It’s been said during the first day of orientation in college that the professor asks everyone to look at the person to their left and the person to their right. Then they say one of you will not graduate. This was to alert the new students that statics state not everyone will make it due to a variety of reasons. Many law schools would use this as a way to alert students that it’s going to be tough and a lot of hard work to graduate.
I’ve discovered this concept also applies in the corporate environment related to moving up the corporate ladder. Many young professionals who enter the workplace at the entry level initially have great ambitions of making it to the “C” levels and ultimately to run the firm. After a few years of learning the business and meeting other highly assertive, smart and analytical professionals they see it’s not an easy goal to achieve. In fact, they soon discover it’s going to take exceeding targets consistently, learning how to connect with others, present effectively, have executive presence and apply leadership skills.
I recall when I graduated from college and obtained a job with a large corporation as a sales rep that I was excited to show them what I could do. I felt that I was smart, experienced, capable and highly motivated. When I joined this firm and went through the initial training I met others who felt the same way. I learned the battle was on as if we were all working together and competing against each other. The reality is that both statements were true.
The organizational structure of companies is a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is where most of the front line workers sit. The middle of the pyramid houses middle level management and the top of the pyramid represents the “C” levels were it’s the least amount of employees. Many want to make it to the top but only a small percentage will actually rise to the C suite. There are only a few spots at the top levels of the pyramid. Just like in an actual pyramid which has a thick base and gradually narrows as you go from the bottom to the top where it ends in a narrow point where there’s only room for a few.
However, many come to realize that you can have a fulfilling career and not be at the top of the pyramid. You can get great experience and have awesome opportunities to generate more than enough to live a great lifestyle and enjoy your job. Those in the lower, middle part of the pyramid are where the majority of workers reside. This group tends to be those who work hard and are on the front lines of companies where most of the casualties occur.
In an effort to help make a paradigm shift in how many might view the lower levels of the corporate pyramid, I’m going to refer to the bottom and middle levels as the foundational levels. The definition of a pyramid is a structure with a square base and four sloping triangular sides that meet at one point.
In order to thrive in the foundational levels it’s critical to learn to understand the impact of being in this critical part of the corporation. The foundation of a house is critical to the long-term stability of the home and the same applies to an organization. If the foundation of a home is solid, it will last through storms and over long periods of time. Those in the foundational levels of an organization have an opportunity to ensure the long-term stability of the company. This is the group that directly interfaces with customers and drives ultimate results. The C level sets the strategy but the foundational levels gets the real work complete.
The foundational level provides many opportunities to learn about the business, gain cross-functional experience and to make a positive impact to the bottom line. While working as a sales rep, I had a company car, an expense account to entertain clients and a compensation plan that allowed me to purchase a home. It afforded me a great lifestyle with opportunities to leverage this experience to work with more strategic accounts, explore management opportunities or transition into other foundational positions in the company like marketing.
As the years passed and I transitioned out of corporate and became a coach, I had the opportunity of working with many in the foundational parts of companies who loved their roles. They were enjoying being individual contributors or first level managers. Many stated they were fulfilled because they were in roles that allowed them to live by their values. They were able to see all the benefits and made the best of being in foundational levels of corporate.
All levels of the corporate pyramid have areas of challenge and opportunity. One way to manage through the stress is to do things to keep your-self encouraged, motivated and inspired. Zig Ziglar stated, “Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” We all need to be motivated on a consistent basis. It helps us to see the good so we can bring out our best. Being motivated on a regular basis happens primarily from what we feed on regularly. As the saying goes, you are what you eat. This applies to not only what we put in our bodies but what we put in our minds.
In order to make the best of being in the foundational levels of any organization, it will help to read and listen to motivational and inspirational material. The more we put this in and not the bad, it helps to reprogram our minds to focus on the good that allows us to maximize our current place. This can ultimately lead to promotions, increases and fulfillment.
I recommend a daily dose of reading and reflecting on the newly released book, “The Inspired Career – Breathe New Life Into Your Job and Get Equipped, Empowered and Engaged!”
- Jeff Hatchell