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Passion, People and Principles

Immigration and Strategy

post # 278 — January 9, 2007 — a Strategy post

I’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 “one-firm firms” 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 “grew up” in other firms, and they can often predominate. I sometimes find myself facilitating strategic planning sessions about what shall “we” do when the sense of “we” is very unclear. It’s hard to build on a firm’s heritage and reputation, for example, if most of the people are “immigrants.”

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 “meld” them into one organization rather than have them pull in the different directions that reflect their different heritages?


Gautam said:

Hi David I think if overall the firm sticks to certain values and ensures that the values are always upheld at various points of time then it is the equivalent of the consitution.

The values act as a lodestone for any behavioral, strategic or tactical decision.

posted on January 10, 2007

Paul Gladen said:

Hi David,

Isn’t this about hiring “immigrants” for passion and shared values rather than pure skills? It also perhaps relates to your discussion a little while back about the “Size and Growth Impulse”.

If you just want to get big you can no doubt hire skilled professionals to sell and deliver more work – but may end up with a rather soul-less or mercenary environment.

If however, your growth objective is about a purpose and values beyond revenue/headcount you should selectively hire the folks that share your passion for that purpose. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been trained elsewhere, or within reason if they lack some skills, provided they have the potential to develop and contribute their passion to the cause.

posted on January 10, 2007

David (Maister) said:

PGreat point, Paul. It’s all about WHICH immigrants and why they want to come (and why we want them. )

posted on January 10, 2007