You Better Work
After plenty of mistakes, late nights at the office & many performance reviews, here are seven lessons that have helped me traverse the corporate landscape during my career so far at Twitter, Google, and BCG.
You better work
Ms. Spears said it best. Producing excellent work consistently and efficiently is the foundation of any successful career. Nothing matters more. Once your manager and other leaders know you can solve any problem quickly with little handholding, more work (and more important work) will come your way. Companies reward people who get s**t done. Conversely, it does not matter how much talent you have if you are not willing to work hard. I’ve witnessed many high potential individuals fall short of their aspirations by not focusing enough on being exceptional within their core responsibilities.
Trains are hard to stop
Why is it hard to stop a train moving at full speed? Momentum. The best way to drive a project to completion is by building so much momentum that success become inevitable.
In software development, you build momentum by getting to a prototype that people can touch and feel as quickly as possible. Every day that you wait to ship a new feature is another day that something can go wrong as well as one less day you can be learning from customers to make your product even better in its next iteration.
Googlers often talk about how Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, was initially against the idea of Google building a browser. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, however, were excited about the idea so they went ahead and hired a few developers to build a prototype. Upon seeing it, Eric decided, “[the prototype] was so good that it essentially forced me to change my mind.” Chrome now has 40%+ market share globally.
People just want to see the baby
When we lived in California, my wife worked for an inspiring leader, Dr. Latha Palaniappan. When someone on her team complained, Dr. Palaniappan would reply, “No one wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.” Nothing will derail your reputation faster than complaining about or putting less effort into projects about which you are unexcited. In fact, unsexy tasks are a great way to differentiate yourself. Solve problems for your manager and your team and abstract away your personal feelings towards those tasks. Providing this leverage will make you valuable.
Be your own biggest champion
No one is as interested in your career as you are. People (especially senior people) need to know that (a) your work is awesome and (b) it is having an impact. Don’t expect this knowledge transfer is going to happen magically. Share your successes in a humble way with the right people so you can get noticed.
One strategy I deploy is a crisp, concise written weekly update to my manager and key cross-functional stakeholders that outlines (a) what my team accomplished over the previous week (b) what the impact was and why that impact is important (this includes how the work fits into the broader vision for the company) and (c) what we plan to tackle next week. You know these updates are working when you start to hear your manager or other company leaders articulate your work and ideas to others. This is also a great way to build momentum.
Don’t be stingy with praise
In addition to calling out your own accomplishments, it’s critical to publicly thank those that made your success possible. People will notice if you praise them, and will remember for a long time if you don’t.
I once worked on a major deal that my VP’s admin was integral in helping close. Because of her hard work, I made sure to thank her in the deal announcement email that went to the entire team. The next time I saw her, she told me that in her three years at the company, no one had ever thanked her publicly. The best part? The gratitude went a long way towards strengthening our relationship and it cost me nothing.
Relationships are everything
People run companies. This holds true just as much at a company with 100,000 employees as two. Executing and delivering value is key, but building relationships is what separates the truly successful.
As you progress in your career, your reputation and the relationships you build will become more and more important. For example, I received opportunities at both Google and Twitter through pre-existing relationships.
Additionally, smart hiring managers do unsolicited reference checks and LinkedIn makes this research super easy to do. I get at least one email a week from a hiring manager trying to get my thoughts on a potential employee.
Remember, the world is small, especially within your field, so always treat everyone you encounter with respect. Note that I mean everyone, not just executives. You never know who will end up starting the next great company — Kevin Systrom and Ben Silbermann both started their careers as junior individual contributors at Google shortly before founding Instagram and Pinterest respectively.
“Ice Town Costs Ice Clown His Town Crown” (or Patience, Grasshopper)
One of the main characters on the show Parks & Rec, Ben Wyatt, was elected mayor of his hometown when he was 18. After a disastrous spearheading of a new winter sports complex called Ice Town, he was impeached after just two months (hence the newspaper headline above). At the end of the show, after a long career in local government and many lessons learned, we see Ben winning a House of Representatives seat.
Many people just embarking on their career want to gun for the C-Suite right away. Ambition and drive are great things, but there’s no substitute for experience and a strong base of skills. You’ve got to be prepared when you get to the top, or you might end up an Ice Clown.
While I still have a lot to learn, these insights have been valuable as I’ve progressed in my career to date and I hope they’re useful to you!