Author: Gloria Qiao, founder of Trusli.com
Today, I was talking to my colleagues about why I was often hated in corporate America. Of course, over the years, I learned my lessons and started to play the game better. However, the same traits for which I was often hated turned out to be very helpful when I started my own company. Here they are.
In corporate America, when you are in a big meeting, depending on who attends and your position and rank, it may or may not be wise for you to speak the truth. Once, my CEO was questioning a co-worker about why we should pre-buy computer chips. I couldn’t help but pitch in to explain that we were experiencing a global chip shortage and that it would be prudent for us to pre-buy. The CEO was not happy, and my boss gave me a stern look. However, when you start your own company, you must speak up. When you are unsure about a proposal, ask about the reasoning behind it. When you are unhappy with someone’s performance, point it out. When you are unhappy about how much money is being spent, ask line by line.
In corporate America, everyone works on a certain rhythm, and it is impolite or even rude to question someone else’s speed of execution or ability to deliver relentlessly. Oftentimes, because my team’s performance depended on another team’s ability to give clear requirements or guidance, I would pursue the other team relentlessly to the point where they would complain to my boss and say that I was being too aggressive. But when you found your own company, you are burning the money you yourself have raised from investors, and any mistake in execution or strategy has direct and immediate consequences. Being relentless in pursuing results is not a shortcoming but rather a positive trait that is often applauded.
A related trait is being impatient when people are not immediately delivering concrete results. In corporate America, you set quarterly and yearly goals, and that’s what you deliver on. Large projects can take months, if not years. There are lots of meetings. Every meeting has an agenda, and people take notes, assign action items (that’s if you are lucky enough to work for a more action-driven company), and discuss progress. In a startup, you have to hustle. You are doing 10 different things at the same time. Each day, the plan changes. Every minute counts. Having to wait for weeks for something to be done is intolerable and detrimental to the progress of the startup.
When you work for a big company, there are always B players. In companies that are well built and organized, there are fewer—but there are always some. Your job is to make sure you don’t hire one or have one on your team. If there is one, your job is to get rid of them. But outside of your own team, even if you have peer feedback and talk about other team members, there is not much you can do about them. You are supposed to smile, deal with their subpar performance, and be a “team player.” Openly criticizing a peer—or, I dare you, someone else’s team member—is career suicide. However, in our own company, we can eliminate the B players immediately. Not doing so amounts to telling the rest of the team that subpar performance is OK. It’s not.
To be a well-liked person in a big company, you must make friends. Accordingly, if your colleague asks for a peer review, you say only good things. Even with your own team, there are things that you can point out, but there are also things that you sugarcoat if you want to retain them. However, when you found your own company, every person must pull their own weight. If they do not, you need to tell them why what they are doing is not right and how they can fix it. Although we still speak with kindness, we need to deliver very candid feedback right away, even when it is hard to hear. But it is what it is. When it’s about survival, being “liked” takes on a lower priority.
In a big company, everyone has a “swim lane,” and you are terrified to “step on toes.” How many times have I gone out of my way to point out how other departments are hurting a company, only to be told to mind my own business? Unless you are the CEO, it seems like no one is chartered to have a holistic view of the entire operation.
When interviewing at a big company and being asked about your career aspirations, the one thing you can never say is, “I want your job.” To say that you want to be part of the C-suite—to become your boss’s boss, or even to become your boss’s peer—is a no-no. However, when you start your own business, investors, co-founders, and even employees love a founder who has ambition. We are here to grow, scale, take over competitors, and maybe even go for an IPO. Go big or go home, and the sky is the limit.
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