One of the things I have worked out, that is great for your career and your development, is to work at companies that don't have their shit together.
This probably makes no sense. Earlier in my career I decided I wanted to work for a large company to see how the human resource discipline worked for a much larger group of employees. The answer was it didn’t. Despite the very large global nature of the company, HR systems, policies and processes were basically non-existent. I wasn’t expecting this. I thought big companies would have it all sorted! Of course, they don’t, and all businesses have their own challenges depending where they are on their evolutionary path.
A start-up business with a small amount of employees with huge growth has very different problems to an established large business with a long history, trying to change to meet the changing needs of customers and the environment they are operating in.
The big company I joined was built on an entrepreneurial base, which meant everyone had lots of freedom to get things done. I learnt so much in this company but not what I thought I was going to learn. I learnt how to influence and provide tools and pragmatic advice that helped leaders make decisions, but not too much as to stifle their creativity and ability to get things done. I learnt how to deal with some very challenging personalities and to work with very little direction and support. I learnt that these skills were valuable when I was sent to India at very short notice to sort some stuff out. These things were more important than learning how ‘HR’ is done because anyone can learn the HR stuff. Learning how to tailor your work to a culture and how to work stuff out for yourself is invaluable and translates to other companies and jobs.
Another company I worked for was a collection of acquired businesses with very traditional (read, old) ways of doing things. I learnt how to effect change successfully, how to support a business to enter new countries, to ensure we had the right people there, and to influence at a much senior level as well as getting on with the basics of people management.
I worked with a person who once said to me that she would love to work at ‘insert really big brand here’. Why do you want to work there? I said. Her response was that they are really good at all things Human Resources. The company was known to have state of the art systems and processes around people, excellent people development and high engagement scores across the business. Though it was likely to be a great place to work and see really smart people stuff in action, I thought it sounded boring in terms of personal and career development. I have learnt that it’s much better to work places where you can make a difference rather than be somewhere where it’s all done and you just get to tinker around the edges.
That's why I think its great to work at places that don't have their shit together, even if you do if for a short time. You get the opportunity to work on things from scratch, to create something worthwhile and create sense or structure out of chaos. You can walk away and say "I did that" or I delivered or implemented that thing there. You can point at something that you did. How cool is that?
Super cool, I say.