How company men (or women) can loose their soul

Screen shot 2011-04-26 at 08.38.26 This post is about life (or rather lack of it) in a big company, inspired by a movie I watched last night: "The Company Men".

Ben Affleck is a high flying, mid-30's company exec, with a flash car, big house and golf club membership. But when the company down-sizes he gets fired and ends up in out-placement hell. After months of trying he can't get a new job. He has to sell the house and car, move to live at his parents with his wife and son and take a building job to scrape some money. But not only does he lose his job. He loses all sense of worth, dignity and pride that was tied up with the job.

The movie slogan summed this up well: We gave our lives to our jobs. It's time to take them back".

Here are some thoughts for the many company men and women out there reading this.

1. Beware of being a slave "the money dragon": many successful company men become focused on the money and the objects and possessions they can buy with this. They work to fuel the lifestyle they have created, rather than for fulfilment, with the money a positive outcome. And if the financial fuel supply is switched off then the world can fall apart. There is huge pressure to get a new job to maintain the lifestyle they and their family have got used to.

2. Look out for number one: don't fall into the trap of thinking that the company is looking out for you. Increasingly company life really is like the movie portrays: focused on quarterly financial performance and chasing growth. Also, changes in management can mean that suddenly you don't fit, and you can find yourself out on the street.

So, look out for you. Too many company men I see stop networking when they get a job. But today you need to keep this up and invest the time in having a "Plan B". This means staying in touch with contacts and head hunters so your personal brand remains top-of-mind, making it easier to move if you have to.

3. Remember your craft: I think a lot of company men start their careers with some level of interest in the job. They actually want to be a lawyer or accountant or marketing exec. But as time goes by less and less of their time and energy goes into the "craft" of the job, and more into "managing the machine": staff meetings, admin, company organisation and re-organisation.

Now this is hard, but try to remember the craft. I saw this in some of my old bosses at P&G. They still loved marketing and made time for it. They worked hard to minimise the admin and spend more time on the real work itself.

In conclusion, if you are a company man or woman, look our for number one, ensure you have your plan B ready and try to stay in touch with the craft of your profession that attracted you in the first place.

And if all that doesn't work, then you can always follow the path that Ben Affleck's character eventually takes and join a smaller start-up. You'll earn less at the start. But you might regain your soul and passion for the craft, and you'll have more control over your destiny. More movie-inspired ideas on how to do this here.