Problem Solving in the Corporate World

Every business, irrespective of its publicly claimed vision and mission, has a sole purpose: to thrive financially. This fundamental ‘law’ of survival for any business small or large, although trivial, is easily forgotten by many of its employees.

With the entrepreneurship wave gaining more momentum, many authors have shifted their focus towards what I will call ‘corporate reform’ and the disruption of classical management models. One cannot but notice the growth in the number of books discussing how to start and grow a new enterprise, how to enhance one’s recruitment strategies, how to build better products for end-users, how to create and maintain a culture of creativity and productivity, how to provide better services, so on and so forth. And the focus on topics related to the corporate world has diminished.

Yet it remains a matter of fact that market dominance is still maintained by large enterprises in numerous areas and the probability of finding a job in a large institution is still much higher than finding one in a startup. At the end of the day, one of the main exit strategies for startups is an acquisition by a large entity.

This is all to say the following. If you work for a large entity, specifically if you are a manager at any level, you know quite well that 80% of your time is spent on politics and the remaining 20% on getting things done. Everyone is trying to climb the pyramid. Where you position yourself matters.

Indulge me for a moment.

blocker vs growth chart

Each company has a specific set of KPIs (Key performance indicators) that it religiously tracks over specific periods of time. The growth of a large enterprise cannot be rendered in such a simple manner as the chart above, but this is simply used to illustrate a point.

The up and down arrows linked to the growth line (in blue) represent 2 different types of managers or a single manager using 2 different strategies on 2 different occasions. One (arrow pointing down) refers to the manager who wants to implement a certain agenda that is in the best interest of the business but influences the short-term growth negatively (for example, pushing for a large investment in a cost center). The other (arrow pointing upward) refers to the manager who wants to implement an agenda that is in the best interest of the business and contributes positively to the growth.

Do not position yourself as the former manager. And by position, I mean do your homework to ‘sell’ the agenda in a manner that makes you look like you’re heavily invested in maintaining a positive growth. This is a tricky matter. Usually the dilemma presents itself when the project falls into the long-term return on investment (ROI) category.

No one wants to see a dip in his (her) charts.

Another scenario where the same situation presents itself is when a more senior manager is pushing for a project to fulfill a certain agenda without having a deep understanding of the technical details associated with it. If the reporting manager does not have the necessary persuasive or argumentative skills he will try to respond to them with a blocker. Usually, the blocker being additional superfluous cost. This play will position the reporting manager in the first category (showcased above by the arrow pointing down). He (or she) might be right, and the agenda, while valid from a business perspective, might have a large risk associated with it making the business aspect not worth pursuing. However, instead of proposing alternatives more creative solutions or graciously presenting the risks leading to a more informed decision by the senior manager, she (or he) presents a blocker instead.

This is how corporate battles are lost before they even start.

Is this choice of a strategy indicative of poor management skills? Not necessarily. I’ve seen this happen numerous times with great managers. The poor play could be completely circumstantial or simply lack of experience. It could also be due to an overload in this manager’s bucket list or an underestimation of a senior manager’s power and influence.

As a rule of thumb, look at the offer you are presenting and assess in which category it makes you fall. Massage your response and enhance your selling skills. Do not respond to a problem-solving request with a blocker.