Standing on the outside looking in is the analogy I use to describe the process of deprogramming myself from the world of corporate business. Being a suit-wearing cog in the wheel of a global multinational is far removed from the daily existence of a startup entrepreneur. As I have consciously and unconsciously undertaken this transformation from position title, policy driven middle management to cofounder of an online startup, a number of insights have emerged.
1. Show up as yourself, instead of your corporate self
I have never been more comfortable in my own skin as I am now.
When working in a global corporate environment, you are always conscious of the desired brand image you must project. After being with one employer for over a decade, it was clear to see who was socialised to the prevailing organisational culture, to the point of institutionalisation. I genuinely believed I had to assume an entirely different persona to be successful in that environment. It was not acceptable to show up to work as me, to be ‘authentic’. Which was exhausting.
It took me nearly three years to unlearn the competitive, power and status driven behaviour that was encouraged, developed and rewarded. That may suit a lot of people, but it’s not me.
2. Connect with people as you, rather than as a job title
So if I am no longer defined by my position title and the large organisational brand I represent, then how do I introduce myself? What do I even stand for? I figured it out through the adaption of leadership development techniques I benefited from through excellent corporate leadership training and years of self-driven personal development reading management texts. I wrote lists of my goals, was reflective about my strengths and weaknesses, sought feedback and tuned into become crystal clear about my inner dialogue and self talk, and then started managing it with an iron will.
The real me was always lurking about under the superficial ‘professional branding’, but it took a while to reconnect and peel away the layers of corporate memory foam. It was a little like peeling off a second skin. Uncomfortable for a while, exposed, a bit raw and painful. Unfamiliar. The things I notice now when I introduce myself and what I am working towards is that the more I speak from the heart and am unafraid to put everything I really think out there, the more connection I have with others.
People pick up on my genuine passion for gender equality and even if they don’t agree with my approach, they understand immediately what I stand for and why. Now I don’t mind standing out. I’m no longer trying to fit in, and I want to leave my mark on the world, in a positive way. I have stopped seeking external validation. It’s surprised me how compelling that is to others.
3. The pace of planning and decision making is entirely different
In life, and as an entrepreneur, action is everything. Moving forward is essential and you have to make tangible progress daily. Within six months of starting Femeconomy my Co-Founder and I planned, researched and ‘soft’ launched our website. We researched over 2000 brands, developed a social media presence on four platforms, developed our business model, business plan, branding, marketing strategy, key procedures and have been attending on average one networking event per week.
Once we decide something we move forward with action, we document our decision on our decision register, and we do not question our decision thereafter. If we make a mistake, we learn from it quickly and rapidly change course. Mistakes are an essential part of learning, and if we are not making them then we aren’t moving fast enough or taking enough risks. It’s exhilarating and the agility of a small business is addictive.
4. Policies and procedures on the run
I built a successful career on my skill and experience in crafting policies and procedures in HR and the associated change management implementation programs. Those who work in the business sphere forge a love/hate relationship with governance documentation. It’s an essential corporate evil, a communication tool that conveys consistent managerial and employee accountability, performance expectations and limits of authority. Typically these document frameworks underpin an organisation’s aspired culture, operating model and performance.
Organisations spend years developing document hierarchies, and millions of dollars on consultants, auditors and internal resources managing them. They are a necessary part of effective organisational functioning, so everyone knows what is important, what the organisation values and how to activate the business model.
However, we have all been in organisations where the documentation is out of date, irrelevant, too simple, too complex or otherwise not fit for purpose. The size of business to documentation matters, and often they do not correlate well. Either the organisation has grown too rapidly and documentation hasn’t kept up, meaning everyone does things their own way, generally wasting organisational resources, duplicating or at worst doing things that are unlawful, a risk to reputation, or outside prescribed regulations. On the flip side, there is too much documentation, process, procedure (hello bureaucracy!) slowing everyone down and generally frustrating customers and employees.
Our ‘unlearning’ approach, being small and agile is governance documentation ‘on the fly’. Because we are creating new processes almost every week, we have a document management system in place that is fit for our size now. We document the primary processes we are each responsible for, have a file structure and file naming convention we adhere to and we write processes or procedures as we develop them, save them to the file drive and let the other know that it’s there. This serves a number of purposes. It means we can each pick up the other’s work if required through absence, and it also means we are scalable. If other people join us, it’s an effective and efficient way of communicating how our business works.
5. 80/20 rule before making content public
In a small business, there is no time for lengthy committee style debate, or workshopping endlessly to achieve the 100% perfect solution.
For us, generating content and staying relevant and up to date with what our customers are interested in is paramount. It’s a noisy online world out there, and discipline and reliability is required to achieve connection, and action.
Each week we generate over 100 pieces of content across our social media platforms and website. We do not have time to obsess over small details, edits, rewrites, or lengthy review schedules (though we are a bit picky about spelling and grammar). We committed to each other that we would adhere to the 80/20 rule and once our content is complete and meets the 80% ‘good enough and brand aligned’ test, it gets shared. This is incredibly productive and means we don’t waste time on second guessing ourselves.
If you have some lessons for others on the Art of Deprogramming Yourself from your Corporate Environment to Business Owner, we’d love you to join the conversation.