What does it mean to be a Tall Poppy?

Being different. In some countries it’s undesirable. I use to work for an Australian company and we’d hear mention of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. Australia has changed greatly over the last decade but Tall Poppy use to be part of the culture. I had to ask when I first heard it too. The term originated with Aristotle, that’s how old it is. The idea is that a uniform field of poppies is ideal and the ones that are taller than the rest should be cut down. The official term is actually intended to be pejorative.

I feel like this Tall Poppy sometimes- at least I hope I am. Is that odd?

So how is it relevant in this day and age?

I see this in corporate contexts. Say the boss spends $1M on a outside consultant to deliver a finding. The Boss agrees with the finding and cascades it out to the generals and then to the troops. In a corporate culture, the people closest to the the customer, the troops, have no say in the strategy. It would be a rare example to hear about a soldier (keeping with the analogy) who pointed out flaws in the finding and was able to make positive change to the project. Soldiers may be able to affect the implementation, but we do see a higher scrutiny and less tolerance for someone in the ranks to question leadership decisions. The Tall Poppy Syndrome is that feeling that the soldier who makes waves will be scrutinized. That is how it’s been explained to me and how I interpret it.

I’m a passionate person – passionate about my industry and my work ethic. I thrive on making educated leaps, being a first mover, and persistence. I believe that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. In an environment that favors diplomacy, following protocol and subtlety, you don’t do well being celebratory, insistent, innovative, disappointed, or proud. Some would say that until you reach a certain level you’re best to just tone it down, go with the flow. (It’s the opposite in the start-up environment. The more personally invested you are, the better.)

I’ve worked with my share of battle-worn colleagues who have been put in one box on the org chart and then moved to another box the next year then back again. And with the economic downturn these are the lucky ones to have survived numerous waves of lay offs. Perhaps this has something to do with mellowing of emotions in large corporate environments. And it’s the culture of tan cubicles, layers of management, but mostly keeping your eye on the horizon of long term goals.

My field of Digital Marketing is constantly reinventing itself and it excites me to no end! So being housed inside of a 40k person company has been such a juxtaposition of large and nimble. Working in the corporate environment has made me a better professional and employee. I don’t want to lose the Tall Poppy in me, that entrepreneur. I’m not going to change the way corporations work but I’ve come to understand the perspective. Corporations are built for long, steady progression. But even though we invest ourselves in our work, sometimes at our own personal expense, corporations manage in thousands not by individuals. The loyalty and passion you invest has to be rewarding to you first. Brave the harsh winds, the sun is worth it.

Happiness at Work – Who’s Responsible?

It’s human nature to want to be part of something important and to feel relevant and uniquely needed. After years in our careers those desires get sanded down a bit and replaced by confidence, armour and some healthy reality.

In an economy like this, where we have an employers market, there’s less focus on retaining employees, career development, team building, and succession planning… though we’ve seen reports that employee happiness contributes ROI. Well, except for the Digital space.

I ran across this shining example of a new company who is committed to its mission and has created an environment that cannot help but attract committed, high-achieving, positive people.

HealthTap.com, Palo Alto, CA

Sure, they have job descriptions to describe the skills they are looking for, but they also have illustrated clearly WHO they are looking for:

You’re passionate about what you do: Being passionate about everything we do – from coding to creative design to building our physician community – ensures we’re always at our best.

You have a change-the-world-attitude: Everyone likes to talk about changing the world, but we’ve got the special kind of excitement, capability, and dedication to make it happen.

You want to build a great company with us: It’s a lot more exciting to be the one who shapes and builds a truly great company where people love to work than to just hear people talk about how they did it later.

You are adventurous: It’s about the journey, and not just the destination. It’s important to take risks with a fearless spirit, and to embrace successes and failures in the spirit of learning.

And let’s not forget the silly pictures of everyone in casual attire with dogs and babies in the office. In the Bay Area where the market is reversed, where it’s a employees market, and talent jumps from place to place, it’s a completely different paradigm. This company is about the people, about helping people and about passion. But if they have constant role changes, managers who don’t gain consensus, or excessive stress this passion isn’t a guarantee for a happy staff.

It doesn’t come down to money. Research shows that sales, productivity, and accuracy increase when the team is happy. Where is the real stumbling block?

  • Companies still think it costs too much money to make employees happy?
  • They don’t feel responsible for employees happiness?
  • It’s too much effort to implement or measure?
  • They don’t know HOW to make employees happy?
  • Companies think employees should find ways to be happy

I believe it’s the last two. What creates happy employees is not free food or holiday bonuses. Employee engagement is not tangible and takes really understanding the culture you have created and how that culture changes from year to year. The company can only create the environment, the flavor is added by the staff.

Ultimately, in life and in work, we are all responsible for making the most of our lives and work, for our happiness, continued training and succession planning. When you rely on yourself, you make it happen. Discover what you need at work to make you happy. You be the difference.

The Tall Poppy

Being different. In some countries it’s undesirable. I use to work for an Australian company and we’d hear mention of Tall Poppy Syndrome. Australia has changed greatly over the last decade but Tall Poppy use to be part of the culture. I had to ask when I first heard it too. The term originated with Aristotle, that’s how old it is. The idea is that a uniform field of poppies is ideal and the ones that are taller than the rest should be pulled. The official term is actually intended to be pejorative.

I feel like this Tall Poppy sometimes- at least I hope I am. Is that odd?

So how is it relevant in this day and age?

I see this in corporate contexts. I’m a passionate person – passionate about my industry and my work ethic. I thrive on making educated leaps, being a first mover, and persistence. I believe that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. (You just don’t want to fail too badly). And because of this, I stick out. In an environment that favors diplomacy and subtlety, you don’t do well being celebratory, insistent, disappointed, or proud. Some would say that until you reach a certain level you’re best to just tone it down. (It’s the opposite in the start-up environment. The more personally invested you are, the better.)

I’ve worked with my share of battle-worn colleagues who have been put in one box on the org chart and then moved to another branch and the next year, back again. And with the economic downturn these are the lucky ones to have survived numerous waves of lay offs. It can’t be blamed on the culture of tan cubicles and layers of management, though I would like to because cubicles are no fun. The reason is – large companies are like ships and they must keep their eye on the horizon. Their direction is long distance and long term.

My field of Internet Marketing is constantly reinventing itself and it excites me to no end! So being housed inside of a 40k person company has been such a juxtaposition of large and nimble. Working in the corporate environment has made me a better professional and employee. I don’t want to lose the Tall Poppy in me, that entrepreneur. I’m not going to change the way corporations work but I’ve come to understand the perspective. Corporations are built for slow, steady progression. But even though we invest ourselves in our work, sometimes at our own personal expense, corporations manage in thousands not by individuals. The loyalty and passion you invest has to be rewarding to you, the employee.

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