Over the past few months I’ve spoken at several Universities about our journey at Campbell to become one of the most digitally fit organizations in the world. A frequent post presentation topic of conversation from these students has been how they can set themselves up for success in a new organization. Many of them are interning, evaluating internship opportunities or getting ready to join their first professional full-time job.
Looking back, I wish I had been smart enough to ask some of these questions before I took on my first real job. In 1997 Fallon McElligott gave me my first real job as a QA Analyst focused on breaking websites. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in the 16 years between then and my role at Campbell Soup. Some of those roles put me under great managers. Some of those roles put me within amazing teams working on brain stretching projects. And some of those roles have put me in a position to manage and lead people.
Circumstances can be unique, cultures can be diverse and there are certainly no 2 situations that are identical. Many have been similar, but none, identical. Across these roles and across these different organizations, I’ve learned so much about how to set yourself up for success. While there’s no formula for guaranteeing success, I’m convinced there are a handful of universal building blocks that are important, but for whatever reason seem to be overlooked and forgotten more often than they should…especially by the group of individuals joining the work force in the past 5 years. So with that said, here’s my 5 building blocks…
- First One In…Last One Out: I think too many people saw this as work non-stop and around the clock. That’s an easy mistake to make. Embodying a mindset of “first one in…last one out” is about demonstrating and leaning in to a serious work ethic. It means not rolling in at 9, leaving at 4 and then asking for a raise. As preposterous as that seems, I’ve seen it happen. It’s about understanding the context surrounding a situation. For example, the Thanksgiving holiday is an important sales period for us at Campbell. We had people volunteering to be on call should a server get overloaded or a consumer need help with a recipe. There are those who look for stretch projects and those that come in and only do the work assigned to them. One of those 2 groups is not successful, long term.
- Believe Nothing You Hear and Half Of What You See: I’ve written on the subject of gossip before. In my opinion, gossip, unmanaged, can be debilitating for an organization. There are few things more likely to stop your upward growth than being someone who gossips or someone who listens to gossip. This building block, though, goes beyond gossip. You’ll never understand why people do what they do, in a company. Sometimes, leaders do things for reasons you’ll never understand. You’ll never understand it, because you don’t have access to all the other pieces of information they do. Your time is better spent on the initiatives that matter, not on listening to gossip, seeking it out or trying to understand why people make decisions.
- Anticipate: There’s nothing that separates great from good, like ones ability to anticipate. I’m serious. Thinking through things and asking yourself a series of “what if” and “what would” and “what should” questions is critical. For example, if you’re working on a presentation, you need to ask yourself, what if it bombs, what if the projector doesn’t work, what would I do if they cut the budget in half, what should I do to demonstrate that we need “X.” Thinking through the scenarios takes time, but it’s time well spent.
- Know The History, Know The Culture: It’s amazing how important this is and how often it’s overlooked. Understanding a company’s history, helps you understand why certain decision have been made and are made. Combining that with a great understanding of the culture, will enable you to navigate an organization quicker…which makes you more successful faster. You have to go beyond the Wikipedia page though. You’re laughing, but I’m serious. Most companies have someone or some team that works like an archivist and historian. Find those people and start brain draining ASAP. Talk to organizations like legal, procurement and finance; it’s astonishing how much knowledge and history they have access to.
- Plan, Prepare and Participate: This is a bit different, though closely related to #3. Let’s take something simple like attending a meeting. Plan ahead…think about how much time it’ll take to get to the meeting, what assets you’ll need (book, pen, iPad, props, etc.) and what you want to get out of the meeting. Prepare by understanding who’ll be in the meeting and what their interests are. You should also prepare and plan for when you’re going to participate. Sometimes you’re the one leading the meeting, but often you’ll find yourself as a meeting participant. Don’t be the participant who sits in the corner, 5 steps removed from the table and with your face hidden behind a laptop screen. The far opposite of that isn’t good either…the person who feels the need to constantly speak, offer opinion and interrupt. You need to think about what kind of participant you want to be and when to participate. When you go from wallflower to strategic participant, a world of opportunity open up.
I’m still learning how to do all 5 building blocks really well…all the time. I wish I knew about them 16 years ago when I joined Fallon. This isn’t a blueprint or a map to success, but I’ve yet to come across a organization, culture, team or person for whom these building blocks don’t apply.