Stagnation and Politics at a Corporation

I see posters of “keep calm and carry on” everywhere. At my offices, in cubicles, on Pinterest boards. Many have switched the phrase and added other funny words like “keep calm and call batman.”

The past two weeks at work, I have been repeating the same words over and over again.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 5.12.28 PMWork has been crazy the past two weeks. I have had to cover for two of my coworkers on top of my day to day responsibilities. But this was nothing compared to the frustration and desperation I felt at work. Welp…I may be exaggerating a tad to express my emotions.

I knew I was going to face politics at work, especially since I work for a large corporation. But I just never imagined it would be in this scale. Especially since I’m not used to dealing with NON-smart people. I have realized that my company is slow. It promotes social climbers – for a lack of a better word. Most people that actually do the job stay at their jobs, and don’t get promoted to manage people and work. Thus, people that are good at greasing wheels, and don’t really understand work, end up managing people. I have also realized that women don’t get promoted as quickly as men. This is quite discouraging. Again, I knew it happened, but having not faced a gender disposition before in other roles, I jus never thought it would impact me this way. Why work harder, if they guy next to you, who may or may not work or be as smart as you, get promoted before you?

Below are some of my observations:

Example 1: Manager promotes himself as more than he is. He’s just as manager but when he announces his title at meetings, he makes himself look as a director. Clearly he is not. People- men- believe him. Yikes!

Example 2: Manager is a very eloquent! I can recognize the best of them because I was trained in bullshitting through high school. I have to thank the International Baccalaureate program for helping me hone this skill. How does he B.S.? He uses a lot of supply chain phrases over and over again. What’s worse is that he tries to implement supply chain innovations without understanding the concept or necessary requirements.

Example 3: Manager or individual contributor do not like being told they are wrong. They respond defensively, and then try to turn the situation on you by calling you defensive and aggressive. Great, right? I’m aggressive because I stand by my decision and I have the analysis (numbers) to back it up. Also, they don’t like to admit they don’t something. They try to B.S. it, and then when I ask them question on subjects which I am fully versed on, they get offended.

Example 4: Getting promoted. It’s a good old boy network. I work for a tech company. Women are outnumbered 4:1. Especially when you start climbing the ladder. Men promote men quicker. I have seen it happen too many times in my organization.

Example 5: Big corporation equals big politics and big stagnation. Sometimes I want to shoot myself. Nobody wants to make a decision because they don’t want to take the blame for it.

Sheryl Sandberg spoke about this at HBS Class of 2012:

As the world becomes more connected and less hierarchical, traditional career paths are shifting as well. In 2001, after working in the government, I moved out to Silicon Valley to try finding a job. My timing wasn’t really that good. The bubble had crashed, small companies were closing, big companies were laying people off. One woman CEO looked at me and said, we wouldn’t even think about hiring someone like you. After awhile I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, so I made a spreadsheet. I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage. And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies. So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spread sheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot. Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

Read more:

I’m an intelligent woman who is frustrated with the status quo at the moment. It’s not about money or title at this moment – those are just minor annoyances. Honestly, it’s about knowing there’s a better, faster, smarter way of doing things. Only to find out this better, faster, smarter way will probably get killed by politics.

I don’t want to blame it on being a female. Although most of the meetings I go for client meetings are 99% men. I have seen these men listen to only men, and shrug off advise from senior-level, well-respected, extremely intelligent women.

Stagnation and politics kill innovation. I wonder if my company’s CEO realizes his middle level managers are squashing innovation and efficiencies at the bottom.

Other wise words from Sheryl:

About 6 and half years later, when I was leaving Google, I took that advice to heart. I was offered CEO jobs at a bunch of companies, but I went to Facebook as COO. At the time people said, why are you going to work for a 23 year old? The traditional metaphor for careers is a ladder, but I no longer think that metaphor holds. It doesn’t make sense in a less hierarchical world. When I was first at Facebook, a woman named Lori Goler, a 1997 graduate of HBS, was working in marketing at eBay and I knew her kind of socially. And she called me and said, I want to talk with you about coming to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you, she said, and telling you all the things I’m good at and all the things I like to do. But I figured that everyone is doing that. So instead I want to know what’s your biggest problem and how can I solve it. My jaw hit the floor. I’d hired thousands of people up to that point in my career, but no one had ever said anything like that. I had never said anything like that. Job searches are always about the job searcher, but not in Laurie’s case. I said, you’re hired. My biggest problem is recruiting and you can solve it. So Lori changed fields into something she never thought she’d do, went down a level to start in a new field and has since been promoted and runs all of the people operations at Facebook and has done an extraordinary job.

Read more:

I’m not quite sure what this means for my career moving forward, but I’m keeping my eyes open and developing my ideas to move forward.

What do you think of politics? Do you feel politics creates stagnation? Do you feel stagnation creates complacency?

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  • I’ve spent most of my career in smaller flatter organizations, and I’ve always found being a younger woman to be an advantage. It’s just so unexpected to people when they meet me for the first time, especially when that meeting was proceeded by seeing some analysis or plan that I put together for a project that it seems to disarm them and make them receptive to discussions.

    • I have been in flat organizations before too, which is why all the subjects above come as a surprise. It makes me want to move. I’m at a point where I’m going to start looking/keeping my eyes open for other opportunities.

  • My sister works in the financal industry and she always complains about dealing with “non-smart” people (though you put it a lot gentler terms =)…who get promoted because of their B.S abilities and not based on your work abilities. It can be very frustrating dealing with office politics. I work in government where it is different, not necessarily in a better way though. It is usually promotion based on seniority or who you know…

  • I’m not sure the gender issues are as much your industry or your company as much as it the region you live in. I think you’d find a pretty shocking difference going from any company in Texas to any company in Seattle. There is just a lot less of the “good ol’ boy” thing out here.
    But idiots and social climbers at corporations are nothing new. Stay out of the politics, work hard and pretire as early as possible. (:

    • Maybe so? I hadn’t considered geography. I have lived in Texas the majority of my life, and before that in Mexico, which is worse.
      That’s the plan Nick! Stay out of politics, work hard, be frugal, save, and invest.

  • “It promotes social climbers – for a lack of a better word.”

    Bleh, I’ve seen the same thing at large companies I worked at. The people who were BS artists got promoted while the real workers were unappreciated. It was depressing and actually caused me to quit at one of the jobs.

    If you’re at a bad place, move on. I liked Mrs. PoP’s comment about working for a smaller, flatter company. Wise advice.

    As for me, I do hourly consulting now. I’m a programmer, so I tell them how much money I need and they pay me for every hour I work. I like it that way. My work is closely tied to the value I bring.

    • If I could go back to school I would major in computer science. LOL I say this after spending 3 years of coding in high school and not enjoying it, which is why I didn’t do it. But it was in Java!
      My company is good. I have heard way worse stories from friends. But of course it’s not perfect, and I’m a perfectionist. I am making it a goal of mine to work hard, and establish a good network. Keeping my eyes open for opportunities.

  • Ugh, that sucks. I’ve never worked at a big corporation before….so I can’t really relate. However, it would be strange to work in a male-dominated industry. I’ve never been outnumbered before!

    • I’m not sure why it surprised me. I was mentored by an executive association in college ( I won their 4 year scholarship) and it was 97% men. But it still surprised me… Now I have to figure out how to advance without psyching myself out.

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