Michal Pohludka writes about work at multinationals. With a detached view, humor, and the kind of empathy you’ll only rarely see in a top manager. “Hungarians don’t quite love work, but they know how to talk about it for a long time. And the French? I’m amazed they still exist,” he says for example of workers from other countries.
“Life of a Corporate Director,” “Business Trip,” and “How to Handle the Work of a Manager.” Freely translated into English, these are the names of the successful Facebook blog and the two books bearing the signature of Michal Pohludka, the executive director of Bio-Rad.
Unlike other managers, he doesn’t swear by Excel tables filled with numbers from his workmates and clients. But as you can see from Pohludka himself, even at the top you can accept the corporate challenge while keeping a healthy detachment (and your sanity).
In 10 years, you’ve worked your way up from salesman to being the executive director at a biotech firm. Would you say there’s some generally valid recipe for moving up in a corporation?
There’s a recipe that aims towards one point. Ourselves. Even though luck, circumstances, and many other parameters all play a role, the biggest share in success comes from us — our visions, which we have to have and towards which we wish to aim, diligence, intelligence, and efforts, in the form of three words: grind, grind, grind.
Grinding’s much simpler in areas we find fun. So before painting yourself a picture of any sort of career or goals, it’s good to know if it’s an area that fills you with energy and brings you joy. If so, the journey is far easier.
Would you recommend to fresh university graduates that they choose a corporation as the starting point for their careers?
Actually there’s no better place to start a professional career than at a corporation. It will quickly teach a person many things, because it throws you into the water and won’t even shout “Swim!” If they do swim well, then in just a few years they’ll grasp the basics of companies’ global governance, their individual functions (taken generally), and management, which opens the doors to everywhere.
Their knowledge from school suddenly becomes fleeting, and they start to mainly make use of experience, which is so valuable that everyone reaches a point where they start thinking about how to use it effectively. And that’s when their truly successful career begins.
And what if you don’t know how to swim? What are the risks of a professional start under the wings of a big firm?
The pitfalls? They’re in the thousands. First you need to get used to the fact — and for safety, you should do this immediately — that for a large, global firm, we’re just numbers. Resources. Human resources. Heading into this kind of environment, you have to have to have a similarly impersonal stance yourself, and the people who don’t, they’ll run into frustration and start leaving in disgust. Sometimes with a feeling of burnout too.
THE COMPANY AS TUMOR
One big topic for the upcoming generation of employees is work-life balance. In light of that, will we see an end to workaholism? And how does this mesh with the pressure on companies to show growth every year?
You know, companies have their goals. They’re always ambitious. That’s why I say that large corporations behave like a tumor. They’re always trying to grow, and in every direction. At present, that’s clashing with a changing of the guard, of thinking, and of life priorities. And the question is, who will adapt? The companies? The people?
Who would you bet on here?
I think the truth is in-between. Companies, too, have to change how they manage and how they motivate people, because people are what they depend on. And they’re even starting to become aware of that, and so today we’re seeing an enormous investment into education and into people. But, it’s not enough.
Companies have to completely change their mindsets and go to the level of the individual. To adapt their organizational structures to pull it off. The reason is that every person has a different motivational driver. For some it’s success, for others money, appreciation… simply anything. And once we know these drivers, we can motivate anyone, and through that, grow rapidly. And is that demanding? Yes. But it’s the only path for the future.
Speaking of the future, what would you say offices will like in 2035? And what should be present in an office today?
For me the ideal office is one where everyone feels at home. And I don’t think today’s open spaces are it. That’s why I’d venture to estimate that in 2035, we’ll be speaking of the shape of today’s offices in the past tense. People are, after all, the most valuable commodity, and companies are starting to be aware of this and change everything for the better.
A BAD DAY? GO AWAY!
In our age of flexible working hours and possibilities for working at any time and place, a person who enjoys and excels at their work can easily work their way to burnout. How do you handle setting borders and protecting free time for yourself, your family and your hobbies?
I would turn this question on its head and ask whether setting borders is necessary. Whether new technologies shouldn’t instead serve us by letting us work all day if we wish — but also have free time throughout the day, with no worries about when we leave work, and let us join it all together (work and private life) to our own satisfaction? I also think everyone has a different conception, but in my team, that’s how we all have things set up.
The environment of global corporations is multicultural, and you entertainingly comment on the differences among cultures on your FB blog and in its “printed version” — the book Business Trip. How are you personally succeeding in managing a multicultural team? Differing types of work engagement, differing social mores, differing senses of humor — that can be challenge.
You can’t fight culture and religion. The only way to function in a global environment is through 100% respect and recognition. Looking at our close neighbors, Hungary, well, they work like in the Balkans. They don’t quite love work, but they know how to talk about it for a long time. And the French? I’m amazed they still exist. What I really want to say through this is that we all perceive each nationality somehow, just as we Czechs are also perceived somehow. But if we want to cooperate as effectively as possible, we can’t bash our mentality into them; we have to play somewhere in the middle.
Personal experience is a good tool for work with cultural stereotypes. For example I’ve had some fine moments with Muslims. Under the veil of culture, religion, and customs, you’ll always find individuals, for whom joy and laughter are valuable commodities. And as for managing to accidentally offend someone? You bet I’ve had moments like that. I expect more to come.
Do you have some verified tips for surviving a Bad Day at the office? Big business failures, projects fading away into debates that won’t end and actions that won’t start, emotionally tense situations on your team, etc.?
Let your head clear. Disappear. Set it aside. So that these types of things can be handled with a calm, pragmatic head. When you do, you’ll generally find the failure isn’t really that large.