Alex Barnett blog


January 2009 - Posts

7 Tips to a Successful Landing at a Large Company

Last week Tara Hunt shared the news of her joining Intuit Partner Platform team. Very cool...what talent!

In her blog post, Tara mentioned the opportunity to work in a large corporate context as one of her motivations in joining the team.

I was reflecting on this yesterday morning and recalled a similar decision I made a few years ago. Up to that time I had worked at small companies and start-ups. Although I thoroughly enjoyed those scrappy, fast-paced environments, I had wondered what it would be like in the "corporate world" and if I could cut it there. So when the opportunity to join Microsoft turned up, this similar motivation was one of the reasons I took the plunge.

What's the point of this post? Well, I was going to email the following advice to Tara, from one person who is on the journey in the second large corporate adventure (me) to another who is about to begin their first (Tara). And I thought, hey - that could make a pretty nice blog post...

Before I shoot, I do want to make clear that this advice is not specifically aimed at Tara at all, nor should this advice be intepreted as some kind of snide commentary about our team or my current employer (Intuit) as whole. It is simply advice that I could have used myself a few years ago, learned the hard way and want to share.

Without further ado, here are my...

7 Tips to a Successful Landing at a Large Company

1. Drink the right water through the firehose

Don't be like this little kid who didn't see what was coming. Large companies are complex beasts and in the first few weeks the sheer amount of information you think you need to absorb and the often critical decisions you need to make can easily overwhelm you. A good manager should help you filter what is important and what is not and help you navigate the info-storm, need get used to the fact that for some time to come a lot of things just aren't going to make sense to you that you really feel you should have a good grasp on. It's OK. Don't panic.

Do avoid as much as possible the gazillions of meetings you'll be invited to...people love to meet the new peeps and influence early...and that's ok to a degree, but be very selective about the meetings you accept and don't be afraid to turn a lot of them down.  For those you do accept, insist on understanding clear goals up-front before hitting "Accept". Failing on good filtering here means less time on the things you absolutely should be focusing on in the first few weeks (e.g. the right water).

2. Don't try to figure it all out yourself

Large companies cannot avoid process. And along with process goes the array of tools/apps you need navigate and use to get stuff done. Self-help is fine (praise the Google intranet search appliance!!) but at some point the effort to find out and learn for yourself (due to lack of obviousness) reaches the point of diminishing returns, fast. So save your sanity, swallow your pride, and ask a peer or your manager or your HR bod for the right pointers. You don't know what you don't know and that's OK.

3. Your first impressions count, so Ask Those Dumb Questions!

Help break Groupthink. This is applicable when joining almost all new companies and teams, but this point is maybe even more pertinent in a large company and large teams. The wikipedia definition article is a great description of what I mean here:

"Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. Individual creativity, uniqueness, and independent thinking are lost in the pursuit of group cohesiveness, as are the advantages of reasonable balance in choice and thought that might normally be obtained by making decisions as a group. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking."

Being new to team, your first impressions are critical and are likely to be "right" more often than not. If something doesn't make sense to you, then do as children do so naturally, and ask "why?" can be an incredibly powerful word.

4. Get down and dirty, fast. Identify and pick the high impact and low hanging fruit

The essence of this tip is not to lose the small company / start-up fire.

Effective teams and individuals at large companies often suffer from the analysis paralysis syndrome that can be caused by working in complex environments. Complexity and big companies go together (like Wallace and Gromit), so it can become too easy to a) fall into the trap of overly accounting for all the long term implications of short term action to immediate problems, and b) thinking that the current "way" of getting things done presents too many obstacles to getting those short-term things done that have high-impact. If you at are least aware of these two potential traps, you are less likely to fall down the traps and therefore more likely to achieve early wins. And early wins does wonders for your own self-confidence (countering "Imposter Syndrome").

The second point on this one is to make sure you create opportunities for you to get your hands dirty and therefore really understand the issues you are being paid to become an expert and lead on, as well as getting to grips with the practical mechanics of how to get things done at your new working home. I'm sure different folks may have a different point of view on this one but I've always found that some good old fashioned "DIY" under the belt makes one a better architect.

In the context of showing up as the new manager of a team, I received two bits of very useful advice provided by one of my mentors: 1. Find out where the high priority pressure is within your existing team, then take some this work on yourself and off their plate. They will appreciate your help and speeds up your own ramping up on how to get things done...and 2. When doing this, don't take on the high profile / star-status stuff, let them keep that - you should take on the grunge / unglamorous tasks.

5. Read and understand the last annual report

It sounds obvious (and really should be done as part of the process when prepp'ing for  interviews), but the content of an annual report is an absolute treasure trove in speeding up your understanding of the nature and operations of the company and your place in it: overall performance; cash-cows; strategies; priorities; risks; relevant markets; trends and a whole bunch of other stuff that could take years to try and find out through sheer "organic" means.

6. Research and use the benefits

Most large companies (especially in the tech sector) usually have a some great employee benefits (Intuit is amongst the leaders here). Learn about them, use them and don't feel guilty in doing so!

7. Find a Mentor

Find a mentor (and I don't mean your manager). Find someone who has a few years under their belt at the company (and ideally not too close to your own team in terms of the company org) who can advise you on how to navigate the wilderness, give your a historical perspective on why things are the way they are, tell you about some of the characters you'll be dealing with and give you objective advice generally.


There you have it. Just my 2 cents here. I'm sure many of the above tips / lessons are likely to be applicable when joining a new company of any size, but these are the ones that came to mind for me.

What do you think? Have you got tips to share with others? I'd love to hear other ideas and learnings on this topic.


More Posts