Extreme Careerism And The Corporate Culture That Breeds It

Extreme careerism is the downfall of corporate culture, which is funny to me because it’s the corporation that breeds the trait.

Extreme careerism is the focus on ones own career “growth” as the primary goal, rather than on quality of owns performance.  It can be seen visibly through things like:

  • Uncomfortable dress clothing – suits and ties, tucked in dress shirts, expensive and uncomfortable shoes, etc
  • Status presentations – especially when presented to an unnecessarily large audience.  Usually this “opportunity” to present is gifted by a  manager who says (and believes) it will be good for ones career
  • Public praises – After a project milestone is reached or a bid is won, even if the performance was low in getting there,  it is customary for a Senior VP to send a congratulatory email with 100’s of people on copy.  These emails are more for the management to remind people how important he is, than to say congratulations (wouldn’t a personal stop by the person’s desk or buying them coffee mean a lot more to the person?)
It is not the intent of the corporation to encourage careerism, but it is an inevitable response to the methods in which the corporation rewards it’s employees.  The “performance review” method of rewarding an employee is based on an individual meritocracy.  In other words, an employee is judged on his perceived individual value, thus creating an incentive for that employee to increase the perceived value.  To accomplish this, he has two options:
  1. Work extremely hard to have real value increase
  2. Work hard to improve perceived value, even at the impediment of real value increase
While both options can be worked together, option 2 always has negative impacts to option 1.  You cannot increase real performance if you are holding unnecessary meetings, filling inboxes with unnecessary emails, and giving unnecessary presentations.
It is fair to say that many people choose option 1, and some even succeed at it.  I am one of those people, but it was a hard fought battle.  When I was in those trenches, I thought that if I win the war on careerists I would set a precedence.  I believed I was doing it for the greater good of corporate mankind.  After winning the battle, I realized that I was mostly alone.  I had not turned any heads, or proven anything.  Most people didn’t even know the battle was fought.
It is also fair to say that many people choose option 2.  These people like to give presentations, call meetings, speak loudly and often, and CC dozens of people  in an email when replying to a single person.  They wear nice clothes, and go out to lunch with different people every day as a method of “networking.”  They use phrases like “let’s talk offline,”  and replace simple words like, “words” with “verbiage.”  Some call this business speak, but I prefer to call it corporate babble.
Eventually these careerists are promoted, discouraging the hard workers to work hard and encouraging them to take short cuts.  Many give in. But the cycle has begun because a careerist is now in management and will teach others how to be promoted.  They don’t do this maliciously trying to cheat the system, they believe their work is good, they are just “playing the game” and doing what they need to do for rewards they desire.  When a manager is called out on this by a hard working employee, the manager will nod and unwittingly admit that its just part of the game.  Eventually the hard workers either give in, or become unhappy enough to leave.  Once the careerist cancer infests the corporations culture, there is no cure.
This is my reason for early retirement.  I am not lazy, I would say there is a good chance I will work again as an individual entrepreneur – but my adventures in a corporate culture are coming to an end.

7 Responses to Extreme Careerism And The Corporate Culture That Breeds It

  1. Sls says:

    Amen to that. The performance review and the pernicious being seen to be a big hitter are destroying the world of work, as it is taken over by self-obsessed spivs. Outsourcing has probaly save multinationals, they can get the real stuff done outside the hollowed-out wreckage 😉

  2. Harri Pierce says:

    Hit the nail on the head. I’ve seen many careerists ‘delegating’ responsibilities to other colleagues whilst they effectively shirk to network and get themselves (often undeservedly) ahead. Flies completely in the face of meritocracy. 

    • There is good delegating and bad delegating, but corporations (especially first line management) tend to group them together.  

      Good delegating: Passing down easier, less critical work to someone less capable so as to free time for more complex or critical work

      Bad delegating: Passing along any and all work, in order to free up time to “network,” and enforce bureaucracy.

      • Harri Pierce says:

        Most certainly- delegating done well is a means of focussing on the relevant tasks in hand and making the most of everyone’s abilities. In this instance ‘delegating’ (in inverted commas) or ‘bad delegating’ as you aptly put it can be a sneakier means of shirking responsibilities.

  3. Iowa says:

    Words (verbiage) well said. It appears your corporate experience is similar to mine. Not that Ive lost sleep over it, but I have a hard time with doing nonvalue work for the pleasure or ease of understanding for someone else instead of something that really has a positive impact. Maybe it has something to do with morals?

    • Yes, it’s related to morals for those who believe productive work is “right” and unproductive/nonvalue work is “wrong.” That is a common cultural moral view.

      I don’t apply right or wrong to work. I do, however, consider it wrong to be inefficient (which is what rewarding careerism breeds). Moving a rock from A to B is not right or wrong, but if you’re going to move it, you should do it efficiently.

  4. […] am I sad that I let some part of my life slip by in a flourescent cubicle dealing with politics and extreme careerism.  I feel… […]

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