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The transition from consulting to a corporate job can be challenging for an unexpected reason: career paths (promotions) are less clearly laid out in corporate structures than they are in consulting firms. This means there’s a much higher need to plot your next move & fight your corner – which makes for quite a lot more complex workplace politics as everyone tries to get on the right radar for that next promotion.
Back in 2016, we met with a lot of folk who’ve successfully switched from professional services into ‘industry’. When asked about the main differences between their current work environment and their previous one, something that always got a mention was the ‘politics’.
Professional services firms (like the ‘Big 4’ accountants or the household name management consultancies) are unusual in how they are organised and how they promote. Career paths are clearly laid out:
“if you are on track you can expect to be promoted to manager in X years”.
Promotions are, on the whole, meritocratic. Agreed, you won’t harm your chances with a bit of brown-nosing – but there’s rarely the urge or need to calculate or enter into games of one-up-manship.
Progression in ‘industry’ can be less clear cut. There’s far more of a need to fight you corner and plot your moves.
What’s the root cause?
Diversity. Professional services employees commonly have similar backgrounds and qualifications. If you’re doing the job well enough, there’s little to distinguish you from your colleague beyond the number of years that you’ve been there.
Life in corporates is more complicated. People of all different ages, with different experiences join.
How can one distinguish between people with a more diverse set of backgrounds?
One way is to monitor who’s doing the best job. But you’ll probably find that the regularity and quality of feedback and appraisal is far less that what you were used to in professional services. Unless you’re in sales and are smashing your targets, it’s harder to outshine the others.
Hence the existence of ‘politics’.
But don’t shy away – ‘politics’ ain’t so bad. Consider what it means. Essentially it’s about whose radar you need to be on and how best to show up on it. Giving thought to how you network, who you meet and talk to, & when you speak up in meetings is an easy way to plan how you’ll play the game.
You don’t want to come across as a brown-nose – that can backfire. You also want to avoid being identified as a threat – remember that in the less career-path-structured world of corporates, everyone is insecure. But if you don’t rub shoulders with those who can get you where you want to go, you can bet your bottom dollar (or something even more valuable!) that someone else is.
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