The concept of “the grass is green” has been my compass, as an African American trying to survive and thrive in corporate America. I know it sounds strange, but this concept has guided me in dealing with change, challenges, and opportunities throughout my entire career. So what the HECK does that mean, in relation to the “grass is green?”
The “grass is green” is about owning your destiny, keeping your power, and achieving success in a majority corporate environment. “The grass is green” is about how you process your place on a corporate chessboard, and how you then build a strategy for moving down the board, to win the game for you and your family.
So let me begin by stating the not so obvious:
- No work environment is perfect. This is not because people don’t try to create good environments, nor is it due to lack of caring. This is because people themselves are not perfect. People are products of their rearing, their religion, their environment, and their own personal agendas, and people have to respond and adjust to the corporate landscape in which they work. They also have to survive for themselves and their families.
- There is a racial landscape in these United States, as it relates to black folks. It is physical, tangible, and always present. It lives, it breathes, and it exists just like the oceans, the mountains, and the valleys, it has its own terrain and formation. If you are black, you can see it and certainly feel it.
Thus, the premise of “grass” is two-fold:
First, as you know, grass is green. It was made green by our creator. It grows green on its own accord. Even if I personally hate the color green and wanted to paint all of the grass orange, the painted orange grass would eventually die, and the new grass would naturally grow back as green.
I liken this to the racial landscape in corporate America. It is there, it is tangible, and it is not going away. And in this landscape, as it relates to black folks, it’s naturally unfair and imbalanced. This means that, African Americans in a majority of corporate environments will not have the same growth opportunities; you will not be paid the same for your contributions; you will not have the same promotion opportunities; you will not be in the strategic huddle; and yes, some of your great ideas will be taken, over the course of your career. This environment is where the vast majority of workers are most comfortable. Again, the grass is green; it naturally grows in as green.
Therefore, every day that you go into work, you should be conscious of this landscape. You should not be surprised and shocked when unfair things happen. In fact, it should be the opposite. You should expect, anticipate, and be ready to respond appropriately. This means that every day you have to work harder, be smarter, always be a great team player, and be more strategic. Because, every day, YOU are at a natural disadvantage in succeeding in this work environment, and this work environment is comfy to the majority. For the most part, you are not going to have an army of people trying to change things because of unfairness to you. I don’t like it, it’s not sexy, but it is a fact. So, mentally expect it and prepare for it.
Secondly, I know I said that the grass is green, but sometimes it is not…right?? When there is drought, the grass turns brown. When there is a fire, the grass dies. Where there is pesticide, the grass does not grow. You get my drift. So, sometimes, the grass is not green, and, in fact, there might not even be grass. It does not happen often, but when it happens, the corporate environment falls out of equilibrium, and the racial landscape also changes a bit.
So what the HECK am I talking about now?
Second grass strategy…. when the grass is not green. I liken this to an unexpected opportunity for all that are prepared. Because, in this moment, when the grass is not green, there is a very good chance that the corporation is in trouble and/or in transition, thus it is more concerned about the grass than maintaining the status quo of the racial landscape. For instance, the corporation could be in trouble because a strategy did not work; revenues are down and expenses are up; or unexpected changes have occurred in management, legislation, the political scene, and so forth. When the grass is in trouble and the landscape has changed, the corporation-manager-team wants to get back to status quo as soon as possible. Frankly, when put in this position, they are open to any and all contributing on an even playing field. In this moment, talent, experience, and proven results trump the status quo. The racial landscape has changed, thus opening up opportunities for those who are prepared.
Everyone wants the “grass to be green,” so all hands are expected to be on deck.
But, what does this mean for you? This is hopefully where your hard work and preparation will meet up with newfound opportunities:
What to do When the Grass is Green
- Have an agenda and know what you want in a career path. Have a timeline of measurement that corresponds to those goals.
- What do you need to win? More education, experience, exposure, and so on? What is it that will separate you from the pack? Go get that!
- Put on your alligator skin and mentally prepare yourself to stay cool, level-headed, strategic, and focused on your goals and agenda, despite the current landscape and the adversity that will surely come.
- Control what you can control. Put the work you’ve done and your plan in motion, while delivering an exceptional performance for your employer every day.
- Finally, expect that success will come to you, eventually. Because, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will!
What to do When the Grass is Not Green
- Be aware of the grass and the threats to the grass “staying green.” Threats to the grass staying green present opportunities for you.
- Be confident and ready to step up as a leader. Be a problem solver at the appropriate time, and always come with a plan.
- Be prepared to build a case as to why you are the best person to lead, not just in conversation, but also in actual performance, metrics, and facts.
- Name and claim the opportunity. This is not a time to be modest or shy; this is a time to raise your hand!
- Finally, as I said before, you have to expect for success to happen, because if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
And remember, this is not about throwing corporate America under the bus; this is about figuring out, as an African American, how to get on the bus, stay on the bus, and have control of when and where you want to get off the bus. This is you being in control of your destiny!!