The Art of Conquering Problems at Work

All workplaces are rife with challenge and friction. Competitiveness and politics abound. Simply existing in a company that does what companies tend to do to their employees can weigh one down and demoralize. Although there are aspects of our jobs that we enjoy it’s more likely that what we take home and talk about is the worry and obsession about the things that we wish were different.

There are all sorts of conditions in a company that at various times and in many ways make most of us feel demoralized, under appreciated, and generally poorly managed. And these can bring us so much stress, disappointment and pressure.

But I can say with certainty that there is something you can do that will meaningfully solve those problems. I don’t mean mask them or bypass them, I mean actually, genuinely solve them to your great benefit.

It’s a two-part process, neither part works without the other. But executed together you cannot fail.

  1. Do good work, and

  2. Be patient

I hope you’re not annoyed by this answer. People often prefer some quick trick to gaming a system. Like reading secret body language, or using special influential words. But meaningful change is never the result of easy gimmicks.

Rather, this plan is based on raw truths and results in fundamental, healthy change. The kind that will advance your career and eliminate all those pesky corporate politics and demoralizing conditions. This degree of change requires that you have your hands on the real levers of control.

Of course there are other steps to succeeding at work, being able to recognize opportunities mainly. Opportunities to:

a) Offer solutions and improvements
b) Share critical opinions
c) Take challenges outside your job description

But these opportunities only meaningfully come after you have mastered the big 2 – doing good work, and being patient. If you try to force these lower opportunities too early, it will be mistimed – the machine won’t be ready for you. You won’t be taken seriously, and/or your suggestions and comments will fall into the din of daily business. The machine has to be ready, primed. When it is, when the time is right, you will find your opportunities. Indeed, they will come to you. And your comments will then carry weight and meaning. Suddenly you will have control and impact.

Do Good Work

This should be your mantra. It should blow above every negative feeling work is delivering to you.

  • Are machinations in the company making you feel victimized?
  • Are you getting lame projects?
  • Do you feel your supervisor is an undeserving idiot?
  • Are the company processes (or lack thereof) causing chaos and confusion?
  • Is there some person you feel is bypassing you only by hiding weaknesses and playing politics?
  • Is the whole company such a mess that you don’t even know where to start?

Whatever has you wound up, you must allow yourself to ignore the feelings these conditions engender for now. Because you can’t do good work if you think that way. No, really, you can’t. You may think you have your mind under control, but trust me here, if you approach your day with these thoughts in mind, you won’t be doing the best work you can do.  You will be distracted and some percentage of your attention and energy will be misdirected.

Doing good work requires joyful immersion, passion, and focus. Most importantly a belief that you will succeed. Your mind must be on your project and the unique greatness that only you can bring to what you do.

Doing good work requires joyful immersion, passion, and focus. Most importantly a belief that you will succeed.

You aren’t capable of greatness if you feel beaten down by these conditions. If you see annoying work obstacles as barriers, as opposed to mere hurdles that you are capable of leaping over with creativity and persistence.

So you need to accept them for what they are and let go. Embrace the ambiguity. The good news is it’s all going to change anyway. You are eventually going to help usher in that change. So why worry about it? Just take note and let it go, in time it will work itself out and blow away in the best possible way.

But only if you do good work. Your best. And not just once. That’s never enough. You need to do good work many times. And that’s why you need to:

Be Patient

See, your emotion and thought processes have a given metabolism. It’s actually a pretty fast metabolism, relatively speaking. But companies, and the systemic problems they experience, have a much slower metabolism. Much slower. So where you see a problem, and perhaps its solution, and where that maybe took you a few hours, a day or a week – for a company that week was a split second to which it is incapable of responding in kind. Companies are big, slow, dumb animals. They lumber. Information has to travel from person to person. Meaning and urgency has to build. Even the smallest, nimblest, most aggressive of companies lumber compared to your individual gnat-like emotions and decisions.

Companies are not individuals that can reason. They are systems- composed of budget plans, contracts, and relationships that must run their course and expire before any given change can occur. So of course real change is a slow process.

So don’t fight that, be patient. It just takes time for good work to have an impact. But rest assured – it does.

Young workers often regard one year in a company to be a reasonably long time. A duration within which his or her working conditions should improve, promotions granted, the ability to affect corporate change, etc. But here, our young worker is being grossly impatient. In truth, as most of your seasoned mentors will tell you, one year spent in a company is merely the cost of learning enough about a company not to say dumb things. Offering truly good ideas requires a deep, intimate understanding of the company, its business, and its inner workings. And this typically takes at least a year. Any employer who expects more from an employee must be himself, inexperienced.

In the meantime, listen, watch, and do good work.

When you do good work a number of things happen around you:

  • good work sits in contrast to mediocre work (which itself usually abounds),
  • good work helps the company, your department, your boss, and the world,
  • good work gets noticed
  • most importantly, good work causes people (your supervisor and management) to ask questions, “can I have some of that?”, “why didn’t the last project turn out that well?”, “what was different on this project?” “What can we do to make sure we always get this result?”, “why has that department been doing such good work all year, and the others not so much?” Etc.

And this is how companies change. This methodical awakening is how they improve.

Sometimes they don’t know why the work was better. Maybe that self-promoting worker convinced them the reason the project worked out was because he was involved. Even though it was your good work that made it so. Don’t worry about this. It all gets resolved in time. This is the power of patience and consistently delivering good work. Good work and patience is a relentless force within the context of corporate nature. And over time there are simply too many opportunities for your good work to slip through the cracks into plain view. And conversely for any subverter’s weaknesses or negativity to become exposed.

Good work and patience is a relentless force within the context of corporate nature.

You’re long on to your next project or two before any of these conversations happen. Again because the corporate metabolism is so much slower than yours. But be patent.

Maybe it will take 3 or 8 really good projects before these questions are asked and your trail is sniffed out. But eventually it will. It’s inevitable.

In the meantime you must continue doing good work- that’s your trail. Don’t worry, you may think you have a boss who takes credit for everything you do, but keep doing good work and be patient, and the trail will stay warm. No such boss has ever been able to maintain such an illusion for long.

See, when those questions are asked, you can go back up to that list of corporate crazy-making conditions and every one of them will change under the force of good work and patience.

Doing good work and being patient is how you ensure poor performers get fired or reassigned, it’s how necessary systems and incentives get put in place or change, it’s how you earn better more important projects, it’s how great people get promoted and recruited, it’s how other staff members learn to respect your process and your work, and it’s how the company succeeds. It’s how you will eventually be consulted to see what can be done to make the company better – and not in some empty, feel-good, “team-building retreat” way either, but the real kind, in a quiet executive office, where decisions get made, and where they will really care, because you do such good work.

Do good work and be patient.

It all works out. You just need to embrace the ambiguity of the current condition for a while. Embrace the fact that the company is not right-configured at the moment. It will change. It will.

I’m sorry if this sounds horribly tedious and tiresome. But this is the real way, no tricks, sure and steady.

Patiently and consistently doing good work will present you with the opportunities to solve every problem you see today.

It’s a fact of corporate reality- your good work will make it so. You just can’t give up.