"Anyone who stops learning is old. Whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young."
I got a great kick out of watching the movie "The Internship". The premise of the movie is based on characters by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who are has-been sales schlumps, who have talked their way (via video conference, of course) into Google by having them accepted into their internship program at its headquarters. The winners at the end are rewarded with a job (radio of 10/95). To most in the audience, it provides a cool canvass of what Palo Alto and the Google corporate offices may be like. (Free food, corporate branding everywhere). Never having ever been there, I was along for the ride just like everyone else. I could appreciate a couple of Gen-X characters attempt to relate and communicate with the brilliant millennia majority population.
What I did look at with my own experienced eye from working at HP and then in corporate sales, is there are some similarities. At other times, it is just that: a movie. For instance, I do agree that there is the likelihood of a "sink or swim" (in a pool with sharks) environment -- where the strongest survive. Underscoring the fact that all the tricks and brains that may have gotten past your parents, high school teachers or college professors won't cut it here.
The "rah rah" speeches at the beginning of the Google first day is what people tend to believe is what happens. In reality, there truly are some corporate culture where it does. Many more others that do not whatsoever. My own personal experience with HP was remote, working from home. We had one of the most enthusiastic persons (Donna) who did make us excited we had arrived, who was tasked to show us many of the tools that we needed access to. There really wasn't any onboarding schedule or even a welcome aboard rah rah event. You got the job, now you had to just do it. So in that, the expectations in a fast moving, successful, technical environment is basically it. There is no sugar coating or welcome parade.
To survive, you figure out what tools you have available. For example, to communicate, it is not often by telephone and email can take too long. So what you have is "Office Communicator". I know I sound old when I thought it was it was to trick me into a calm sense of security that I was allowed to "chat" never mind have the time to do so. On the up and up, I considered it would be a waste of company time just touching the keys. However, when you get in the trenches of these big mean smart machines that are called companies, the office communicator is your life rope to getting things done: asking questions, following up in "real" time. That is compared to the time it would take to look up a phone number and then dial, losing valuable minutes. An email is really convenient if you want to "track" something but is ancient technology when seconds count and escalations are mounting and productivity matters.
Back to the movie ... again, hilarious right? I'm going to be different and suggest you watch the underlying lesson hidden deep. It is a warning call to anyone who thinks they're hot stuff techno savvy. You may think you will blend in at the supercool center of the universe. You may have excelled in Computer Sciences, and worked at other companies where the boss doesn't understand half of what you say but trusts you with the company's network, firewall, security, etc. etc. AND you were told you were a genius by your parents since you can remember .... right?
Imagine again, you're parachuted into Google headquarters, had to make a group with others to form a team. That in itself, would usually place a super computer genius in an uncomfortable position, because they've typically been labeled as introverts more comfortable with a keyboard than a telephone ... and yikes avoid eye contact whenever possible. Stereotype right?
What about the young gal in the movie? She has been thrown in with a bunch of misfits who happen to be guys .... while she hasn't even had her first date, never mind a boyfriend ... so her she starts off kilter just by having to be thrown in with a team of guys, who are more alien to her.
What does this have to do with a Blog on sales and leadership? We'll be getting to that another time, I promise. What I wanted to do first was give you a reality wakeup to the world of technical companies. Over my career, I've had onboarding like many people. Being shuffled into a meeting room with a text book, an instructor, lots of Power Points, while the biggest challenge is staying attentive never mind awake. By the time you get to the HR forms, you have placed mental toothpicks in your eyes and are just praying for the time when its all over and you can get down to work!
Well, the world of onboarding in a technology company is not usually as game on as the Google one in the movie. The biggest excitement will be if you do get your laptop on your first day. If you are lucky enough for that, you're even more excited than when you got your offer letter after you were able to get the log on credentials to work the first time. The irony is that you're working for a technical company, but the only guarantee is that getting logged on, may only be after 15 attempts, and that is if you pass the security of Fort Knox, firewalls and so on. Now you start to wonder if there was something in your past they did uncover during your background check during screening (which is akin to applying for the Secret Service) is what is making matters so difficult.
In the real world, you will HAVE to reach out to a colleague, or similar lost soul, and have no choice but to start helping each other because there is no manual or text book provided. You're there, you've got a secure password, you are finally logged on, thus you are onboard in this company's rule book.
Training? Huh? Similar to the movie, you are given a project and told to get going. Nobody wants to appear puzzled because there was no training. You've been immediately told to get started. You don't dare say "How?" .... that would be very uncool and set you up to appear as an imposter, which is next to impossible since you know your criminal, credit and background were under the microscope before an offer letter came, so you wouldn't think they had made a mistake.
How do you get a project without being trained you ask? You get an email of course! Yes, your name is on it, but it is a template where they insert your name. (Lucky for you if you're copied in with other souls that you may eventually grasp on to. Mostly every other mystery is what you unravel yourself. If you're proactive and a keener, you have figured out to take the chance to message one of the names you heard on the first call or copied list and ping him/her to ask what they perceived we were suppose to do. Thankfully, no alarm bells went off and your computer didn't freeze, so this Internal Communicator message service is an acceptable practice.
