Two and a half years ago, I stepped out of university, eager to turn my dreams of becoming a writer into reality.
I was rather keen to work at this one particular company for two reasons. One: I loved the content they produced. Second: The interview I had with the then editor, chief financial officer (CFO) and chief executive officer (CEO) was unlike any other I had been to.
I felt at ease, they were easy to talk to and the questions they asked gave me an insight into the culture of the company – something I saw myself fitting into. I knew then that I wanted to work there.
Of course, I’m talking about my job at Leaderonomics.
So yes, I picked the company because of the business, followed by its culture.
As I reflected on this, I thought about the other decisions I had made in life and how I arrived at those decisions. I realised that some of my decisions were made without much conscious awareness of my thought process.
It led me to think about what drives or influences our decisions.
Core Human Drivers
According to Harvard Business School professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, there are four elements that influence our decisions:
1. Drive to acquire: the desire to collect material and immaterial things, like a car or influence.
2. Drive to bond: the desire to be loved and feel valued in our relationships with others.
3. Drive to learn: the desire to satisfy our curiosity.
4. Drive to defend: the desire to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our property.
Joseph Kauffman, author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, however believes that the above authors missed one other element:
5. Drive to feel: the desire for emotional experiences like pleasure or excitement.
I wanted to understand how this applied to others. So, I asked several people the following question:
“When selecting a company to work for, which would take precedence in your decision-making process? The leader, the culture or the business?”
The responses I got helped to illustrate the aforementioned drivers.
1. A Drive to Acquire, Learn and Bond
We as humans are curious beings. In fact, evolution has turned us into creatures that thirst for knowledge.
In the working world, this explains why working professionals are drawn towards intellectually stimulating work and are constantly looking to acquire new skills or hone existing ones (at least, for some of us).
Aside from that, we are social beings who need the company and support of others. Therefore, a good relationship between manager and employee, is one of the elements we look for in a company.
One of my respondents, 24-year-old Shanmugam Raj* had this to say: “As an entry-level employee, I am really keen to work closely with my CEO and managers. Such proximity allows me to pick up valuable knowledge on decision-making, soft influencing and how to look at multiple perspectives.”
“She/ He [manager] defines largely how your experience with the organisation is − your growth, exposure and potential that you can reach. Company culture does matter for sure, however the relationship, chemistry and maturity of the leader, their vision for the company and team members, matters a lot to me in making a career decision.” − Mithran Balakrishnan, 35, senior manager
2. A Drive to Defend
A lot of us desire to work in a place that is safe. In fact, a company that runs its business in a way that doesn’t bring harm (physically, emotionally and mentally) to anyone is something we value.
This drive is synonymous with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which states that safety is a primitive and basic human need – which is why it appears on the second tier of the pyramid right above physiological needs.
In the context of work, not providing a safe space or platform for employees to voice their opinions and concerns, is considered a violation of employee rights. The employee is therefore left unprotected if, for example, they have been harassed by someone in the company and aren’t allowed to voice it out.
Fifty-year-old manager Lim Thian Lai said: “For me, the company has to be genuine in providing the best product/services to the public and not only for the sake of generating profits.”
“Ethics is an important criterion for me to be able to have a vested and selfless interest. While a leader may change and the business may always be reinvented to meet changing needs, the ‘hard and healthy’ culture would be a catalyst for business sustainability and impact.” – Rama Balakrishnan*, 28, assistant manager
3. A Drive to Feel
According to Kauffman, our drive to feel is something that gives us pleasure, excitement, or is something that we look forward to.
At work, each of us gain our sense of fulfilment differently. It could be through a sense of purpose, alignment of personal values to that of the company’s or by doing impactful work.
“I want a job that will be beneficial to the rakyat. We (my company) serve the rakyat directly and indirectly through training initiatives that will eventually assist them in getting job placements or salary increments.” – Murali Muniandy, 36, manager
“I’m a vision and mission driven person. Mission is how the company will achieve its vision and this boils down to its values and practices as well. If there is no alignment between these aspects, there won’t be an impact and without impact, I cannot work.” – Giovanna Pasquetti, 34, senior executive
“For me the work itself is the most important because it provides the daily ‘purpose’ and ‘motivation.’” – Anonymous, 49, manager
In a Nutshell
It’s rather interesting to observe how different people are driven by different factors, isn’t it?
We are sometimes unaware of how our subconscious mind influences our decisions. It is rather unsettling, if you think about it.
So, which would take precedence when you are selecting a company to work for: the leader, culture or the business?
Think about how you arrived at the decision. What need(s) drove that decision? Is it a need to feel a sense of belonging at the new workplace? Is it a need to acquire new experiences and skills? Or is it a need to learn from a leader you look up to?
The next time you’re about to make a decision, stop and consider the drivers mentioned above. In fact, this will give you clarity on what truly matters to you and why.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.