Going Pro

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy, Startups

Some key points to remember as you ask folks in larger firms to take a risk with our new offering or service. They are from an early 1990’s article entitled “Going Pro” by Asa Barber.

Life in most business organizations is like life in a submarine.
For those of you who find yourselves in an office environment, understand that it is, by definition, a closed environment. Take note of how you conduct yourself. Do you talk too loudly? Are you argumentative to a fault? Do you wear well as an office companion? Do you think of the needs of others? […]

Life in most business organizations is like life in a Medici court.
The spirit of Niccolo Machiavelli lives in every business culture. There are political alliances and power shifts. There are assassinations and misdemeanors. There are those who are in, and those who are out. It is life on the refined edge of risk and reward. So play your cards like a careful courtier. Especially when you are beginning your career. Whom can you trust? Who wants help you and who wants to impede your progress? Better bide your time and keep your own counsel. And finally, don’t try to be too special or too unique in order to get noticed. Remember the advice of good old Niccolo:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Employees in a large firm have to live with the consequences of failure in ways that can be more harsh than the effect the same failure has on your startup. It’s important to bear in mind that you can put a dent in someone’s career and while you may have opted for the entrepreneurial adventure, they don’t want to wander too far off their career path.

Also, startups are like mini-subs, very intense pressure cookers that require a high tolerance for stress induced behavior–and hopefully the ability to minimize the impact of stress on your own actions.

Thinking like a professional means sticking to basics.
The basics are founded on common sense, and they include: being on time, never missing a deadline, talking when spoken to, shutting up when not spoken to, being honest about expenses and other funds, giving your time and energy to the job without reservation while you are on the job, showing consideration for your colleagues, seeking solutions not perpetual conflict–and last but not least, being willing to go out on a limb and push for an idea you truly believe in…

I sometimes meet folks who think that being in a startup exempts them from most of the rules of business etiquette. It’s a mixture of “leading the revolution” that will sweep away all of the current practice and being clearer on their own short term needs without consideration for potential consequences. And let’s face it, many people join startups because they can’t fit in at larger firms for reasons that encompass a multitude of strengths and shortcomings.

I still prefer the challenges of aligning founders’ psychology with business reality to the need to navigate the complex political landscape–come join the kabuki–of most large firms. I say this as a former flying monkey for several evil emperors (it’s not just wicked witches who need flying monkeys) who never wanted to move up to samurai because the ronin retirement policy was a little too much to take in the event of the untimely demise of your shogun.

See the terrain from the point of view of your boss.
This is both an opportunistic and a humane approach to the workplace. Your boss, no matter his or her deficiencies, is not your enemy. Your boss has to get a job done. So before you decide that your boss has no grasp of the territory, you should at least know how territory looks from the executive suite. You might be surprised. If you put yourself in the shoes of your superiors, will learn a lot about their expectations of you. And, if you know what they expect of you, you can get the job done.

It’s also good advice to understand the situation from your prospect’s boss’ perspective. And if your prospect can’t explain the boss’ perspective, they may not prove to be that effective an internal champion or change agent.

Lao-tzu gives outstanding advice:

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

“To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.”

“The way of the sage is to act but not to compete.”

“When armies are mobilized and issues are joined,
the man who is sorry over the fact will win.”

Time is worth much more than money, so don’t waste it
your own or anybody else’s…the true professional guards his time. More important, he doesn’t steal time from others. His written memos are brief and to the point, his phone conversations are neither chatty or windy, his statements in meetings are compact and organized. Few things can get you fired faster than a selfish use of someone else’s time.

And few things make it very hard to get a meeting with someone, even if you are now in a different company, than asking for a 30 minute meeting to offer a briefing on your offering and arguing with a prospect for more than an hour. Ask for 30 minutes and be prepared to be packed up heading for the door at the 25 minute mark if your prospect is not interested or doesn’t see the value in your offer.

The professional mind-set is built on common sense, rationality, cold logic, and a shrewd understanding of the business process.
On the battlefield and in the marketplace, our emotions are perpetually attacked, manipulated, courted, and torn. But the real professional is the person who can overcome all of the glitter and distraction, all of the melodrama and posturing. The true pro stays within himself, analyzes the chessboard, thinks ahead, stays cool and keeps this constant mind: Just get the job done.

This is a tough one, but making and meeting commitments that create value for your customers is what gets remembered (of the positive things that get remembered).

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