Or, a corporation becomes people in six acts:
Fed up with Job A and planning to move away, I looked for work in the new locale. And I found something. Something a little disappointing in terms of scale and compensation, but it was in the right place, nice people, showed some potential, and in a smaller market with much less of a tech scene what could I expect in compensation, really? Okay, let’s do this.
My relationship to Job B: I am a slightly skeptical new employee – hopeful but a bit disappointed, ready to put a brave face on things and help wherever I can.
Job B wasn’t a great business. It was able to pay the bills and pay the people, but incoming employees were typically disappointed by the compensation offered. Longtime employees seemed to stop getting raises at some point. And overall the folks in charge were not much interested, it seemed, in improving the business: making more money, growing, returning more value to the employees. That or they were trying but stuck. Or something; it wasn’t happening and there wasn’t much talk of being interested in major change.
My relationship to Job B: I am a guerrilla improver of the business – looking for ways to push us into making a little more money, or delivering a little higher quality, or do a little better at developing people, hopeful but a bit disappointed, ready to put a brave face on things and help wherever I can.
Our arm of the business was an hourly business – we made money selling our time to others. And this, I thought (and still think) is somewhat backwards; in the short term, when one is engaged with a client, your incentives are to sell them as many hours as you can. Your incentives are misaligned with the client’s incentives. Getting better at your job so that you deliver quality more quickly actually depresses your earnings. And if margins are tight there’s scant room to work ON the business, to make it work better and maybe be able to raise your rates or attract better clients or move into higher-margin work or develop a product or something, as you are too busy working FOR the business. The incentive to improve is out there in the hazy future, requiring a leap of faith while faith is in short supply.
So while I fairly happily worked there for a year and a half or so, it became clear that Job B probably wasn’t going anywhere, and that my ideas about how to maybe make it go somewhere weren’t interesting to the people in charge, and the part of the business I was in (consulting) was going to continually wrestle for oxygen with the other arm of the business (product), which was also not seeming to go anywhere. It was time to look for Job C.
My relationship to Job B: I am steady Eddie but looking for the exit – no longer pressing wherever I could press, much more focused on supporting my people and making things as clean as possible so when the right thing came along nothing was destroyed. Still disappointed, but more philosophical about it.
And then Job C comes along. Not without its challenges, but exciting in the way a new job can be even when the challenges are apparent. Maybe I can make a dent in these! Job B folks are sad to see me go, but I’m mentally done with Job B, so, bye.
My relationship to Job B: I am a distant well-wisher, but without much faith that anything will change. I’m much more concerned about the welfare of individuals I respect and keep in some touch with, and not at all concerned about the fate of the business as a whole, the leadership, folks in the other division, or anyone I found annoying while I was there. I have my own troubles to chew on in Job C.
As I integrated into Job C I started to notice things I had learned at Job B that were useful: more about design systems, more about scrum-like alternatives to project management, much more about accessibility and about bending typical design processes to meet the needs of the moment. Much more tolerance for misguided people, odd opinions, difficulties with priorities and resources, and the strange sort of decisions that leadership sometimes backs into that don’t seem sensible lower down on the org chart. So amend the above:
My relationship to Job B: I am a distant well-wisher, but without much faith that anything will change. I’m much more concerned about the welfare of individuals I respect and keep in some touch with, and not at all concerned about the fate of the business as a whole, the leadership, folks in the other division, or anyone I found annoying while I was there. I have my own troubles to chew on in Job C. But I’m grateful to Job B for many of the things I got to experience while I was there, and draw useful lessons from these. I recognize that Job B made me better at Job C that I would have been.
Then comes the news, a surprise to the majority of employees, that Job B is being acquired. This means upheaval and uncertainty, and many of the folks taken by surprise are angry. Angry about disruption, the impeding scattering of Job B social groups, of promises broken, of the small lies that are necessary when an acquisition is in the works, of having to find a new path forward when some can little afford it. This leads me to post here empathy for the leader whose company is being acquired, though since that probably wouldn’t play well with most soon-to-be-former Job B folks they see (via LinkedIn) the more-pleasant-and-relevant-to-them empathy for the employee that arrives via acquisition. (I don’t chase LinkedIn engagement and rarely post there.)
An alumni Job B Slack team pops up. Lots of Job B folks are active. They are angry at Job B leadership, angry at the acquirer, angry at fate. And it becomes apparent that the acquirer doesn’t really know what to do with most of them, or how to treat them well as disrupted potentially-incoming employees. Suddenly Job B is no longer a company for me to be disappointed in but a cadre of wronged, searching, frightened people who are banding together to support each other. And support each other they do, admirably, referring each other to new positions and organizing social events and commiserating and cheering each other’s successes. And(!) graciously congratulating those who manage to land positions at the acquiring company, even as others are driven away from it by lowball offers, poor managerial behavior, or other problems.
My relationship to Job B: I am part of the Job B mutual aid society, a helper, a friendly ear, and, now that the company behind Job B is no more, a potential employer to a few Job B folks (since we are no longer bound by an employee contract that prevents hiring folks away from Job B). I can help! I do help. I’m a bit of a lurker on Slack but I chip in with information and good wishes where I can, and job referrals to a few people. One interviews, gets an offer, and chooses a job elsewhere. One is on my team now and I’ve overjoyed by that. And now that Job B is not a business its leadership and their choices are moot, so my feelings about my time there are unexpectedly much warmer than before. Job B is now just the people, nothing more. And I love many of those people.
Long live Job B and the kind, smart, and gracious people I met while there. It served me well, in hindsight.