Immigration and Strategy
post # 278 — January 9, 2007 — a Strategy post
Iâ€™m very interested in the evolution of professional businesses over time, and how they either evolve or transmute. Sometimes, it can be very confusing to identify what the core identity of the firm is. I have previously written about â€œone-firm firmsâ€ that tend to grow all their own people (ie promote from within) and achieve an ideological consistency. For better or for worse, you know what the firm is, what it stands for, and why it is different from others.
But many firms, in many professions, bring in lateral partners who â€œgrew upâ€ in other firms, and they can often predominate. I sometimes find myself facilitating strategic planning sessions about what shall â€œweâ€ do when the sense of â€œweâ€ is very unclear. Itâ€™s hard to build on a firmâ€™s heritage and reputation, for example, if most of the people are â€œimmigrants.â€
If a firm has been built (as many are) through mergers, acquisition of foreign outposts, diversification through absorption of neighboring states. It can end up having little trace evidence of what it was or where it was when it started. After numerous transitions of personnel, services, locations, leadership and ownership, (often in a short period of time) it can be hard to figure out whether there is ANY meaningful way in which the firm can be referred to as the same entity as it was thirty years previously. If that’s so, what does it mean to say there is a firm?
On the other hand, you could look at it like a cooking recipe. A unique blend of immigrants CAN (eventually) define the firm. If you trace the history of the British Isles, you find that you get English people by mixing in a specific recipe of Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Vikings, and Normans. (With a few other spices thrown in over the years.)
In the US, you forge Americans through what? A huge mixture of backgrounds, held together by what? (Some trivia for you: who was the first US president who grew up speaking, as his first language, a language other than English? Answer, Martin Van Buren who grew up speaking Dutch.)
You could argue that the evolution (and success) of the US is based on (a) the fixed points of the constitution melding with (b) waves upon waves of constant immigration, which kept the country entrepreneurial and vibrant.
Could the same be true for a business? Is it or can it be a good thing to bring in significant numbers of people trained and developed elsewhere, and if it is, how do you â€œmeldâ€ them into one organization rather than have them pull in the different directions that reflect their different heritages?