Top 16 learnings after spending three years in a billion dollar company

I just finished my three years stint at a publicly traded manufacturing company. It was a bittersweet journey and I am happy how it went. Here are a few learnings:

1. No company should be too big to execute innovation

It’s not uncommon to see the big companies pen through PowerPoint slides and can’t execute many things. It’s the lack of ownership in big companies. Good companies focus on placing ownership and make managers accountable for executing innovation.

2. Too many middle managers kills morale

I had extremely bad experience with this. Anytime I wanted to do a new project, I had to take at least two approvals (one direct manager, and another money manager). Sometimes I had to take approval of third manager (i.e. R&D manager, innovation director etc.). This is just buzzkill for execution.

3. Risk averse means you are putting yourself for long-term failure

I have heard 100 times from different middle and high-level managers that we need to make money to remain in the business and that’s why we have to have a big NPV to kick-off a project. In pen and paper, this is absolutely right, but in reality it little fickle because innovation can’t be defined all the time and it needs sometime before it can get a major market traction.

4. Micromanaging is extremely discouraging for motivated employees

This is a slippery slope that manager fall into. They want to do the same thing to all employees which never works. Every employee is different and they need different motivation. I felt micromanaged many times and that was extremely frustrating. Let the employee figure out the thing in his/her own way and deliver results.

5. Hierarchical pride is a child play and only show that manager is vulnerable

This is one of the most laughable but sometime hurting thing I faced. People in hierarchically higher positions tend to command things even though they are not expert of the topic or even they don’t know enough about the market. Since I came from startup background, I have seen a few less-hierarchical structure and to me, I would care less about someone’s position. Maybe that’s why I made some wonderful connections in the technician and early career employee level who are smarter than those with higher ranks.

6. Business model can’t be a playbook learnt in MBA school. Understanding market dynamics is important

I have seen a common mistake here- trying out of “off-the-shelf” knowledge learnt in the expensive business school. The market needed some other things, but who cares about the market or customer? It might be true for many billion dollar Fortune 1000 companies run by MBAs.

7. Spending on R&D is extremely important for sustainable growth

This is a cliché statement, but many managers don’t understand it. They want to spend on R&D, but don’t understand what R&D means. They need return yesterday, but it doesn’t work that way.

8. Spend money wisely, but spend enough

Manager should be cautious about the cash flow, but they need to understand where they need to go all-in and where they need to stop. I have seen managers stopped funding very important projects without understanding long-term implications and the same manager spend money on some other things without proper context.

9. Too much bureaucracy and red tape kills business growth

Everyone hates red tape, but still companies need to have some red tapes for accountability and management. However, too much of it kills growth. I was part of a growth team and it was frustrating to execute new things through a 100 years old process flow.

10. Employees can’t be respected based on rank

The higher the rank, the higher the respect you get- things can’t get wrong more than this. But maybe this is a reality in many companies- big and small. This is one of the most BS thing that I observed in this industry in last three years.

11. Ordering from ivory tower is easy. Execution needs real involvement of general

Awful technique and mostly, the generals who parachuted to the position, do this. This should be avoided by any means for successful execution and keep employees happy.

12. Backbiting is a part of corporate culture

Even a person like me who is a single contributor and kind-of-harmless faced backbiting from senior executives. I got less backbiting from my peers because of my friendly nature, but I also experienced some ridiculously shameless politics from a few peers. I think every C-execs should put it as a highest priority to reduce politics and backbiting in the org.

13. Talk with data, show numbers, trust numbers

As an engineer, I have bias towards number. But I was surprised to see people talking about results and projects without any data or number. Without any number, I trusted none, even the CEO.

14. Communication is the key

Communication is the key in the corporate structure. A stand-alone Einstein can’t build anything in the current world corporate structure.

15. Talent is overrated

Talent is useless unless used in the right way. And nobody is too talented unless they can use it wisely. Channeling talent to deliver results is the art.

16. Prioritization ruthlessly is what makes a team successful

A team needs to ruthlessly prioritize to execute its mission. Ruthless prioritization means 100% objective judgement of the activates and prioritize the biggest tickets. I have seen managers failing to set priority and putting stacks of activities on the top of employees.