You’re a hard worker. You’re dedicated and passionate about your job. But, promotions and raises have come slowly. Both require credibility. If you want to be credible at your company, you must understand your company. If you work at a publicly traded company your proxy statement is the place to start. I have spoken to all types of professional groups over the years. I often ask the audience to raise their hands if they have read their company’s proxy cover to cover. On a really good day, 10% of people will raise their hand.
Proxy statements let you know much of what executives know and most of what investors want to know. They don’t provide every answer, but they give you a great foundation. Familiarity with your proxy’s content allows you to frame discussions in ways that make them important to the leaders of your company. Discussing things from the other person’s perspective is critical to getting people’s attention.
The first proxy I read made be wonder if I should choose a different profession. The second one made me understand how much more I could learn with just a little bit of focus. By the time I head read a few more I was able to understand what was being talked about in board rooms and financial papers and websites. But, much of what is in a proxy is not easily understood to the layperson.
Most proxy statements are between 50 and 80 pages long. Average readers read 50-60 pages per hour. So expect to invest a bit of time, but not an enormous amount of time.
Here are the steps I recommend:
Step 1. Read your own proxy cover to cover. (1-2 hours)
Step 2. Read those of your key peers. (110-150 hours)
Step 3. Identify the patterns and flow of the document. (As you go.)
Step 4.Write down the things that you don't understand or that simply don't make sense. (1 hour)
Step 5.Schedule lunch meetings with subject matter experts from any section where you require more information. (Buy them lunch. Ask them to explain. They will be flattered. They will eat lunch. They will happily explain. (As many lunches as it takes.)
Step 6.Build links back to your own responsibilities and accountability. Once you know what is important to shareholders, you will know what is important to management. (Almost no time at all once you understand everything.)
Step 7:Get a promotion and a raise (Fairly quickly.)
Many people have told me they don't do this because it is time-consuming and boring. Both can be true. These are great excuses, but terrible reasons for sabotaging your future.
Many people tell me that they don't want to look dumb or uninformed. Once you complete Steps 1-4, you will ask intelligent questions. People LOVE talking about what they do. They want to explain why it’s important. They want you to understand their impact. Ask the question, smile and listen. You will look like a genius!
There are many things that contribute to getting a promotion. If you are a good employee you are already doing most of them. Reading your proxy will set you apart from most of your peers. It will also give you a sense understanding and confidence that can propel you up the ladder. It sounds simple because it is. It isn't done often because it isn't very fun. The choice seems easy, a few hours today for better vacations in the future!
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