If you're stepping into a professional work environment for the first time, it can feel like the people around you are speaking a different language. Although the severity varies between corporate cultures, most offices are awash with ‘business speak’, which often seems designed to baffle, rather than enlighten. But buried within the talk of ‘blue skying’ and ‘actioning your core deliverables’, are some crucial ideas that you need to understand to succeed.
With time, curiosity and some background reading, you will learn to spot the time tested management theory among the flock of duds - but to start you off, here are a few key management principles to help you get the most out of your experience. Have a look at these while you prepare for the first day of your internship, and get off to a flying start.
Get Productive - Pareto Principle
This important concept - also known as the 80/20 rule - is applied liberally to business and productivity conversations. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist, who noted that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population. While land ownership in early twentieth century Italy might not be your specialist subject, Pareto also found that this 80/20 split occurred frequently in his academic understanding of economics. So for example, you would find that businesses earned 80% of their income from 20% of their customers, or received 80% of their complaints from only 20% of their clients.
The application of this principle in economics is often to have managers focus on the magic 20% of customers who bring in the most business, or of employees who deliver the best results. However, the same principles can be used in personal productivity during your internship.
Try to focus your energy on the 20% of tasks that bring the most (let's say 80%) results. Or, think about which two of the ten members of your team are going to be the most influential to your onward success, and make a special effort to develop those relationships. By forcing a laser focus, the Pareto Principle has found application anywhere business is done. Start using the ideas early, to get ahead!
Increase Self Awareness - Johari Window
The Johari Window model is another time tested tool, developed back in 1955. The model describes how different aspects of ourselves might be revealed or withheld to others. Some aspects of your personality are open, known to both yourself and those around you. Others are more personal, things you might know about yourself but choose not to share with others. So far, so obvious.
Where the model gets interesting from a perspective of self awareness is when you acknowledge the blind spot - that is the aspects of yourself that others can see, but you can not. As soon as you realize that this exists, you will likely feel compelled to make this area smaller. You can do this by seeking feedback, being curious about how others see you, and noting how people react to you during your internship. Growing self awareness will make you better at your job, but also help you in building relationships and developing your personal competencies.
The final quadrant on the Johari Window is possibly the most exciting. This is your potential - the things about you that neither you nor others around you yet know. Setting out on your career, this quadrant is huge, embrace the possibilities to discover what lies there for you!
Understand Motivation - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
If you're wondering why some people in your office seem super motivated and others are rather flat, then Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs could be your answer. Dating from 1943, this enduring theory of motivation suggests that people can not be fully motivated if their basic needs are not met first.
Maslow suggests that we have several ‘layers’ of needs, which are often pictured in a pyramid to emphasize the fundamental importance of the basic needs first. At bottom of the pyramid you have physiological needs - the basic things humans need to survive. The pyramid then builds to include safety, love and belonging, esteem and finally you have ‘self actualization’, or the fulfillment of human potential, at the pinnacle of the pyramid.
In a working environment this means that fulfilling employees basic needs is most important - making the workplace fit for humans to perform, giving people the tools they need for the job and so on. The ‘safety’ element is important in professional life, as it can refer to job security - after all it is very difficult to be motivated if you do not believe the job will still be here for you tomorrow. The level of ‘love’ in a professional sense is often about team spirit and bonding, without which people will not feel fully motivated. If all these elements are present then people may be further inspired by ‘esteem’ which can be others’ acknowledging their expertise in a subject - and ultimately fulfill their potential at work.
If you find yourself managing people, or with colleagues who do not seem to be motivated, it is worth looking at which of these ‘layers’ of motivation are in place, and building on them if possible.
Learn to Excel in Ambiguity - The Change Curve
The Change Curve was initially a model used in describing the process of grief. Over time, however, the application of the same idea to any form of change, has become accepted. The change curve details four stages of dealing with change. At first people may deny that a change is happening at all. They feel helpless and so bury their heads. Once this is no longer an option, anger and fear set in, causing a flurry of emotion and activity. The third stage is acceptance, coming to terms with the change that is happening, and then moving to the fourth stage of commitment to the change.
With our increasingly volatile working lives, understanding and working with this change curve can be a real advantage. To make any change as efficient as possible, you want to move through the first two stages quickly, before accepting the change and setting new goals within your altered environment. However, imaging that you can simply skip the unpleasant experiences in the first couple of stages is not usually beneficial.
Whether you're managing others or yourself through change - and the change in hand need not even be something negative - understanding this framework will help you react and adapt to your new situation more quickly than others, giving a real competitive advantage. Flexibility and adaptability are some of the top skills you need to land a job straight out of uni, so getting ahead now helps!
Starting out on an internship can feel a bit overwhelming. You have a new environment, new tasks, and even a new language to learn. But don't be daunted. Pick up on a few time tested business ideas, and they will serve you well - in this internship and wherever you go beyond that.