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Ruminations. Reflections. Refractions. Code.

Jan 27, 2016 - general philosophy

Who Do You Work For?

Corporations often talk about values. Expected behaviour and human traits that the corporation deems necessary to achieve its goals as a whole. It is expected that all levels of the organisation will display these traits. Of course, anything involving people is bound to have its own challenges. It is very difficult to instill values in people; more so adults.

The idea behind value statements is legitimate, and having this framework of character is certainly a step in the right direction. When the toplevel folks consistently display these values, employees down the chain either fall in place, or leave. I am, for the moment, ignoring matters of hiring the right people, a non-trivial problem worthy of its own post (many, many posts).

In effect, it is people that bring values and traits to life. Without enough people making these values pervasive, they mean nothing. Words on a corporate brochure.

Very few places I can think of — in fact, just one, my extended family, the BKC — have values so tangible, that, it would seem even if not one human were left in the place, those values would remain alive, palpable. One gravitates to the promoted values nearly by osmosis. Such places are the exception rather than the norm, of course. Given this, I have come to the epiphany, that for most other corporations, I cannot possibly work for the company. I work for people at the company. Together, we progress the organisation. The latter is nearly a side effect. But it is very much akin to having money as a side effect of providing value, not a particularly big idea by now one would hope.

Management experts like to use terms like “restructuring”, as if an organisation is a malleable construction of easily replaceable lego blocks. In 2016, that many places do not recognise just how organic, just how alive, and how cellular in nature corporations are, is a cause for sadness. Until the importance of people takes precedence, and not just as lip service, everything tends towards disorder, or at best, mediocrity.

One must consider that to start a company, to drive it to provide value and derive profit — the beginning — takes a huge amount of energy. Most company founders are smart and driven. To me, a state of mediocrity (or perhaps, complacency) is when only this initial impetus moves the company in, essentially, auto-pilot mode. When no more of the same drive and energy is applied to achieve continuous innovation.

I recall a Yow! event I attended recently, the speaker — I believe from Netflix — mentioned that execs from other companies often mentioned how they could not hire good people. To which the speaker responded that many of Netflix’s engineers were hired from these execs’ companies. The phrase “damning evidence” comes to mind.