Sunday, May 06, 2007

Aggressive go-getter

Many job descriptions, especially the ones from startup or early stage companies, desire that their ideal candidate is be an "aggressive go-getter". Individual interpretations of "aggressive go-getter"  vary. Some companies have a meaning which conflicts with core values of any seasoned professional. In their parlance "aggressive go-getter" means someone who is inconsiderate of everything and everyone that does not help him get what he wants. He will use any one and any means to achieve his goals. Usually we bump into some such people all the time. Depending on our own persona, we are troubled by these kind of people in varying degrees. These are the same people who barge into your cube, pick up conversation without giving a damn to you and your priorities, no time for any niceties, always urgent, their task has the highest priority. You get the picture.

In companies where majority are "aggressive go-getters" there is no problem at all. Everyone steps on each others toes, hurt one another's sentiments, cause a lot of grief and the story repeats day after day. If people do not end up committing serious crimes, such work places should thank their stars. If a true professional ever happens to be in one of those companies, his life will be miserable in no time. He can not imagine being an "aggressive go-getter" per their definition. He also can not take more and more crap being dumped on him. Sooner or later he departs and the culture thrives for good or bad.

But, have you paid close attention to the productivity of such  place? It's way too low. Why? Because a lot of time is spent bitching and moaning. Everyone has one or the other pet peeve. They need more than usual time to vent out their frustrations. Overall alcohol consumption, substance abuse etc are perpetual problems. These are the work places where despite no-alcohol rule, people routinely start drinking after 6 PM while still attending conference calls with customers. Many people calling in sick on Monday mornings is so common in such work places that calling in sick unofficially means nursing a bad hangover or what not. Productivity is way too low. On top of it, when people are seething inside and scheming against one another, they make so many mistakes that rework is more than the work. It's no wonder some companies with around hundred employees are able to attend to 1 customer and 1 release. What a gross waste? OK, they have to get some outside contractors too because they get tired of harassing each other. So they spend money to get contractors and traumatize them with their usual behaviors. Contractors will either run away in a week or stay put browsing the net all the day and taking crap and laughing from inside. All in all a place full of aggressive go-getters is a jungle.

It's amazing that corporate world has missed fundamental principles of productivity beats me. Their best practices include established worst practices. For example multitasking, insensitivity, scant or no attention to relationships and personal side of a professional. Opposites of these are what will make companies great.

Do not get into such companies with a view that by being a positive minded professional, that you are, you can stay cool and calm and change the environment with your charisma. Unfortunately positive thinking does not help here at all. If anything helps it's pragmatism. Being pragmatic, either you choose to stay put because you have more important goals than to worry about horrible personal treatment or you get the hell outta there. This culture fosters from the top. Management team of such companies is also full of similar professional who are clueless about what the real achievement is. They think they got  a few million bucks in funding from some VC and they can drive the company like slave masters. They may not be slave masters but they think they are entitled to screaming, humiliating their people and all forms of behavior which we prohibit in other places. They  achieve short term success because aggressive go-getters are focused and achieve some goals faster than others at least in the short term. They are rewarded for that and it only makes them bold and perpetuate their culture. However if anyone does any analysis of money being pumped and what is being made, this truth wills tart emerging.

So, isn't there a good "Aggressive go-getter"? Why not? Many successful companies breed such people. It's just that they have gotten it absolutely right as what they have to aggressive about and what they have to go-after. First be aggressive with problem. Be soft on people and hard on problems. Go after things that matter in 1 2 or 5 years not in next 3 months. Even big companies which were great companies at one point in time have vanished due to some temperamental CEO who came on board, treated people with disdain and ran a smooth sailing ship aground.

Many soft mannered professionals are sometimes considered to be ineffective. But, they are the ones who sometimes are most effective. They strike a chord within you and you willingly do more for such people than an "aggressive go-getter" who does not care to spoil your weekend with his incessant e-mails to get him or her some answer.

So, what do you do? If you can, do not join such companies. They are not good for your soul. If you pay attention, aggressive go-getting should become apparent to you in interviews. If you can avoid, pass these companies. There are way too many nice people in this world to require us to put up with some AHs. If you are in dire need of a job, accept it. Give it 6-8 month and then rethink. It is unlikely but possible that you thrive in such place. If not, start looking for a new job then.

Not showing to meetings on time and keeping everyone waiting is the subtlest form of "aggressive go-getters". Every time a meeting is rescheduled, it wastes so much time of everyone, that itself done over and over can run a company aground.

Read Bob Sutton's - "No ass hole rule" to get a scholarly treatment on such toxic work places. I say scholarly because Dr Sutton is a distinguished professor in Stanford business school. If something is compelling to an academician, you can attach some value to being away from toxic work places.


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