The Cursed Existence of the Corporate Minion

This is a cautionary tale. It’s a story about dealing with a certain kind of people who, while fending off their impotent thrusts at relevance, threaten to infect you with the same petty feelings of inadequacy that govern their existence. Steer clear, when you can, of the corporate minion.

Corporate minions share some universal traits. The most prominent quality is a dearth of creativity. Paradoxically, they are almost always placed in positions to judge creative works. Second most common, the corporate minion boasts impeccable academic records—relevant because the position they occupy is usually their first since graduating.

Another prerequisite to corporate minionism is a tendency to occupy space between you and the person whose opinion actually matters. They are a pointless buffer, worthless fodder, human speed bumps on the pathway from creation to completion.

It’s not a coincidence that corporate minions skew younger, nor is it ageist to say so. It’s less a generational commentary than a reflection of our anxiety about doing new things. It’s about compensating; or in this case, overcompensating. When we’re new, and ambitious, and eager to make our mark, we feel compelled to make that mark everywhere—even where it is not needed.

They work absurdly long hours, but this is not to their credit. Their “work” is filled with long stretches of downtime, and being of a certain age they tend not to be bound by family obligations. They dwell inside the offices with a posture that conveys zealous commitment to their job, but is actually ineffectiveness in disguise. In their 12-hour days, they tend not to produce 12 hours worth of work. Do not judge your own workday against theirs. Theirs is more often spent waiting on e-mails from people more important than they are—and getting coffee.

Minions need to be a part of something. They need to feel their input was helpful. They’ll incur multiple rounds of edits and changes for the sake of “being” in the project. If they don’t exert some control, they feel, they become an unnecessary appendage. They confuse being green with being vestigial. They don’t realize that the only reason they struggle for perches on projects is that they haven’t earned one yet. And there is no shortcut to that.

Corporate minions will often employ subjective vocabulary. They’ll use words like “punchy,” “pithy,” “pop,” “weak” and “strong” to describe work product. They’ll steer clear of substantive or meaningful feedback, because to do so would reveal their utter lack of knowledge.

Dealing with a corporate minion requires a mix of several strategies. Some of the more effective include:

  • Over-communicating: Corporate minions tend to make a lot of work for themselves, and as a result their time is limited. By over-communicating and being hyper-connected, you can discourage future rounds of superfluous edits.
  • Appealing to experience: Corporate minions are very open to subtle suggestion. It’s probably a byproduct of not actually knowing much. By invoking the name of another client or project that did things differently, you can quietly influence their perceptions.
  • Faking it: When a corporate minion sends you subjective, fuzzy feedback, it is my opinion that you are entitled to make random, small changes to the work product and resend as new it with a note like, “Here, I think this is more what you’re looking for.” Recipe for disaster, you say? You’d be shocked how often it works.

But beware. Corporate minions, pointless as they are, usually exist for a reason. Some are tabbed as rising stars in their organization, preordained for bigger things by virtue of pedigree, family, or connections. For others, their existence validates their bosses’ lofty status—living proof that those bigwigs are above dealing with day-to-day nuisances like creative approvals.

Look, there’s a point behind all this bitterness. The inclusion of random stakeholders in a project just for the sake of having them be part of the process is anathema to the creative process. Nothing good comes from cross-functional committees. The individuals we describe in this article should be relegated to administrative roles, with very limited input and say. Invariably, this isn’t the case.

A corporate minion will never make your job easier, unless it somehow makes their job easier. They add very little. They are obstacles. Do your best to avoid them, and allow them as little influence on your work as possible.