I worked at a very large, internationally held insurance company when I was 25. When I say “very large”, it fits the description of large company by our U.S. Census Bureau. So large, in fact, I would regularly get lost…..on my own floor.
There are many benefits to working for a large company. Many. There are also many detractors from working for a large company. Many.
But it wasn’t until I was promoted to supervisor that I realized what the real differences were at a company of that size. They were felt immediately and none was more evident than my very first day as supervisor.
BAPTISM BY FIRE
I was tapped to be the supervisor of our extended warranty call-center, Midwestern states division. I would have 10 people that would directly report to me. I reported to my floor director, and so on up the food chain the management went.
I never knew anyone more than two steps above me but it wasn’t the staggering size of the management chain that initially intimidated me. It was the transition from front-line employee to supervisor.
My very first day as supervisor was nothing short of a dumpster fire.
There was literally a fire on the second floor which caused a building wide evacuation but that wasn’t the issue. The issue also wasn’t that I was tasked with being the resident “leader” for those who had just weeks ago looked at me as a colleague.
The issue was that on my very first day, I was asked to let someone go. I worked up all my might and repeatedly couldn’t do it. I was terrified. Eventually, I along with my direct supervisor, sat this person down and recounted the issues they were facing. Once the HR lead associate entered the room the writing was on the wall. This particular employee knew what was about to happen.
For those who have been let go or who have let others go (I have experienced both) it’s not worth recounting. You get it. But what’s noteworthy here was my reaction after I left that meeting.
I was just a number. And so was that person.
It’s not easy to manage or lead others regardless of how big your team is but managing in a large company is especially unique. These are the three big things I learned about managing others from my time working at a large company:
1) YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT (IF EVER)
It’s easy to think that as a manager the “buck stops here” with you. But it doesn’t. It rarely (if ever) does. Not only that but in large companies the target for managers moves daily. The same isn’t always true for front-line employees. Most large corporations know what their day-to-day employees need to be doing to meet deadlines and bottom lines alike so it’s with management that the most change often occurs. The main thing I learned here which helped me survive, was that I wasn’t always right.
As a result I always promised my employees that I wouldn’t answer any question unless I was 100% accurate. That was rare but that built trust among us. They knew I was only going to respond to them immediately if I knew exactly what was expected and required. I also always told them a deadline for when I’d get back to them and fight hard to keep it.
2) YOU ARE A NUMBER
This one is especially hard to realize but it’s true. You are always something to someone, and even inside large companies, leaders and employees make major efforts to make sure this isn’t true (we see that a lot). The fact is, large corporations have many stakeholders to answer to, and that means it isn’t always you or your employees.
Understanding this was never made more clear to me than on my very first day as supervisor when I was tasked with letting someone go.
3) TEAMWORK ACTUALLY WORKS
This was, and still is, my favorite thing about working in a large company. If you can pull your team together through common goals and a shared vision, you really can create an impressive force.
Working together doesn’t mean pooling resources to share work but it could mean finding ways to lean on each other when the going gets tough. It could also be as simple as having a support group to confide in each other during these stressful periods.
Key to remember as a manager: this usually doesn’t involve you. However, if you stress to your employees how important this support structure can be, you can rest easy knowing your team is pulling together for each other.