We Have Met the Enemy, and It’s Not Us

This was inspired by an exchange with a friend who is a consultant, and can’t stand the idea of joining a company. It’s not the first time I’ve seen consultant prejudices toward all companies

Companies vary. There is small and political, or big and healthy. Start-ups are often so tiny it’s not possible to be political. But at some point in every company’s life, it will have to deal with politics.

Small companies start as “us” but once they get bigger, eventually they have to face a “them” moment. Sometimes it’s the first time a founder sees an employee s/he doesn’t recognize. More likely it’s the first time a late hire argues for something the founder sees as antithetical to the concept they birthed. How it’s handled at the top determines if they company will be at war with itself, or if it will have “creative conflict” promoting growth.

Big companies can fall into fighting each other instead of fighting the competition. A great team can be corrected with a reminder of a common goal. A bad team (usually team member) uses the goal to claw power. Culture is all.

No one likes to fire an employee. But an incompetent or malicious team member makes the entire team weak. It takes courage to fire your highest performing team member even when that success is built on the bodies of others. But I’ve done it, and every time the team flowers and the overall successes are greater. I’ve also been in a place where I couldn’t pull the trigger, and the team loses its strongest players and keeps only the toxic and the ones so weak they feel they have no where else to go. A company must have the courage to protect its overall health, in order to compete effectively. Sometimes, even though we hate it, it means firing someone. But then you can fight your real enemy, failure to grow.

Good companies can be more satisfying than consulting. You get to grow the product, be comrades-in-arms with the people you see daily for years, and spend real time with the customers. Being an employee of a bad company is like starring in a Dilbert cartoon. But guess what? you can quit. Slavery was abolished a while back.

Companies are as different as women; you wouldn’t want to marry all of them. Pick carefully.

And if it doesn’t work out, quitting is still easier than divorce.