Unspoken rules in business

December 11, 2016

Our world is embedded with unwritten rules. For example, when borrowing a car, always fill up the gas tank before returning it. Such unwritten rules often underpin the culture of a society or a community and can be hard for newcomers to unearth.

This is especially true in the corporate world, where unwritten rules are so ingrained in the company culture that they are the normal way of doing things. Professionally, I have been a newcomer many times over. First as a woman entering a technical/engineering role where my peers tend to be men. Next as an engineer entering a sales function where my peers tend to have training in business and marketing. More recently as a technologist entering in an industry where my peers tend to hold MD or PhD or both.

Along the way I've acquired a set of unwritten rules that applies regardless of functions or industries:

1. Understand the Measuring Stick.

How do the individuals and leaders in your organization define success? Without first understanding how success is measured, it will be difficult to know where where to invest energy and how the prioritize activities that result in most impact.

2. It’s a Team Sport.

Who’s the coach, captain, star player(s) and what positions do people play? Learn as much as you can about each position so that a) you develop appreciation and empathy for the difficult part and b) you can pick up the slack when needed.

3. Be Yourself, and bring Value.

People do business with people they like, and people who are authentic tend to be more likeable. Bring authenticity and value (see 2 above) into the relationship. But also be mindful of your own goals and what you want to accomplish to make sure that you set up a win-win situation every time.

4. Build relationships Up, Down, & Sideways.

Often key discussions take place off the field. Don't know where these interactions happen in your organization? Invite your colleagues out for drinks/meal and find out where the unofficial locker room dialogs take place.

5. Business is Not Personal.

Shrug it off and move on. They already have.