Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Consider the fit

A best fit line is a smooth line that is a composite of a number of scattered dots. It's the line that is on average, the smallest distance away from each dot, and is the truest to the overall information represented.

In considering my work and personal experiences, my sum knowledge and attitude is a combination of everything - the good, bad and ugly. I am a best fit line of my surroundings, and yet, am free to disregard the outliers. (I pray that the previous unhealthy environment I was in is an outlier!)

This is what I was thinking about while reading an admittedly cheesy, but true article on yahoo: Before Taking a Job, Consider the Fit. One of the lines that absolutely rings true is the following advice:
When you cut through all of these issues, the most important consideration is the people equation: the fit. If you accept a job and misjudge the fit -- even if everything else is right --you will, in all likelihood, fail.
If I had considered this before joining my last team, I would have known to get out way sooner, or to never have taken the job at all. I would go to work parties and not want to go and mingle, since I always felt awkward. I didn't agree with my boss' ideology, and I never felt comfortable with my coworkers, who mostly shared my boss' ideology. (For the most part, they also weren't the type of people who I really wanted to go and have a beer with.) Now I'm with a new team, and I couldn't love the people more. I actually enjoy hanging out with them after hours.

The analogy between hiring a new person and an organ transplant is particularly apt, and as true about fitting in with a new group of friends as with coworkers:

Making career decisions and hiring decisions are two sides of the same coin. Think of it this way: When a company hires a new professional, it's like an organ being transplanted into a body.

To the extent that the body is receptive to the organ and comfortable with the fit, the connective tissue grows and the organ becomes integral to the functioning of the body. In a company, this is when relationships take hold and internal people become champions for the person's success.

When the fit is bad, however, antibodies attack and the body rejects the organ. In business, this happens when off-handed comments like "he just doesn't get it" are thrown around, or the person is excluded from key meetings, or subordinates circumvent a new manager and go to the old one instead.
Partially, I don't think I tried hard enough to fit in, but I got enough weird vibes and saw enough power trip struggles at that place that I didn't want to have to play the same bizarre head games or make the same petulant claims. To put it simply, I didn't want to be grafted to such a diseased body, to an organization that was rotting from the inside out. One of the top managers there once asked if I could take some photographs for a company-wide event, a priority fundraiser. As I was looking for my normal camera, I noticed it was gone, and so was my backup. So I took the only camera left, which happened to be our newest and most sleek. Then I forgot to bring the camera in the next day, and had to go home to retrieve it. Was it so that I could download the photos? No, it was because he wanted to take the ultranew and fancy camera with him on his 4 day fishing excursion. Priorities straight? I think not.

Looking back, the funny part was that the person who informed me of this was didn't even bother to lie, and instead indicated that the manager in question was throwing a temper tantrum. Leaving aside questions of what right he had to be using company property on his vacation, and might company resources be better put to company use, bringing a digital camera on a boat for 4 days is the stupidest thing I have heard. The high likelihood of damage or accidentally dropping it overboard is not worth the $2o0 it would cost to buy yourself a digital camera. What a cheap bastard. He was making one of the top salaries in the company too.

The columnist concludes with three simple questions:
  • "Do you like and respect the people with whom you would work on a day-to-day basis?"

  • "Is the environment and culture one in which you can truly be yourself?"

  • "When you consider the senior-most leadership of the organization, do you aspire to become like them one day?"
With "yes" answers to all three questions, Phil was good to go. This worked for him, and it will hopefully work for you, both in your next big career turning point and your next big hiring decision.

I wish I could take back the time that I spent with my old team. While
Phil answered yes to all three, I would have answered no to all. I always felt constrained, I didn't like or respect my teammates, and there was no way I wanted to be as personally and professionally dysfunctional as the top management.

So I urge jobseekers not to jump at the first chance you get if you are looking for something long-term (same goes for looking for a relationship), but rather to consider the fit. It'll save you lots of stress in the end.

Now I'm going to post this article up as a reminder. To thine own self be true, and success will follow.

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