Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A conflict of culture. A conflict of market forces

It's still not a certainty, but I think I'm going to be shopping for work in about five months. I can afford to be very selective for the first time. 

Previously, when I've looked for work I'd been motivated to do so because I did not see opportunity in that situation. I currently work for a very successful company and from all accounts, they are very happy with my contributions. In a sense I do see a limitation of my opportunities within the company though.

If I were to point a finger at what is driving me to look around it would be culture and the disparity between the job markets of my local office and corporate headquarters.

My company is based in another state where there is not a very active market for technology workers. I live in a very competitive market.

My colleagues down there say you either work for my company or about two other companies and that's it. They worry about job security with the company because they believe their options are limited. Their resistance point of shenanigans for leaving the company is much higher than people who are in an environment that has more opportunities.

Workers in an environment that has more opportunity will have a much lower shenanigans threshold. Once the demands that are put on a worker outweigh the gains that the worker believes that she can get somewhere else, she will start looking for work somewhere else.
The workforce around the senior managers are going to be more complicit with the demands that are put on them. They have less with which to bargain because the prospect of leaving the company is not as real as it is in an environment with more opportunity.

I see this a lot in my own company. My own division is almost exclusively staffed with people in my office, all of the management positions up to the vice president are in my office. Within my division the norms and underlying values are very similar to what I'd find in other companies in my area. If I do say so I think we have a productive, creative and highly functional group of people in our division.

A neighboring division that is managed exclusively from the corporate office and staffed with a mix of people from my office and from corporate is very different. I hate to use the rats from a sinking ship analogy, but I will. When that team was formed from a reorganization all of the local contractors who can have their pick of employer left in short order. The rest of the employees who are competitively skilled found locally managed internal positions to transfer to. Almost every single one of them. There are many reasons for this, but I believe the following explanation describes the reasons behind what happened.

How do these forces affect the cultures in the locations.

From my own observations I would say this: people in the other office, as a whole, are far more averse to taking risks. The perceived cost of failure is far too great to justify deviating from the safety of following convention.

In the competitive environment the perceived cost of failure is much lower, as such workers in that environment are far more likely to take chances.

This is just one example, but I believe the economic conditions between the two offices plays a key role in the cultural differences.

The most powerful conflicts to the people in the competitive office is that there is more managerial power in the non competitive office. Those managers are far more aware of what is around them than what is not. The perceptions they make of their nearby environment influence the way they deal with all of their reports. They are more likely to create a culture based on the norms and values of the non-competitive office and extend them to the competitive office. Some of the norms of the competitive office will transfer to the other as well.

So, in the case of the neighboring division. Well, the managers there were not accustomed to having employees who are able to quit. The managers shenanigans exceeded those people's thresholds and they left as quickly as they could.

What does all of this mean to me? To me it means that my company's culture and behavior towards me is not as favorable to me as other companies that are based within my market do.
What does this mean to you? When you look for work, try to find an employer that is based within your market or based in a more competitive market. Your experience will tend to be no worse than most of the companies around you, and with a stronger likelihood of exceeding the local market.

Try to avoid employers that are based within less competitive markets. Your experience is more likely to be less favorable than a locally based company.

This is a simple model and a simple axiom. There are many more factors to take into account than this one component. It is a very strong component nonetheless.

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