Thriving in the corporate world

What you need to know:

  • I was lucky that I had an experience of corporate early on while still at university

I always say, the one thing they will never teach you in school is how to do corporate. Corporate life is exciting but you can also fail terribly at corporate. 

I was lucky that I had an experience of corporate early on while still at university. While at university, I had some work at Daily Monitor and the  Independent Magazine. I also had some side-gigs. From Monitor for example, I learnt about those annual performance reviews. We often had a weekly features meeting,  which taught me simple things such as ‘checking-in’ at the start of the meeting.

And you see the thing about ‘checking-in’, it is not for you to tell people everything about your life. It is to reveal something without revealing anything. I also used to do social-media gigs while at campus. These gave me an introduction to things such as writing letters to express interest. It taught me about pro-forma invoices, purchase orders and finally all the way to invoicing. 

I learned early on to read the room. I would later come to learn that there are rooms you will be in, but you are not required or expected to say anything. Then there are rooms you will be in, and if you do not say anything, then you have committed a crime. I guess, for me playing the corporate life became intuitive. Some people tend to call it corporate politics.

And corporate politics gets a bad wrap, but it is necessary. The reason politics exists is because resources are limited. So you could all have great ideas, but which idea should get funded? Basically the idea that can solicit the best supporters. 

I did not believe in belonging to groups or cliques. But most people in corporate will always have allies. I have always desired freedom, I always see myself as a warrior. I generally hate being owned. But even in this scenario, I still made friends, or call them partners. 
To succeed in corporate, you need many people on your side. Call them your stakeholders. Even the tea lady is your big stakeholder. Corporate is politics at every layer, of course some politics can get dysfunctional, but most of it is functional. 

One of the most important things is to always ‘make your boss shine’ and ‘your boss’ boss to shine.’ I always swore never to bad-mouth my line manager. Regardless of how I felt about my line manager, those were always my private thoughts. And whenever there was an opportunity to talk about any of my line managers, it would be to praise them, to point out something great about their leadership. 

If you think you are working for a dumb boss, then it also in some ways says you are dumb. And if someone is above you, have the humility to accept that they know something you do not know. 

I also learnt in corporate that most decisions are better sought informally before presenting them formally. I call this the ‘approval’ before ‘the approval.’ Approvers are busy people. Now, if you call a meeting and bombard them with a new idea and seek approval, you are most likely going to face rejection. So when I got a chance, I would walk over to the desk of an approver and brief them about the idea. And say, look there is this thing, the email or the meeting would be the last thing. 

And by the way, there are people who kiss ‘ass’ and it is annoying. There is a way to find support from your superiors without over-doing it. But also, at the end of the day, remember that the superior is a person just like you. They worry just like you. I always said, my goal everyday at work was to remove their pain points. I always avoided going to my superiors with problems. I went with solutions. If you can make your boss shine and other people shine, you will always automatically shine. 

But corporate is also quite passive-aggressive. So there are people who play the real dirty politics. You should be aware of those two. On contentious issues, with contentious people, it was always important to archive, to have more than one copy of something. Especially financial-related decisions, it is always good to keep these trails well. 

The other thing I found important in corporate is to verse yourself with the policies. When I got bored, I would just spend some minutes digging up all different company policies. I would dig up things that would amount to gross-misconduct. It is always good to constantly read, constantly update yourself. And I will tell you, most people in corporate are always ignorant (especially on things outside their department). I always read everything there was to read. I would go to Finance and read the Fixed Asset Policy, then I would see what the IFRS would say in relation to the same. Be updated internally but also know what the external benchmarks or standards say. British Standards? ISO? EU standards? Uganda laws? Reading will always put you ahead, miles ahead! be continued