See it like your employer sees it

    HOW TO

  • Fit into a new organization 
  • Promote your own interests along with your team's

Despite a widely held misconception, the people who get ahead at work aren’t always the most talented or hard working. Whatever their other qualities, the best employees have one thing in common: They fit into their organization. They do this by having a clear sense of how their employer views their role, how they contribute to the current mechanics and future plans of the team. Understanding this tends to come the hard way, by experience… but recognizing a few simple realities can set you on the right track early on in your career.

To start with, you should realize that your manager isn’t your employer, nor is the HR person, nor the director. Your employer is the organization itself. As the name implies, an organization is a group of people whose work is “organized” according to a set of rules and processes. You all work in the interests of this impersonal construct, and you all embody those interests in your own ways. In an organization, the personal is usually overridden by broader concerns: It is all about making things work from a collective perspective, which may be the public interest, staff wellbeing, client satisfaction, shareholder buy-in, managerial efficiency, or some blend of the above.

Problems arise when team members lose sight of this. Employees tend to develop a personal relationship to the organization they work for—which is impersonal by nature, and therefore cannot reciprocate. Although managers generally would like to maintain good relations with their team members, they are bound by their role, which is to serve the organization’s best interests. Even when they want to bend the rules, they are likely to reinterpret a policy or an administrative procedure: Indeed, managers themselves derive strength, for better or worse, from understanding the mechanics of the organization. But they can’t be expected to make the organization fit the needs of the employee.

Your manager isn't your employer

To best serve your own interests at work, it’s really up to you to see your role as part of the bigger picture. The following five principles should give you a helping hand, by explaining just how your employer—that fuzzy mix of managers above you—sees things.

1. Productivity is often misunderstood by employees, as individual performance compared to colleagues. But from the employer’s viewpoint, productivity depends on quite the opposite: how your presence (or absence) affects other people’s work. A brilliant person who ignores their team mates is only secure as long as they are generating revenue. By contrast, someone who brings out the best of others is worth hanging on to, no matter what.

2. Cost is another source of misalignment. Employees tend to think of cost as their salary, plus expenses. For the employer, much more comes into it. Some costs are obvious, such as taxes, insurance, equipment, and facilities. Others, such as the hiring, training, and management of staff, tend to be forgotten—even though they can be the biggest of all.

There are also hidden costs to tolerating certain kinds of behavior. An employee becomes a drain on an organization if they start to undermine hierarchies or express dissatisfaction through grumbling and stalling, rather than seeking to proactively solve problems. Such attitudes might force an employer to part ways with an employee, regardless of their other merits. 

3. Consistency is one of the trickiest concerns for an employer—and one particularly tough for employees to grasp. Most rules within an organization carry exceptions, which staff rarely miss. As a result, it’s tempting to think that everything is arbitrary. But in fact, employers strive to limit exceptions, which bring disorder. It is a constant struggle to adapt to unique cases while upholding a sense of equity.

Employees also have a role to play here. An organization is whatever its employees make of it, through their day-to-day behavior and attitude. Any employee who tends to the organization’s culture is one you are keen to retain, even if their performance in conventional terms is not the best you could hope for.

Whomever hires you believes in you

4. Retention is yet another source of misunderstanding. Some employees start on the defensive, acting as if their employer is always one step away from getting rid of them, which itself can sour relations. But employers want nothing more than to keep their team together. Termination disrupts the whole organization and can bring legal unpleasantries—not to mention the time needed to start over with someone new.

So, it’s important to remember that your employer hires you because they believe in you. They are eager to see you thrive. Smart employers also understand that no one is the “perfect fit.” It’s all about you growing into the role, which means learning from mistakes and from others. Also bear in mind that it’s very hard for an employer to know what you are struggling with. But it is in their interests to help, if you just muster the courage to tell them.

5. Turnover, finally, is something many don’t grasp. For an employee, leaving an organization—whether on good terms or bad—is a major event. For an employer, it’s routine: People come and go all the time. And just as a career change can be healthy for an individual, so new recruits can breathe life into an organization, which can’t depend only on the committed old-timers.

All employees are unique. Contrary to the old adage, no one is truly replaceable. But for the employer, it’s all about maintaining enough continuity to carry on despite the inevitable disruption. If you just walk out the door, you could jeopardize the good work you have done. If you want to end on good terms, make that transition go as smoothly as possible: Give ample notice, provide a sensible rationale, wrap up ongoing projects, and make time for a professional handover.

Just as a good employer is one who understands the employee’s point of view, the reverse is equally true: To make headway within an organization, learn to take its broader interests into account. That’s the best way for you to ensure your own.

6 April 2023