10 Things You Should Consider before Taking a Job at a Big Corporation

I’m not arguing either for or against working in a big corporation. It’s a choice that everyone should make for themselves, with their own context and priorities in mind. The purpose of writing this article is to make sure that you make an informed decision. So here are 10 things you should consider – for yourself.

Here’s stuff to consider:

  1. Nobody wants to take responsibility for any chance or for any remote risk. Decisions are left out to teams, which, in my opinion is the slowest, most ineffective process, which yields the lowest degree of accuracy. The alternatives would be allowing decisions be made by someone with knowledge, someone with power or (ideally) someone with bothThe first reason why this doesn’t happen is that people with knowledge do not know the political intricacies within a corporation (one hand scratches the other style, eg. “I’ll pass you some of my budget if you promote my project, which in turn might get me promoted”), and so they might make the “unpopular” decision (eg. picking one vendor over another, promoting one person’s idea over another’s and so on). The second reason is that people with enough power to make or at least to steer a decision don’t have the knowledge, the time or the will to understand its implications, its long term impact. Between these two reasons, upper and middle management force the lower drones to be in consensus over each decision, so as to protect upper and middle management from decision-making, responsibility and risk. And the cost for this policy is that no decision is clear-cut, everything is a compromise – which works wonders for customer/user experience.
  2. Procedure over habithabit over reason and over common sense. What you have to understand is that it doesn’t matter if you’re right. All that matter is if you can be proven wrong. And procedures (or protocols, or bureaucracy) provide the shelter against being wrong. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you made a good call or a bad call, as long as you made the call you where supposed to make, by respecting procedure. This creates countless situations where the actual clear, simple, straight-forward approach is unacceptable because it would violate procedure and the procedural way takes 10 times more. It gets even more interesting as on the procedural chain there are a lot of people either too busy, too uninterested, too incompetent or too afraid of doing something wrong. Procedure isn’t the greatest enemy, however. Habit is. A lot of people don’t want to try new things because they have a little comfort zone in their way of doing things (no matter how slow, inefficient or obsolete)
  3. (For Romania only) Taking English words for granted and copying them into the native language.
      • “Leverage” becomes “levier” (the actual word: “parghie”).
      • “To commit” becomes “a comite” (the actual word: “a-si asuma”)
      • “To assume” becomes “a asuma” (the actual word: “a presupune”)
      • “To assess” becomes “a asesa” (the actual word: “a evalua”)
      • Leave your comment with your own corporate bullshit line or roenglish word
  4. Your ideas aren’t rejected, they are prioritized. Telling someone their idea sucks or it’s irrelevant or there’s no time and no money for it takes guts. And guts isn’t something you find too often. When you say that someone’s idea isn’t a good idea you actually take the responsibility. But you don’t want that responsibility, so you delay it – indefinitely. The context isn’t right, the budget isn’t right, the load of the development or testing team is too high, there are more important initiatives/projects in the pipeline. NO – when someone tells you “this can wait”, you read “this can wait until next month”, but what it actually means is “this can wait until pigs fly/I quit this goddamn job/I move into another position”. It means “I don’t want to make the extra effort” or “I don’t want you to take the credit” or “I don’t want to take the gamble on your idea”. If there’s one rule that applies is the rule of precedents: if it can wait this month, it will be able to wait next month, and the one after that.
  5. Everybody wants to be a manager of some kind. You can’t be a shelf boy – the politically correct term is “shelf stocking manager”. It gives you (the employee) the illusion that you’re doing something important. Of course, your so-called titled wouldn’t be worth the piece of paper it were written on in the outside world – but every morning, when you get your coffee from the machine, it gives you the illusion of meaning, of purpose, of responsibility. And let’s be honest: giving people fancy worthless job titles is a lot cheaper than giving them an actual raise.
  1. Grumpy CatGratefulness has a short memory span and promises aren’t worth the piece of paper they could have been written on. Your company owes you so much. If it weren’t for your commitment, your involvement, your overtime, your blood, sweat and tears –  we wouldn’t have pulled it off. “Good” said the Grumpy Cat “In light of that, can I have my raise and/or promotion now?” Not in six months or three quarters down or at the end of the next financial year. “Now” would be a good time. ‘Cause by next pay check, you won’t even remember my name or what it was I did so great. You won’t remember my extra-effort or my involvement. Which kinda makes sense, because by then you’ll have other problems to worry about. The truth is it doesn’t take a raise to let you know someone notices. It takes a VP shaking your hand or taking 5 minutes to come over lunch. It takes a couple of tickets to a concert or to a spa. It a take a small bonus per project. It doesn’t matter what your standards are for being reward. The point is that if something tangible, real or written does not happen within two weeks after your great corporate achievement everybody will have forgotten about it (including your colleagues, your boss and most definitely your boss’ boss).
