How Not to Get Too Stuck in the Muck and Mire that Is Often Corporate…Even If You Kind of Like It…Sometimes…
There are two discussions that always seem to get me into trouble with my career services and HR pals. One is when I talk about workplace culture in any way that might be construed in the slightest as negative. For instance, when I say that corporate culture and cultural fit are sometimes used as strangleholds by leadership, more to serve corporate agenda than to actually enact effective change, it seems to really bug them.
And I get it…professionals say culture is #1 to them and that it’s a big factor in hiring and retention; therefore, a lot of effort is being put into “branding” corporate culture by HR and company leadership, and the evangelists are true believers.
The other issue that gets me into trouble is when I talk about what I call the corporate “goo.” The goo is all the stuff that my tech pros get sucked into on a daily basis in their corporate jobs…the stuff that keeps them from being vigilant in managing their careers and protecting what they’ve built so far. I would certainly say that culture initiatives and corporate politics and retention practices and leadership mandates all fall into this goo.
The goo in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad; but it is sticky, and it can prevent individuals from keeping their eyes on the bigger picture when it comes to their careers.
It’s a bit like being part of a kids sports club these days. When I was in school, you pretty much played sports as part of your school with the exception of maybe Little League. And sports had a “season” where, you know, they ended for a while. Now, school sports have become secondary to club sports in many ways, and these clubs can really mean business. The competition is often tougher. The time commitment is often greater (more often than not, they go year-round). The core group of club members is often tightly linked, and switching clubs can be nothing less than be traumatic. In other words, it can be a bit intense…especially for the parents.
And before you know it, you’re existence is sucked into this other world (for me, it’s the world of competitive swimming) that has its own set of culture, politics, and drama (even if we don’t like to admit it). As my wife and I have discovered, if you don’t enforce breaks and come up for air every once in a while, and have your own strategy for your family, you begin to lose sight of what else is out there…the bigger picture. The world outside is shifting and evolving, and we are too busy obsessing over split times and qualifiers to notice or prepare for it.
And if we don’t get some perspective, it most likely will take some kind of jolt to get us back in line.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “OK. They sound like they’re a bit nuts. They’re one of THOSE parents.” You’re probably right. But most likely you are a bit nuts too, especially if your current job is sucking you in much like our child’s swim club has sucked us in.
Livelihoods matter. Protecting careers protects families.
Now, I know you probably don’t think it has. I mean, you have probably perfected the art of work-life balance, and corporate self-interest and politics just rolls off your shoulder, right? You do such a good job of it that you are able to stay on top of your career goals, keeping your eye on the prize and maintaining your resume, LI profile, recruiter pipeline, network associations, and “personal brand” all while managing to not get stuck in the day-to-day goo that is often corporate life, right? You’ve always landed on your feet, and you’re pretty sure you always will, right?
For most of us, crazy swim parents and all, we have this tendency to get sucked into whatever it is that we are doing, our work, our hobbies, our children’s lives. And although we want to keep our focus on the bigger picture, it’s a lot harder than we like to admit because what we do matters. Our work in particular matters. We have a lot tied into it that goes beyond just our ambition.
But the goo gets us off track and makes us focus on the wrong things.
Much like my sad, but true, swimming analogy, once we get stuck in it, we end up more in survival mode than in strategic mode. We’re just trying to stay afloat and make it through (and keep up!). And truthfully, sometimes it is just comfortable and not all that unpleasant (after all, gooey things tend to be warm, like hot chocolate chip cookies…who can resist that?). So we don’t always mind fighting for that survival because it has become such a big part of our little world. And, hey, like I said before, we usually land on our feet.
That is, until the jolt comes.
In today’s job market, particularly in tech, you need to be careful not to get too stuck in the goo…because it is probably temporary. While you’re busy trying to hold together all the pieces of your current engagement, the job market is ever shifting and evolving. Technologies are changing, corporate demands are tightening, and sectors are becoming more and more global. And statistically speaking, job changes, be it internal or external, are occurring every 3 to 4 years if not sooner.
I’ve watched many a technical professional get jolted into this reality because they were lost in the perception that the day-to-day goo was what really mattered. But you don’t have to just fight to survive; you can understand where the market is headed, and you can keep yourself prepared to face it, which is why I get into trouble when I discuss this with my HR friends. They want you to be lulled into the goo because the more focused you are on that the less focused you are on protecting the career you’ve worked so hard to build. They need you to need them much like you need them to need you. Unfortunately, though, this mutual “need” doesn’t always last or work out so well because other forces are also at play.
It’s time to move from survival mode to strategic mode.
It’s unrealistic to think that any of us can totally avoid getting stuck in the goo that surrounds us, whether that be corporate or, in my case, our children’s activities. But much like we enlist retirement and financial advisors to help guide us through while we fight the daily battles, we can do the same when it comes to our tech careers. They don’t have to be a solo effort predicated only on how well you’ve networked and earned credentials.
A new market requires a new strategy. So let’s move from survival of the fittest into bigger picture thinking. Today’s boss will be a distant memory one day, and this company could be replaced by something else, but you’re career is yours to nurture and protect.