The reality in the movie on teaming up stretches to remind you more of sports team groupings from elementary when there are a bunch of lost souls thrown together as a team because everyone else didn't want the misfits on their team that quickly fell into place. Thus, while everyone else has measured up and grouped up, the leftover misfits have to make do. Truth be told, in the real world, it is not much different, except you are not misfits, of course. You are thrown together, because you share the same division, first day, job description and received the same email instructing you what time and what teleconference number to dial into ... automatically you accept and its filled in for you for a week. Don't even get started on "just being a number" ... that is all you are when you have to call HR to inquire about benefits and haven't memorized your number. The only time you likely hear proactively from HR is when you are asked to fill out a feedback form on how well they are doing. Who wants to take the chance of being honest?
What the movie accurately portrays is that no matter the differences in background, degrees of intelligence, or preconceived strength, you are joined by a common goal: "to succeed." Team work will evolve as your life line to success. Everyone there will be given the same degree of challenging projects. The moral of the story: the team that comes together the best, becomes a real team, faces challenging circumstances TOGETHER and recognizes each unique strength, will be successful. There is no time to lose, they are ready to jump in. Yes, they have fun, they do some team building and overcome challenges that bring them closer together. At they end, they adore each other, rely on each other and are not a bunch of misfit individuals but one solid unit.
Have you ever worked in a place where there were people who would throw you under the bus in order to make themselves look good? Well that happened in the movie and in my technical world background, it did happen. When you're in a dog-eat-dog world culture that some companies thrive on (I'm not suggesting Google is this at all), they encourage this so that the cream rises to the surface. The thinking behind this is that customers, projects, requests, escalations, don't have time to hand hold, be empathetic, and even less time to hear excuses. Toughen up baby!
Perhaps there is method to the madness after all. Who has time to tell a group of people who don't know each other, are often labeled as introverts, are in an environment that challenge often comes last minute with huge obstacles ... how to deal with it? By throwing them together, seeing who gets it together and gets what needs to be done done. Trial by fire you say? Nope, more like the real world. On top of it all, there is nobody there to pat you on the back and say you're a genius, smarter, or anything better than everyone else in your group. You're there. 'Nuff said, now get to work. You'll figure it out. If you don't, you will know the door you came in is likely the one you'll be shown out (or computer you logged on to will freeze up and block you out quicker than you can sneeze).
The guarantee I promise though: you will discover and know what it meant to be part of a real team -- the ones you shared the big-? on your foreheads together on the first day, the ones you scrambled to ask questions from in a panic, the ones you stopped everything to help because you know they would do the same, meanwhile you wouldn't even be worrying about if you have to work a little later to catch up.
The nice moral of "The Internships" is those that play together, work hard together, and work well together will come out as champions. Unfortunately, in the real world that churns at an alarming pace, it doesn't always work out that way. Personalized real connections are rare. Often, there are others out there that will not hesitate to throw you under the bus so that they can be the one who end up ahead. Managers couldn't even imagine it, never mind have time to access these types of behaviours. Why? Simply said: it is all about productivity. A apt visual metaphor is the marathon race where the not-so-nice person puts an obstacle in the path of his/her greatest threat so that they take a tumble and fall. The mean person pulls ahead and wins the race. In the movies, unrelated to the one I'm talking about ... the mean guy eventually gets caught and the hero finally gets credit for playing the game by the rules.
In the real world, productivity is productivity. You all start at the start line and cross the finish line in the same place. Just how long and if you have detours is between you, yourself, and maybe someone you like to complain or whine to. Then again, it is true you could be doing everything right, you could even be very detailed and conscientious. Yet the mean guy who throws curves at everyone else, talks about how great he is, or politics up to the boss, can end up being at the front of the race and considered the winner. Yeah, I know, that sucks. That's life. If you want my advice? Get down to it, work harder than the rest! Yes, that could mean working overtime regardless of whether you get paid for it or not. Because in the real world, and I didn't even start talking about this: there are folks in far off lands, where economics mean that they can do what you do, at a fraction of what you are paid, are VERY prepared, willing, and able to take your job if you can't handle it. That's when the boss or manager takes a bow for saving the company money.
I suggest you scrutinize sites like "Glass Door" or "Linked In" to research company's corporate culture carefully, paying particular attention to how they treat their employees. That is the most sure way you can guarantee your own happy ending.
Intrigued? Here is a clip of the movie:
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"Learning is a gift, even if pain is your teacher."
This article was written with team wonders in mind: Donna, Rehan, Lonna, Ken, Siri and Amy, colleagues and fellow trainees from HP. ~JM
All images were accessed freely from content posted on the web and no copyright infringement was intended by the usage of same or Google logo. All the opinions here are my own and in no way reflect upon HP as an organization or company.