The Rat Race

By: Martin Salas

Published originally in LinkedIn on 04/29/2021

Anyone who has worked corporate knows the term. It is the mean and distorted outcome of some good and desired concepts. On the one hand, the natural desire of people to grow, compete and be recognized; and on the other hand, a culture of meritocracy in organizations. Both concepts, correct and desired.

However, that race to thrive in corporate and to get a promotion often turns into a fierce and silent battle between colleagues  for a role that helps them climb that organizational pyramid where the higher, the fewer positions. The expression rat race sums up the unbridled pursuit of achievement, in many cases, without a sense of true purpose and with a very high the emotional price to pay for.

Unfortunately, that circumstance can lead to organizational Darwinism or turn the process of building a career into a live reality show, daily from 9 to 5, into a kind of corporate big brother with the entire organization as witness and, in some cases, side-kick players taking an active role in either ‘team John’ vs ‘ team Dina’.

The winner takes it all and the losers have no choice but to leave for another company where ‘I can really be valued’ or to start chasing their dreams (remember the GE post-Jack Welch successions?).  Witnesses in the organizations are not immune to its effects and many end up jumping from business to business to find a rat race escape that they eventually find in their own ventures (one of top factors for entrepreneurs).

The question is, are corporations and their employees doomed to coexist with this invisible but real process? And how will this dynamic be affected in a post-covid context? The second question does not have clear answers even because there is no certainty about how the dynamics of working from home or in a hybrid way will impact work teams and the visibility of their members.

Regarding the first question, the truth is that we recommend some strategies so that the effect of the race does not create permanent scars to the company and people:

– Make sure that a healthy and engaging culture is built in the company, where both the achievement of goals and the way in which they are achieved are truly valued. The famous ‘what’ and ‘how’ that are over mentioned and rarely really practiced. Don’t divide people into winners and losers either.
– Create a talent management framework that offers several growth paths and communicate them. Many times, professionals believe that they no longer have a future in an organization because they have a one-dimensional vision of how to grow and if the promotion is gone so is the career. Wrong.
– Be grateful for the contribution of those who leave. If the company offers a healthy and engaging culture, as well as opportunities for growth, the exit of talent, although unwanted, is at the initiative of the employee and must be respected. But those who leave do not become enemies (even if they go to the competition), but rather alumni. On the other hand, the one who leaves must decide if she does so out of conviction and not as a sore loser.
– For the competitors of the race, make sure you have well defined your life purpose. Achieving the goals you set beforehand can give a natural feeling of success, but if those achievements are not associated with a higher personal purpose, you may end up with an empty life (and an ambassador of the term, rat race). Not everything is work.
About author
Martin Salas Chronsult

Martin is an organizational expert with more than 20 years of experience leading successfully organizational and business families transformation projects across industries, geographies and business cycles.

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