Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ideal Organization Exercise

During graduate school an excellent exercise we explored related to figuring out our ideal organization, meaning what type of industry, culture and goals you'd definitely like to work for our create (like designing or buying your dream home).  It was an excellent idea and construct I keep referring to in my research on hiring retention models (self-selection) and why people choose the type of work and organizations they ultimately end up working with.  Here's my answer:

Ideal Organization Exercise: Learning Posture
Jack Be Nimble
Face-to-face, client interaction fires me up.  This is a role that has suited me well in the past and something I would like to strive towards in the future.  Thus, my ideal job function a position that requires human interaction, large project management, and a solid, overarching (difficult, but attainable) goal.  This foundation leads towards my ideal organization – while client-facing work can be done anywhere, in my experience, working with small to medium size companies in this capacity is much more rewarding than in larger enterprises.
                  Smaller companies also respond quickly to market conditions and run lean, which is sometimes not as rewarding as a larger organization, but I feel that the intrinsic rewards are worth the hard work.  The problem I have had with working in big companies (Microsoft and Amazon) is that the division of labor is so thinly sliced that it is quite easy to get bored, quickly I might add.  Plus, smaller organizations have a clear focus because they are focused on one specific service and segment of the population.  This means they typically do one or two things well.  Large organizations tend to do lots of things in a mediocre manner.
                  As for industry, I find myself leaning towards biotechnology and higher technology companies which serve a specific base of scientists, not necessarily broad consumers.  But, the products I hope to sell or market will directly affect a broad base (say, rapid DNA testing for the masses).  The other industry I hope to return to at some point is sustainable real estate development.  My time working with Gerding Edlen Development, LLC, based out of Portland, OR was amazing.  It is a place I would work at again in a heartbeat.
                  All the companies I have thoroughly enjoyed working with employed less than two-hundred people, but certainly more than twenty.  Ideally, I would like to find myself within this spectrum: not too small that too much work load is heaped upon one individual, but not to large that job functions are defined too narrowly. 
                  Culturally speaking, I see a relaxed culture at the surface with a strong current and drive underneath.  Also, I am attracted to cultures where the posture aligns with the work of Carol Dweck.  Companies which see failure as a learning exercise motivates me to work hard and find the right path or answer rather than just any path to succeed.  Research supports this attitude in spades, pointing out that motivation increases and people don’t beat themselves up any longer when they face setbacks (Aronson and Tavris, 2007).  In other words, a company which has adopted an incremental approach to learning would attract me.  So, a learning attitude is the most important value I look for in an organization.
                  With regards to management, I prefer a long leash, meaning that I like a larger set of parameters to work within and figure out my own path to the end.  The word “equifinality” sums it up well.  I believe there are many ways to accomplish and goal.  Managers who let their employees figure it out, I believe, will foster creativity and innovative ways to tackle future problems as well as the present setbacks.
                  I would also like a company which gives immediate, real-time feedback to employees.  The latent 360 process bugs me to no end – it is slow, cumbersome and irrelevant unless the point is documenting employees (which I agree is a good thing).  A company which values its employees also invests enough time to make sure they are thriving in the space they’re living in the moment, not just the future.  Specific and timely feedback is necessary to help steer a ship which can easily drift off course.
                  This leads me to name two companies which I know hold values and cultures very similar to what I have described.  First, the aforementioned green real estate development company, Gerding Edlen, was a an amazing place to work.  The culture was relaxed, but people worked hard.  Amenities such as a car allowance, a Nintendo Wii, foosball tables, and a very rewarding beer hour on Fridays drove home the fact that management valued the forty-five employees. 
                  Also, a company I have not worked for, but know quite a bit about, is Affymetrix in Santa Clara, CA.  This medium-sized biotech corporation is working hard on bringing DNA tests to the masses.  They harbor a strong organizational development culture and believe in fostering change to stay competitive. The team-based culture is aimed at fostering creative and new avenues in research and development.
                  In the end, I want work in a setting where development matters, but also where the goals are clear and the culture believes their people will get the job done.  But when people fail, there is enough of a psychological safety net that rebounding is entirely possible.