What are the key factors that lead to success or failure in the workplace of a large bureaucracy? Why do some people get recognition and reward, while others reap only frustration?

Almost the least important element is explicit "Career Management": the curriculum of courses offered by the Human Resources group, the planned ticket-punching assignments to gain experience in a range of departments, the selections among predefined career tracks, etc. Far more significant are:

  • informal mentoring from seasoned, cynical, enthusiastic fellow workers
  • understanding one's customers and figuring out what they need, even when they can't express it themselves
  • discovering good problems to work on—challenging but not impossible—and then locating relevant-but-underexploited data to shed new light on those problems
  • flexability and adaptability—including calmness in the face of change and chaos
  • settling into a productive workgroup, with competent colleagues and a decent immediate supervisor
  • going out of one's way to help other people when they get into trouble
  • reliability—simply showing up
  • a cheerful, happy attitude

And most important of all, the dominant factor in determining career success is sheer good luck: being in the right place at the right moment, fortuitously asking the right question, chancing to have read the right paper and thus having the crucial fact at one's fingertips, and so forth.

It's nothing that one can plan on—but everything that one can help make possible, by practicing the aforementioned simple virtues ...

TopicOrganizations - TopicLife - TopicHumor - 2005-06-28

(correlates: OppositeAttractions, Comments on Steely Eyed Missile Man, NoGlory, ...)