A friend has worked for 25 years in the corporate sector, in a BigCo, in a fun, engaging product category role with a global scope. She is currently evaluating two job offers. One role is in the civil service and will help shape how the UK could become a smart trading nation again post Brexit. The other role is in a startup where she can use her own category experience, but with more degrees of freedom and more pay.
We had a short conversation about how she could sharpen her thinking on the matter.
Her main concern was whether she will fit in the slow-ish civil service culture when she comes from a demanding corporate culture. This is an understandable concern though when the role itself requires “delivery at pace”, I don’t think worrying about the pace of the culture is the key concern here.
It also matters as to which bits of the culture we weigh up in our consideration. In her case, she notes that while she has been sent to training and management development, she has always been overlooked for promotion by her BigCo employer. She was therefore delighted that the civil service application process — about which I have written earlier — was designed to remove many biases and she got called in for an interview. That, I would say, is the hallmark of a culture that is aiming to change itself to becoming more inclusive.
Overall though culture is a valid concern but it equally applies to the startup which may, from the outside, look like a tabula rasa, but may be an unmitigated disaster internally.
Besides, in senior roles, the culture may somewhat shape what we do and how we do it, but we must not underestimate that we, too, shape and influence the culture even if at a small scale.
Money, of course, always remains in the picture. So I asked her to frame the money on offer in terms of the fully loaded cost it may impose on her given her particular circumstances. An exchange I overheard on the train a few days ago was fresh on my mind too.
”Two young men, likely consultants going by their chat, are discussing how much fun it is “doing startups” and how they want to “do a startup” one day.
Shall I tell them?”
The idea of startups is exciting to most people who don’t already work in one. As it should be. It definitely is exciting but it is not all fun and games. People transitioning from a cosy BigCo set up would be well advised to think really hard about the true picture inside a startup. BigCo, for instance, can have resource constraints for sure, but only a startup can offer you the “fun” of the rollercoaster ride of being payroll-poor one month to landing a massive deal the next month. These extreme highs and lows can baffle most BigCo-steeped persons.
Finally, a mid-senior to senior professional is often at a stage of life where they are evaluating their choices and the positive (or negative!) impact they have created.
The civil service role offers her the chance to create lasting impact on a country which is trying to rewrite its destiny. It will be plenty of the fun of the startup kind I just described — minus the payroll poverty — but with the added baggage of history, bureaucracy, existing norms and agreements, and so on. The chance to make this kind of impact however does not arise often.
The startup role offers her the chance to create impact too. Not in ways she had thought of, though. With a clean slate, she could truly deliver not “industry leading” but society-leading impact on the world we are seeing emerge in front of our eyes. Her specialist product category is super wasteful in how it uses materials, how it treats safety hazards, and how whimsical and short the average product life cycle is. The world on the other hand is finally waking up to sustainability and ethical consumerism. The UK’s ethical consumer market goods and services is estimated at £81.3Bn, for instance. This is a timely and fascinating opportunity for her. She could change how she builds her category dramatically. By bringing innovative thinking on materials, energy, sourcing, supplier and consumer concerns and channels to all of it.
This is not a prescription or checklist but it is a nudge to frame the “comparing job offers” problem differently.
Think of the role. Think of the degrees of freedom. Think of the culture.
The money — and real wealth in experience and growth — will come if you know how to deliver real, positive and sustainable impact with all of these.