One of the best sessions I have had in my training career was my PMP weekday class in June this year.
In the class was a HR Manager of one of the leading banks in Nigeria, a retired Oil worker who worked with an Oil major for 20 years.
While we were treating project human resource management, the retired Oil worker shared with us that in the corporate ladder, high performing talent is not enough. He stated that technical skills can only get you to an extent and that to go further, you need to know how to play office politics, build cross functional relationships and the proverbial a** licking. Guess what, the HR Manager corroborated this assertion. So I did a study around this and came up with some ugly truths about career. find below.
1. You don’t have to be the smartest or best at what you do to get to the top
Have you ever talked to a senior executive and wonder how in the world did this person ever get so high up in a company. They have no idea what they are doing.
Well there is a common misconception that only the smartest or most qualified make it to the highest ranks of a company.
In reality, it is the people who are the best at understanding corporate politics, building cross-functional relationships, and developing high performing talent that makes their way to the top.
Once you start progressing into the ranks of senior manager or director, high performing individuals start being defined by their people and soft skills. The hard skills that you pick up earlier in your career as a specialist in an area matter less because you hire people to do that work for you.
I have seen many people get frustrated when their careers plateau as middle managers and feel cheated when their peers who seem less qualified get promoted. Most corporations aren’t places of meritocracy.
2. Corporations don’t really care about your passions and innovative ideas (most of the time)
I can’t tell you how many new bright-eyed undergrads and MBAs have come into companies I have worked at believing they can mold their passions into a career and use it to transform the company.
That’s just not how it works.
Executives have a strategy and vision and you, the employee, are expected to follow it and execute it.
You may have a lot of great ideas and believe that by caring strongly about something will convince others to follow. However, it’s not common that a large company will take risks and introduce disruption for the sake of doing it. If the business is doing fine, the idea is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”
Every company wants to retain great talent and will promote an environment that enables career development. However, this only applies to the talent that is committed to a specialized area that the company has identified a need for.
3. Luck plays a big role in careers (but you can influence the odds)
When I listen to the podcast How I Built This, they always ask how much of the millionaire founder’s success was based on hard work vs. luck. Almost all of them mention luck as being a factor as their success.
Have you ever noticed those few select individuals who seem to land on the right team, meet the right people, or join the right company that allows them to skyrocket up in the careers? Seems totally unfair and based on luck right?
While some of us end up bitter and jealous about people who end up getting lucky, I do believe all of us have the ability to influence the odds of something good happening to us in our career.
My biggest tip is to get out there and grow your network of people in areas and roles that you want to be in. Relationships are what open doors. That’s why people like me end up paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend conferences and seminars get access to professional alumni networks. But you don’t always need a conference. Go meet people in other functions at your company or go to a professional meetup related to an interest area.
While it is easy to get cynical or lulled into being content with our careers, remember that you are the captain of your destiny. There has been no better time in history to explore careers and take risks. Take advantage of every opportunity that you get.