  2. Politics are more important than hard work and knowledge. Look, corporations aren’t this sort of Borg-like highly-integrated collective intelligence. No. They’re made of individual people. And most people don’t wake up thinking “what would the customer want?”. People want a raise. A vacation. Their percentage or their commission. A promotion. Recognition. A big-screen smart-TV. And people realize that they should help each other achieve those purposes in ways that are not necessarily the best for the company, the customer or the environment. Oftentimes, what makes sense rationally or what yields lowest cost or highest result in the long run isn’t necessarily what’s best for the career and lifestyle of your superiors and peers. The right decision might get them more work to do, less visibility, more responsibility, more risk of someone asking them why they fucked up. More importantly, what you decide or do might make their promises or allegiances to others not stick, which would hurt their career. So no matter how much work you do, how up-to-date you keep yourself on industry topics or how well you seek the interest of the company, having coffee/lunch with the right people always matters more. In a way, corporations are like high schools: there are “the losers” who attend to actually learn something and there are the “cool kids” who have a club of their own. Forget your Inbox. Football jokes over coffee and going out after work are far more important.
  3. If there isn’t a KPI for it, then it doesn’t matter. Corporations are places where people who have no idea what you’re doing have to decide whether to punish you, reward you or (most frequently) just ignore you. The tools to do that are KPIs, objectives and reviews. Long story short: if your achievement/extra-effort from during the year is not on your little objectives sheet that had been written at the beginning of the year, there’s little chance anyone will notice/care. Which kinda makes sense, until you are confronted with situations where entire teams argue whether to actually improve customer experience or to improve the customer experience metrics (so the experience stays the same, but it looks better in reports). A lawyer once told me there are two kinds of truth: the truth you know and the truth you can prove. Let me just tell you, in corporations, the truth does not exist.
  4. What can make your job easier will also make you irrelevantI love it when people get excited by the team being supplemented with some new contractors. Or by that piece of software which automatically scans invoices so you barely have to type anything in. Yeah. Great. All great organizational announcements about making your job easier, faster and more efficient should be a subtle queue that you should already be looking for another job. While you might naively rejoice in the thought that someone will pay you the same money to do less work, you should know that the main purpose of a business isn’t to keep employees happy, but to keep them at 99% capacity (120% if possible) and to shrink costs. If there where 20 people inputting invoices, this brand new system makes it possible for things to get done with just 5 people
  5. Promises travel and get inflated upstream. Blame travels and gets inflated downstream. Your boss asks you what you think of the new piece of software. You tell him it’s crap, you give him a long list of reasons and suggest several alternatives, which he ignores. After that, his boss asks him what he thinks. He says, it’s a great piece of software, state-of-the-art, best-of-breed, industry-standard, which has some issues, but they will be fixed. The downside is constantly under-estimated as information travels upstream though countless layers, until ultimately the CTO/CEO/CxO think it’s a great product and everything is going according to plan. Then, when things actually do break, customers start ringing the phone off the hook, the CTO/CEO/CxO are dissatisfied and ask what’s wrong. The next level says “I thought the issues were going to be solved”.  Finally, your boss tells you “It was your job to fix this”.  See what happens: the information flow between decision and execution is broken. The orders are emitted with too little knowledge and too little context and the feedback being received has more noise than actual information.

To sum it up, I’m not saying “Don’t work in a corporation”. It can be a good thing, especially if you want a decent salary, little responsibility and low short-medium term risk. All I’m saying is you should be aware of the downsides and shouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid. Know fact from bullshit and don’t lie to yourself on behalf of the company (“they’re gonna make me Executive Shelf Stocking Manager next year”). Don’t take empty promises and beware of fake principles which people use to push their agenda.  Try to work in a profit center instead of a cost center, because bringing in money gets you a better image. Failing that, try to work in a department which is at the business’ core, because you’ll matter more. And while having a good personal relationship with co-workers  is great, remember that you’re doing your job for the money – making friends is a secondary objective. Oh and… if you really want a raise, your best chance is to find yourself another better-paying job.

"How to get a raise" by Dilbert
“How to get a raise” by Dilbert

Looking forward to your –   preferably hateful – comments.

And considering this is a post about corporations, it should also have a legal disclaimer, shouldn’t it? So here it is J

 The events and opinions depicted in this article are fictitious and purely represent the opinion of the author. Any similarity to any person living or dead, or to any organization is merely coincidental.



Bogdan Written by:

One Comment

  1. RazvanDH
    March 11, 2013

    “a asesa” e noul meu cuvant preferat 🙂

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