I had the pleasure of meeting an in-house designer recently who possesses an abundance of what would have been referred to in an earlier time as pluck and gumption. She told me that she was brought into a large corporation to help out with the design responsibilities of their in-house team. A year and a half later, with her assistance, the company has restructured and grown the team and the ambitious designer is now its de facto manager.
It became apparent to me early on in our talk that this innie is smart, savvy and passionate about design – qualities that have clearly contributed to her current success. She’s also, by her own admission, opinionated, outspoken and blunt – traits that I would have thought, before I spoke with her, would have impeded her success in the corporate environment – an environment I always assumed valued tact and political correctness, neither of which are her strong suit.
As she colorfully related stories of the challenges she’s faced at her company, I started to get a picture of how she has thrived with her assertive and candid style. The designer actually summed it up pretty succinctly when she admitted that the management at her company is made up of high-powered, no nonsense type-A execs who have respected and responded positively to her uppity ways. In fact, she’s been successful not in spite of her style but because of it. Had she played the more conciliatory, compliant corporate role she would have quickly lost any traction with the senior level executives.
The lesson here is that there is no single way to behave in a company. The key is to observe the culture and adapt your style to it. Better yet, when interviewing at a company, be attuned to its culture and make the style fit be as big a part of your criteria on whether to work there as salary and benefits. While style will never trump substance it’s certainly as important.