same.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image, "Appearances," by Bark