Adam names the animals

International vs. National matters more for you than raw company size

E. Forrest Christian Careers Leave a Comment

Update 2016 February 12: I’m pretty sure that much of this story is wrong. The thinking about worklevels, etc. is still correct, though. I’ll have to tell you what really happened sometime. Or not.

Learn from my story about how if you work outside your Work Level or outside your Domain of Work, you are going to slide.

I moved from being a great success working with a massive international bank where our information security development efforts required balancing French, Swiss, American, British, European, Australian, Japanese and South African intelligence interests. You won’t believe that the requirements were for us on these projects. And we were enabling literally tens of billions of dollars in ecommerce. I was a consulting hero, in no small part because my client contacts made six-figure bonuses off their barely six-figure salaries because of my work.

Move forward a couple of years and I’m working on another project, same type of thing. The project was national, with no international component. Nor were the intelligence agencies paying us visits. The money being enabled was large, but under $500 million annually.

Problem was, I was considered a complete loser there.

What in the world happened?

There are a few things in play here, but more than 75% of my experience can be explained by two theories that we’ve touched on here: Elliott Jaques’s findings summarized as Stratified Systems Theory (SST) and Warren Kinston’s concepts of Work Domains, which builds off Jaques’s SST.

It’s important to you because the problems I encountered caused some serious career problems. You can avoid these problems if you know why they happen.

Both of these clients were large, with more than 100,000 employees. They were also large in terms of incomes and assets. They were in generally the same industry.

But the first was a international while the second was a national organization, with no multinational presence. This, it turns out, matters a great deal because it is associated with the level of the company. When you work at a higher level company, you will always be doing a different type of work, even if it seems like it is the same work.

Jack Fallow got me thinking about this. He argues that there are national companies who deal with commerce in a single country, including some exports; multi-national companies who have offices in several companies, each acting essentially as its own entity; and international companies where the purpose of the different offices are integrated into a whole. Many multi-nationals believe that they are international companies because they can’t conceptualize the difference.

Microsoft is a good example of a company which has gone from being a national company, to multi-national, to currently becoming international. It started being concerned with its own national market, with some exports. Later, it started opening offices in other nations that did real work. But these were really separate divisions, with little integration. Within the last decade or so, Microsoft has grown to be an international company where the sales and development strategies of the groups in various nations are spread out. Many groups are spread across nations, not just in simple outsourcing.

Apple, it seems, is a multinational. (Linux is not a company.)

This is one of the issues with outsourcing: your group has to take on aspects of international work, which is radically different than what most companies do.

So, what happened to me? There were several factors involved but one was this issue of level of the company. I had worked for an international company. Our security processes had to take into account regulations from several nations, each having different and sometimes internally contradictory requirements. The team at the boutique had worked for a large national bank. Their issues were simpler and they rarely thought about the issues of several nations, much less an international viewpoint. Their client was a national company and had totally different requirements than where I had done something I thought was similar.

Still have problems buying this? I have a friend who is a floundering professional in a large US city. He gets little respect from those in his profession there. Yet he has been shortlisted for work in a UN-sponsored body in Europe three times. Why do the internationals, doing the same “field”, want him when the local folks don’t? It’s because he speaks the language of the international work. The locals speak the language of the national and regional work.

This isn’t just simply stratum. There’s another layer coming into play. It’s what Warren Kinston called the Domains of Work. International companies have to include work that is in a different domain because it’s the nature of working internationally. You still have the normal organizational work being done, but there’s this other layer going on. Because I worked in Security Development, I had to do more than just work for the national group. We had to respond to the needs of the international management, which meant we had to think in a different way.

The issue probably comes down to complexity. National companies may have complexities of size. I have implemented software systems for companies of 200 and 150,000. The larger companies have less tolerance of error, simply because it replicates so chaotically. But adding nations increase complexity more according to power laws. If I develop an authorization or encryption system for a national company of 100,000 in any level, I will have to compensate for the massive size. Your options are more limited and you can’t just throw it together. No one can simply keep it all in their heads (even though everyone thinks that they can, myself included). But if I develop the same system for an international company, I have multiple dynamically interacting vectors, making complexity rise according to power laws. It’s a totally different game.

Maybe you are struggling because you are not working at the right level of company. The level of work has to be within the right place first.

Adam names the animals. Page from the Peterborough Bestiary illuminated manuscript.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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