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As you search for opportunities and pick roles to pursue, another important factor to consider is where a particular company is on their journey as well as how that stage impacts the way the organization operates. The way work gets done, and the philosophy and technology that drive a company’s operations, can impact not only your day-to-day, but your overall experience and success.
In order to determine if a company’s operations supports your ability to do your best work and if that is something you want to focus on in your job search, think about these questions:
Is the company a brand new startup or established player?
How comfortable are you with change and ambiguity?
Is the company launching the minimum viable product, a new product or iterating and improving upon existing products?
What does the organizational hierarchy look like and will it impact decision making, approvals, or access to information?
The way a company operates will influence how work, collaboration, communication, and outcomes are experienced and achieved. I’ve found that the size, revenue, or maturity of a company are not always the best indicators of where they are on their journey. I have another way of thinking about it, which is easier to get at during interviews. When calibrating across different opportunities, the metric I find most helpful is about “process.”
Teams (or companies) with no process. There are teams and companies at all stages with no process in place for good, dubious, or concerning reasons. As you interview, you will get hints about lacking or absent processes associated with the work you would do. Stepping into a role where this is the case will require hustle, creativity, research, and problem solving, and a lot of hard work. These opportunities are great for those with a builder’s mindset, who aren’t flustered by ambiguity and who can be resilient through changes over and over (and over) again.
Teams with emerging processes. These are teams where they have initial and functioning processes mapped out and operational. The primary challenge is about scale or efficiency. Stepping into a role where this is the case will require systems thinking, the ability to connect the dots, and a commitment to collaboration and compromise. These opportunities are great for those who thrive on enabling human processes with technology, and who get excited by transforming spotty or chaotic processes into highly reliable, high performing ones.
Teams with established processes. These are teams where they have working, scaled, and distributed processes in place. Stepping into a role where this is the case will require a precision mindset and a commitment to optimizing and refining on the margins. These opportunities are great for those who like to be part of broader initiatives and play a more defined role, and who prefer a more steady cadence to the rhythm of work.
Teams with outdated and cumbersome processes. These are teams where the processes have been in place for so long and are so embedded in the way the company operates and delivered that they are both critical to success and a primary source of complaints. Stepping into a role where this is the case will require a patient mindset and the ability to mobilize across teams, leverage distributed resources and move forward in incremental and often slow steps. These opportunities are great for those who can see the chance to innovate in anything, and who are comfortable with longer-term time horizons to see change along with a more consistent state for their role and responsibilities.
story I’ve had the chance to operate on teams and in companies with processes at each of the stages outlined above, and there are positive aspects and challenges to each situation. At this point in my career, I’m more of a “no process” or “emerging process” kind of person, but someday that could change, and it wasn’t always the case. I realize that my time spent with “established” and “outdated and cumbersome” processes has also been beneficial. It accelerated my ability to build, adapt, and transform in environments with “no” or “emerging” processes because I had models to work from and incorporate into my work. In anticipation of interviews, start to think about where you prefer to be in the journey of a particular team or company. Then during the interviews, ask questions of the hiring manager, direct reports, and cross-functional colleagues about the process to gain more context about how your preferences would align with their circumstances.
Choosing a new role and working at a specific company has implications now, and later. There are certain companies that inspire trust, others that are recognized for their innovation, social impact, or growth, and some that are known for developing exceptional leaders across a number of disciplines. On the other hand, some companies rise and fall, are known for toxic leaders and internal strife, terrible customer experiences, or failed products, and are the subject of editorials and exposés. Some companies that have amassed billions in funding or revenue can be the same companies with bad reputations in other arenas.
The surprising reality is that companies on either end of the spectrum can offer valuable learning, growth, and opportunities, so it’s up to you to decide how the company’s reputation on different fronts will impact your decision. As you reflect, consider:
Do you need this role/company to be a launchpad for future opportunities?
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