As a parent watches his child grow up before his eyes, he has a tendency to welcome the development but fear the change. After all, what would happen, for example, if the child grew up quickly and got roughed up in the process? Or worse, what if the child were to grow up too fast and no longer need his parents at all?
However common this latter fear may be, most parents know that, no matter what, they will never be replaced in their children’s eyes — even if they might be needed less.
Like human beings, companies are organisms that change naturally. Obviously, the nature of corporate change depends on their size and their life stage. By size, I mean whether a company is small or large. By life stage, I mean the maturation or growth stage they are at.
The pros and cons of corporate change
Whereby large companies might only change by morphing into different shapes and forms (via reorganizations, restructurings or spinoffs), small companies tend to grow no matter how much some of the stakeholders try to prevent it. In these situations, founders usually fear the loss of control, even as they obviously welcome the growth, be it in terms of financial or operational metrics. Small company employees, however, might suddenly find themselves either marginalized or drowned in the process.
Ideally, employees in these circumstances can find opportunities to raise their value in the company. But it does take a savvy individual to recognize an opportunity in this context and find out how they can seize it without stepping on someone else’s toes (especially when they might be stepping on the toes of a company’s more senior employee).
As employees, we typically make an overt decision to either work in a small or a large enterprise. Some people prefer the family-like feel of small companies; others like the stability of large ones — even though recent implosions at behemoths Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen would suggest otherwise.
These three cases were largely exceptions to the rule. Nonetheless, there is no real guarantee that working in a large company translates into more job security or more job stability. After all, for the past few decades, employers and employees have stabbed one another in the back in a downward spiral that would make the mantra “an eye for an eye” seem like an understatement. As companies have laid off massive numbers of employees in downtimes, loyalty has waned. And in economic upturns, employees mimic playing on the monkey bars by always reaching for the next better gig.
How do you stay satisfied with a changing job?
In the end, the stark reality is clear and simple: Employees will always do what is in their best interests. By doing so, they push the laws of labor market supply and demand to ensure that employers treat them right.
The problem is that even if an employer does treat his employees right, there are elements that affect their job satisfaction which are out of an employer’s hands. One such element is growth.
With growth comes change in the rules of engagement and the shifting of responsibilities. It is not just founders and senior managers who are affected, but mid- and low-level employees as well.
Many people welcome such changes, because these tend to clarify roles and streamline processes. The drawback to changes of this order, however, is that they tend to make a company underutilize some employees’ assets and skills. After all, in high periods of growth (particularly in understaffed organizations), some employees gain valuable skills. When too much restructuring is introduced too rapidly, some of those skills will not be used.
When people feel that their skill sets are being underutilized, they become disillusioned and unhappy. Job satisfaction decreases, anxiety and stress increase, and over time a company loses its edge. This happens repeatedly in companies as they grow, and is almost de rigeur in mergers and acquisitions, where tsunami-like waves of change roll over everything and everyone.
Your own life stage
Not every type of person adapts equally well in small and large organizations; those who come to realize which environment better suits them should react accordingly. After all, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. In life and in business, you should be doing the things that you do better than others to develop a comparative advantage.
In the same way that companies have life stages, so too do human beings. Thus, equally important is what stage of your life you are in. A young professional straight out of school has a totally different perspective than a young parent would. As one ages and takes on more life responsibilities, their sense of risk aversion usually shoots up. Consequently, one starts to accept some negative elements in their job if it means more security in terms of paycheck and job stability.
As a result, any decision about where you want to be — in a large or small company; in a growing or mature company — needs to be framed in terms of where you are in your life. Not what works for Dick, Tom or Harry, but what works for you.
Pick your battles
I used the term tsunami earlier for a reason. No matter how much resolve you might have, no matter how strong you might be, sometimes the smartest young professional is the one who recognizes that his energy will be depleted by trying to go against the grain. Sometimes you have to go against the grain to succeed, but not when a tsunami is on the way. In that case, do not waste your energy. There are so many other battles for you to take on, so many more interesting wars to wage. Ideally, the combat you engage in should position you to win the spoils of war, whether they are in material or symbolic form.
As the stakes are raised, you’ll need to shed those grudges…
Lose the office baggage
As a company matures and grows, so should its employees. While some petty matters will often grow into larger headaches in small companies or departments, as institutions grow, so too do the stakes of holding grudges. Ideally, people should change their demeanors and act the part.
Of course, this is not always the case. People who take things personally or who are petty will probably remain so no matter what. In other words, one form of office baggage is usually traded for another. In the same way that you want to avoid going against the grain when a tsunami is on its way, avoid being in a situation where office poli-tricks and innuendo overshadow the business you need to conduct.
In other words, if your office looks and feels like the set of a soap opera, shout “cut!” and change scenes.
No matter what changes are happening around you, get a clear sense of what your mandate is, get it in writing, understand how you will be evaluated, and stick to your guns — even if doing so means that you need to apply some change to your own career path.
E-mail of the week:
I am working at a large company and have waited for years to get a promotion and a sizable raise. I am loyal by nature and the industry is small, so I do not necessarily want to change companies, but I am getting a lot of interesting offers from the competition. Should I resist them or accept them?
The first factor to consider when it comes to talking to the competition — let alone accepting offers from them — is what legal parameters, if any, are involved. Assuming that there are none in this case, all I can really tell you that it is human nature for members of your family to take you for granted while outsiders appreciate your skills a bit more. Think about it: Sometimes it’s easier to leave a company and return as a boomerang employee at a higher level than to stick to a position and hope to rise the ladder. That is why it is key for you to leave on good terms if you do choose to leave. There is no downside to listening to what others have to say. Just make sure that, should the right offer present itself, you are in a position to accept.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.