So you have just left a company after a less than positive experience or maybe you find yourself unhappy with a company because it turns out to be a completely different culture than you anticipated. To borrow the line from David Byrne’s ‘Once in a Lifetime’……..
…..”and you may ask yourself, Well…How did I get here?”
Usually the answer to this question stems from the lack of due diligence or just your haste to find a job after being unemployed with a big mortgage, car payments, plus kids with crooked teeth and aspirations of attending college. Regardless, this is the time to slow down, objectively gather and evaluate a company and opportunity. There are dozens of clues you can pick up in the interview process and should be married with your web based research to create a fairly clear picture of an organization’s culture and operating structure. Sometimes what is unsaid is more important than what is said in the early stages of your research. Below you will find a simple seven step checklist for your due diligence and if you assemble these pieces, you’ll have a simple snapshot of a company’s operating structure and potentially their culture.
The 7 Things to Consider Before Joining A New Company:
- Public vs Privately Owned. Companies that are publically traded can have a completely different sense of urgency than a privately held company. If you can’t stand up to the sales pressure of ‘making the numbers’ every quarter or operations need to pinch pennies in the 4th quarter, a public company might not be for you. Strategy can be long term in nature but certainly the tactics have real here and now implications. If you are uncomfortable with a sales gun to your head four times a year, maybe a privately held company with a longer term vision and less pressure around month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter financial reporting is for you.
- Control. Many companies are very closely held, especially if they are family owned and operated. Just today I had a maternal figure in a family owned business reach out for advice on how to balance the expectations of the 2nd generation with the need to hire and recruit outside business executives. If you’re not comfortable with some level of nepotism, a family owned organization might not be for you. You need to understand you are a hired gun in a family clique that you’ll never be part of regardless of your position. Face it, even if you are the hired CEO or President of a family owned company, you aren’t going to be sitting at that Thanksgiving dinner table.
- Industry. Every industry has it’s own nuances and it’s very important to know what you are getting into. Auto and Energy are VERY cyclical and run distinct cycles of intense hiring and growth followed by equally intense periods of divestitures and layoffs. These types of cyclical industries are not for the weak of heart or stomach. In the past ten years, we have seen intense gender bias in some industries, in particular the tech world. If you need a visual on the bias in coding and development, take a look at this photo from an Apple Developer Tech Conference. If you’re a woman at this conference, well……there’s no line for the ladies room.
- Size. Company size can have a lot to do with job satisfaction. The smaller the company, the more visibility you may have to strategy and decision making. In addition, you’ll be expected to wear many hats and you’ll be able to make a difference that will be recognizable and have your personal stamp. Ok, now the downside. Small companies run very lean. They reinvest profits and margin back into the organization. You sit in second hand furniture and might be deferring compensation for future equity or profit sharing. There is no G7 waiting. There are no lavish sales meetings or client outings at five star resorts but there can be a tremendous amount of job satisfaction. Additionally, there can be a significant difference in the talent that is attracted by large public vs the smaller tightly held companies. If you take a highly cerebral approach to problem solving and like to be surrounded by thought partners, you may need to reach externally for that fix in a small or mid market organization.
- Location and Communication Style. Communication style is usually driven by two things – geography and ownership. If you are working for a family owned, private company based in the Southeast US, you can count on a very indirect communication style. If you grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, you’ll get a performance review in Atlanta and have no idea whether you are on top of the world or about ready to go on a PIP (performance improvement plan). Midwest and NE are direct and those from the south would say ‘in your face’. As a holdover from an early farming culture, communication in the midwest can be polite, but firm and direct. The South and West Coast you might need a translator if you are a Chicago or Minneapolis native. Having worked for more than one Atlanta based company, I have found it necessary to triangulate conversation and ask polite but direct questions to garner clarity on ideas, issues, and opportunities.
- Matrix Structure (COE’s). One of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced in my career has been the transition from an organization where I controlled all my resources directly to a highly matrix organization. The difference can sometimes be slower cycle times in exchanged for a higher quality output. Patience and ability to influence are keys to success in a COE (Centers of Excellence) model. If you find yourself in a matrix COE model, you better be someone who can sell internally and thrive in an environment that is highly collaborative. The upside to a COE/Matrix structure is that if you are someone who needs their voice or expertise to be heard, these organizations bring in cross functional partners as SME’s (subject matter experts) as a normal course of business.
- Centralized or DeCentralized Management. In the retail and restaurant industry, in addition to other B2C organizations, you’ll find decision making pushed out as close to the client as possible. This enables higher client satisfaction as well as insights driving new product and service development. These are organizations that you can move and progress quickly. They value quick decision making and problem/issue resolution. They are fast paced and lively. The challenge comes if you are in a corporate office trying to drive branding or compliance in a marketing role. Support staff in a corporate office in a decentralized management structure can be extremely challenging. There becomes a high level of optionalism that leads to internal conflict.
In summary, the due diligence you do up front can save you a tremendous amount of frustration and ultimately job dissatisfaction in later weeks, months, and years. Knowing yourself, being honest with yourself, and recognizing where the right fit is can mean the difference between a career with lots of SOS’s (series of successes) or an eventual severance package. Use these seven criteria as a checklist for your current job, a new job, or your one of your future career management tools.
About Mike McNamara:
Mike has held C-Suite, Executive and Senior Sales, Marketing, Business Development, and General Management roles with Equifax, Cox Enterprises, WW Grainger, and Federal-Mogul Corporation. Mike has led sales, service and operations organizations of over 1,500 associates and accountable for P&L responsibility in excess of $250M.
Dedicated to giving back, Mike formed The MBAR Group in 2009 with the sole intent of providing pro bono career and business consulting services. Today he coaches a number of high profile media personalities as well as holding advisory board positions guiding a number of multimedia and small business startups.
Mike earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. He also holds a Bachelor of Science from Michigan State University. He is a past chapter President of the American Marketing Association. Mike and family split time between their adopted state of Missouri and family home in NW Michigan where their philanthropic causes include The Kingdom House – St Louis, BACN in Benzonia, MI., and Samaritan’s Purse, Boone NC.