I had a pointed moment of clarity last week. I finally realized why all of my great ideas at work were falling upon deaf ears. I have been making lots of process improvement recommendations lately to help our team (and its several new members) operate more efficiently. In my previous role at a huge manufacturing company, managers ate up this kind of stuff. But for some reason, it was being met with total and utter indifference in my new job.
The problem, you see, is that I failed to recognize the difference in the two companies and their managers. My new job is in a growing market, where sales is all that matters. Sure, it would be nice to clean up the back office, but nothing should get in the way of sales efforts. If I'm training new hires or standardizing our product delivery methods, I'm taking away from valuable selling time. This means even tremendous process improvement ideas are essentially useless.
They key is to understand where your company is in the product life cycle. Process improvements, Six Sigma, and process learning are for companies that are in operational mode. They are already selling as much as they can, so the only way to improve the finances is to spend less on operations. New companies are the opposite. They can tolerate some sloppiness, at least for a while.
For me, this was incredibly difficult to grasp. If you are fresh out of business school, it is tempting to show off your process improvement knowledge. But sometimes it is best to shut up and observe. Recognize the situation, and adapt.
Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole, but keep your eyes open because things change. Timing is everything. Ultimately, I believe this is how top performers repel the "fresh out of college" stigma and make it onto top management's radar.
Dan is in the software business. He now does consulting work but started his career in an elite management training program at one of the biggest companies in the world. He writes about his experiences at Newly Corporate.