How to Stand Out in an In-House Corporate Environment

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If You’re IN, Then Step Up & Stand Out

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It’s easy for designers to get lost in the web of politics and bureaucracy that exist in most corporations. At the get-go we often walk into this type of environment with certain unrealistic expectations. The ones that handicap us the most include the beliefs that we will be judged solely by the design artifacts we produce, that our non-design peers are driven by the same objective problem-solving mindset as we are and that self-expression is valued and appropriate in most business encounters. Unfortunately very often the reality disappoints us and unless we adopt the behaviors that are appropriate to this reality, the resulting disconnect may subvert our attempts to succeed as creatives in the business world.

The first trap to avoid is falling into a state of resignation and cynicism that company life isn’t the way it “should be.” This attitude will guarantee that things will get worse and don’t delude yourself into thinking it will be better at another company – it won’t. Realizing that any situation or job has the potential to be an exciting opportunity and then acting on that belief is a great antidote to disillusionment and disdain.

If you can manage to stop making your organization and everyone in it wrong (not an easy task by any means), then you’re ready to practice the 5 P’s – Patience, Persistence, Process, Politics and Passion.

Unlike a more entrepreneurial ad agency or design studio, corporations dominated by left-brainers are averse to risk and allergic to change. What may have taken hours, days or weeks to change in creative enterprises can take months in other businesses. Go for some quick wins to alleviate frustration but know that you’ll need to be in it for the long-hail if you want to effect real change.

The handmaid of patience is persistence. Not only will it probably take a long time to see results, you’ll most likely have to keep pushing that boulder up the hill over and over again. You’ll need to follow-up, revise, reinvent, cajole and coerce others in your company to get what you want to have happen to happen.Companies love process – they eat, breath and live it. While the suits may take process to a dysfunctional extreme, there is value in it when applied appropriately to your design and production workflow. Creating and adopting SOPs is critical when you and your team are constantly juggling projects and clients with competing deadlines and agendas.

I’ve found politics to be the most difficult issue for me to accept and deal with but it is the dynamic that greases the corporate wheel. When you ignore it, politics will blindside you and subvert your attempts to further your goals. When you use it judiciously and with the best of intentions it becomes a tool to get what you need for you and your team when you need it.

If you don’t have passion for your job either find a way to ignite it or find another job – period. Being an in-house designer requires a commitment that must be fueled by an emotional connection to your job and a sense of purpose. Otherwise you’re shortchanging your co-workers and most importantly yourself.

Most importantly, know that the biggest impact you can ultimately have on your organization is changing its culture and the very way it operates. As designers, our innovative problem-solving mindset and collaborative creative attitudes and behaviors, if adopted by our co-workers could effect powerful positive company-wide change.

More Resources for In-house Designers