You know those colleagues who seem to define their work responsibilities by email forwarding and conference call attendance? Their actual contribution to the business is zilch, but they manage to advance their careers, and you hate them for it! But don’t be fooled—they have an important lesson to teach you, and you can take advantage of what they teach without joining them.

These people are generally losers who have found little tricks to manage their “careers”. I call them them hyenas; corporate hyenas, because they hang around the lions and leopards—people who do real work—and live off their kills. Only occasionally will they hunt and kill themselves, and when they get pressured, they may chase off the lions and leopards to get a fresh piece of meat.

How to Spot a Hyena

Corporate hyenas pop up in email threads by forwarding them to new people (they “reach out”) suggesting that they connect and alert higher management of progress on various topics. They also keep busy with meetings and conference calls, listening in what’s being said and then repeat it in “corporate speak”. They are easy to spot if you look for them, but it can be notoriously difficult to call them out.

They have fully adopted the corporate cynicism of: In corporation, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what you tell people you do.

corporate asshole 1

This behavior can really only be played out in large corporations; there’s nowhere to hide in small organizations. In companies in general, small and large, the pressure on productivity per employee is increasing. This leads to pressure on managers to deliver results, and people management is de-prioritized in turn. Too often, the regular performance review is reduced to a formal HR requirement, so rather than managers actively engaging in the work their reports perform, they rely on the stories about their reports, the stories they are being told by their reports themselves, and the stories they’re told by their management peers. In a small company, poor performance is quickly brought to light and reflected in the stories. In a large corporation there’s plenty of room to hide behind your stories because there are more people around to live off.

Corporate hyenas tell their world how great they are and how they are key to a number of different projects, making sure that they keep reminding colleagues (and in particular their direct and matrix managers) thereof. You and I know that their contribution to these projects is negligible, but they look busy!

Every now and then, typically when new manager is hired from outside the organization, the corporate hyena gets a wake-up call. They either shape up for the time it takes to lull the new manager into their stories, or they are caught out and make a face plant.

The One Thing You Must Learn From Them:

Despite these people being nothing but hyenas in suits, they actually have one important lesson to teach you.

They make it easy for people to think well of them because that’s the story they tell!

With the pressure on productivity and the de-prioritization of people management, it’s not enough to do good ol’ honest work: you must promote your work. I am notoriously bad at this. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, being Swedish with the yoke of the Law of Jante (Don’t think you’re better than us) on my shoulders, but having worked in large American corporations for most of my career, and having met more corporate hyenas than I can remember, I was taught early in my career of two good rules to promote my brand as the guy doing that good ol’ honest work.

1. Make a habit of sharing your small successes in your day-to-day work.

  • Keep your manager updated about the work you do and ask for feedback to engage him/her.
  • Add your manager and/or other stakeholder on cc: to updates sent to your team and peers.
  • Reach out proactively to a stakeholder whose business your work is impacting, and ask them for feedback.
  • State and show that you’ve come to meetings prepared .

2. Dedicate 2% of your time—that’s 3 hours per month—to promoting your brand.

  • Review the work you’ve done in the past month, extract the items where you made a difference, and tell the people who benefited from them in an email.
    Example: Let’s say that last month you prepared an ROI-analysis to help a sales guy pitch your company’s new fancy solution to a customer. You know from talking to the sales guy that your analysis was very well-received by the customer, and he’s expecting an order next month. Write an email to the sales guy with his and your manager on cc, saying something along the lines of: “Hi, I’m just checking in to see if the ROI-analysis I did for [customer] helped you progress the sale and if there’s anything else I can assist with to help you win the deal.”
  • Post work that could be of general interest on the corporate intranet.
    Example: If you spent time reviewing what the press says about your and your competitors’ products to prepare for a presentation at an event, post it—that’s certainly info that other people may find useful, so be sure to share it and make sure it has your name in the on front page, and in the footer.
  • Review the key work tasks you’ll be doing in the next month and think about which tasks are relevant to which stakeholders. Make  note of these so you remember to include them in your day-to-day promotion (point 1 above).

Finally, what is the best way to deal with the corporate hyenas?  Ignore them. Don’t waste your energy on something you can’t control. Instead, put the two lessons above to use, and fight the corporate hyenas on your terms!

Featured photo credit: Young gangster smoking a cigar in a luxury studio via Shutterstock

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