Know Your Company

“Knowledge is power.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

You’ve started your new job, and it’s a given that you’ll learn the technical and business aspects involved. But a little understood strategy in placing yourself firmly at the first rung of the corporate ladder is also to build your knowledge base of the corporate infrastructure.

Becoming an expert on the company’s history, policies and mission will help you to establish yourself not only a talented professional but as someone who possesses vision and senior management potential. By positioning yourself as the go-to person for company information and compliance issues, you’ll prompt management to sit up and take notice of you.

And, yes, these publications are readily available to all employees; but the sad truth is that most employees, including many managers, fail to read them.

To stand apart in a good way, make time to read thoroughly the following company publications (and any other similar ones you might come across at your workplace):

Company Website

By exploring your company’s website inside out, you’ll not only receive a good overview but be able to speak intelligently about the both the company and website. An important part of a good company website will be a well-written and clear mission statement. Understanding that mission will be part of your personal strategy. Here, for example, are the mission statements of Aflac and Wal-Mart.

Annual Report

The annual report is the corporation’s primary marketing piece; its publication is usually coordinated by the company’s investor relations unit, which in turn is part of the corporate communications or public relations department. Publicly traded companies are required to make their financial information public and do so via their annual reports that include their financials (or they may publish a summary annual report with a Form 10K companion piece). The annual report — which is distributed to shareholders, clients, customers, employees, vendors and other interested parties — often contains information about the company’s activities as well as its directors and officers that will provide you with further insight. Not-for-profit organizations must also make their financial information public and will often do so in an annual report that also showcases their services and success stories. Privately held companies are not required by law to reveal their financial data, but often issue an annual report for marketing purposes. Take a look at the annual reports of Pepsico, GlaxoSmithKline, Google and the Wildlife Conservation Society to get an idea of the different designs and content of annual reports.

Company Policy Manual 

A company’s policy manual is the bedrock of the organization, and contains the rules by which every member from the CEO on down must play. Knowing the rules will help you play your best game. And, remember, in the workplace rules are not made to be broken. Doing so can result in dire consequences. However, over time as you gain equity in your job and with your company you might be able to make proposals to modify and improve company policies through appropriate channels and with the proper approach. Meanwhile, make time to read through the policy manual and consult it when necessary.

Your company’s policy manual will likely include the following highlights:

  • Sexual Harassment Policy: Understanding this policy and law will help you to avoid offending and to know what to do if you are the one offended.
  • Code of Conduct: For example, take a look at Merck’s comprehensive Code of Conduct.
  • Dress Code: You’re going to dress differently working in the financial services industry than in the IT world, as well as all industries in between. Know your company’s dress code bottom line.

Local Procedures

In large organizations, each area will often have a set of local procedures that details how to comply with company policies. These procedures should be required reading in order to function in your job. Sometimes the local procedures manual becomes outdated if no individual has been assigned the responsibility to oversee it. You can increase your value by volunteering to assist in updating the manual. You will need a more experienced employee to take charge, but working on such a project would be instructive and smart.

Organization Chart

The corporate organization chart will show your particular chain of command right up to the CEO, as well as the other main sectors of your company and their reporting structure. It is always empowering to be able to see the big picture. Some corporations allow only a limited distribution of their org charts so you might have to ask your manager if you can view or have a copy. Here are images of org charts and an illustrative one of Xerox from its website.


Knowing the history of your company is critical to understanding its mission. My former company, BNY Mellon, has quite an interesting history. It started as several separate banks, The Irving Trust Company, The Bank of New York and the Mellon Financial Corporation, which merged over time. Each company has a rich history of its own. The company’s famous headquarters at One Wall Street had for some time featured two museums, one for Irving Trust and one for The Bank of New York. Thus, there were plenty of resources to learn this company’s history. Finding out about yours can be fun as well as informative.

Internal Publications

Most large companies, both for profit and not-for-profit have company newsletters, magazines, bulletins and broadcast emails that keep employees informed of company and department activities, accomplishments, awards, events and people news. Use them wisely by reading them, writing for them and appearing in them!

A Word of Caution…

Don’t tarnish your demeanor or brand by flaunting your company knowledge. Never come off as a know-it-all or above-it-all. Be very down-to-earth about your knowledge and your practical, effective and honorable use of it. Let this acquired expertise blend smoothly with your other leadership qualities.

Chief Administrative Officer

Finally, it’s important to know that some companies establish specific positions of Chief Administrative Officer – either for the entire company, depending on its size, or for each of its major sectors. In some cases, the CAO responsibility is added to the job description of one or more individuals who they feel might possess management potential. At the very least, knowing your company inside out will enhance your job performance; at most will it give you a powerful boost up the corporate ladder. As Sir Francis Bacon said.

Until next time,


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