Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What are some signs of a good business?


"I don't have any problems that can't be solved by running another reaction" - Chemjobber

I used to say that when I was a graduate student and as a postdoc; for the most part, it was true. Research productivity and gettin' things done was key. As a working industrial chemist, I still think that's true, but I really think that who you work with and the culture of the company matters, too.

If you're being observed and interviewed for a position, you might as well observe and interview them and the organization, too. What are good signs to look for? John at "It's the Rheo Thing" has a wonderful starter list:
  • Intelligent people. This can be broken into two subsets: 
    • They have areas of expertise and know what they are
    • They also know what areas are not their expertise, they recognize this and publicly acknowledge this
  • Management that may or may not be present, but certainly show restraint in their involvement
  • Clear definition of both what the problem is, and what a successful resolution would be (scope creep in a project a great warning sign)
  • Open communication:
    • Bad news can be spoken about
    • Politics are very limited below the management levels
As I said, if you're a younger chemist like me, keeping your nose to the grindstone is probably your best bet. But culture matters, and you might as well look for a culture that you'd like (and will take care of you and your career) as opposed to one that you wouldn't (and that won't.)

16 comments:

  1. That's a funny comment about politics are very limited. I have never been in a place where the politics are limited. You know, checking egos at the door is a necessity. People might read "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni to help understand what brings a team together. People skills are quite important.

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  2. An interesting post, but it does assume that candidates (and employees for that matter) have a meaningful choice of employer in the current environment. I know that I didn't - after my postdoc it was one company or the unemployment line.

    Having finally left that position, I am fairly sure that in a more dynamic chemistry job market, that that company would have very few of its original hires left - as a scientist it really was an awful, awful place to work. Endless micromanagement, lack of meaningful delegation, piss-poor communication, empire protecting, bored CYA-jobsworth middle management, a hopelessly optimistic and utterly myopic reliance on a unproven, high-risk technology, a general disinterest in learning and self-improvement and to top it all, an ineffective Board.

    So I agree, tough it out. But strive to improve.

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  3. A6:18a:

    Can you give us a quick rundown of Lencioni's thesis? It'd be much appreciated.

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  4. Chemjobber, it isn't a thesis. It is a great book on leadership from a fellow Californian. There are 5 Dysfunctions Of A Team and it is written from the perspective of a new CEO at a fictitious high-tech company.

    Number one dysfunction is a lack of trust. Everyone is afraid to admit to mistakes or weaknesses. They don't ask for help and fail to tap into the experiences of their fellow colleagues. We don't learn from each other and people are afraid of being persecuted for what they don't know. Does this ring familiar for anyone ?
    Lack of trust leads to

    2) Fear of Conflict. We have all been in meetings where people talk about things over and over again. Why ? Because nobody speaks up and questions why this approach is being taken. People buy in because they don't want to be seen as a trouble maker or don't want to look silly.
    Because we don't speak up or no one is interested in our view we go to the next dysfunction.

    3) Lack of Commitment - we say we will follow what the boss says, but are we committed to the task. Ahhhhh, maybe, maybe not. I know personally that if I don't have a say in what I am doing, I sort of do it. I am a lot more engaged if I have a say in what tasks I do.

    There you go, I have 3 dysfunctions out there. The book is a definite read for those who have had to work with management. Apparently, Lencioni has his own website. These are best-selling books from what I understand. I reviewed this last one of late in a Toastmaster's meeting. There were so many ah-ha moments, I can't recall but it's very usefull.

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  5. I should also say that Trust as defined by Lencioni is an atmosphere where all members of the group trust the intentions of the group's comments are good and there is no need to be protective or careful of oneself within the confines of the group. Have you ever been in a group where there is Trust ?

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  6. A6:18a: Thanks for the summary. BTW, I meant 'thesis' in terms of his argument; sorry for the confusion.

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  7. "I don't have any problems that can't be solved by running another reaction" - Chemjobber

    CJ, will I appreciate your optimism, I am not sure the statement is applicable to most chemists. (It is important to note that at one time I was more optimistic than you). A lot of times the best action is to put your flasks away and pick up a phone to order a compound. Depressing as this is, it is a lesson I am still struggling to swallow. For most synthetic chemists, especially younger ones, a step back is needed to examine the bigger picture. Where is your time best spent? What value do you bring to the bottom line? What skills does your organization value? What are you proving by trying to show 'the man' how the world can be saved with chemistry? Open your eyes to the big world out there. You may be surprised at what you find.

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  8. A4:35p:

    Obviously, it's pretty important to pick the correct reaction to run next.

    As for looking at the big picture, I agree, it's important to do so. But let's be honest, for a relatively young chemist, beavering/productivity is pretty important.

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  9. CJ, I am a little younger chemist than you and love synthesis. Yet, at my organization, understanding compounds' behavior very much supersedes spending time to deliver compounds. Obtaining compounds through purchase order (even if it actually takes more time and money than utilizing your internal skills) is thought to be a more valued skill than synthesizing them.

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  10. A4:35p:

    I think the broader point that I was trying to make is this: it's important to keep your head down at work hard (and do your darndest to do well at your job), but it is also important to think about the culture of the place that you might work.

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  11. CJ, The broader point I'm trying to make is this. A chemist's perception of the culture or even the function of an organization is shaped by their personal frame of reference. You can do your darndest to do well at your job, and not be doing well at all, if your perception is too narrow.

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  12. A4:35: Doubtless you're correct; I may be less perceptive than most.

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  13. CJ: Not necessarily. I am sure there are many for which your original thesis is completely applicable, and could possibly fit for entire careers. Unfortunately, I believe these numbers are becoming fewer and fewer with time. I found my personal perception changing with exposure to diverse working environments.

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  14. In reality, we're put through grad school told we can change the world if we only work harder, and then we land in our jobs and realize we're a slightly more expensive "pair of hands"

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  15. @6:15am
    So true. And many, myself included, have trouble not falling into the trap of trying to find uses for those expensive hands at all financial and career costs. There are skills which organic chemists can apply outside of making compounds. However, venturing outside of our 'magic hands' comfort zones can be initially extremely terrifying.

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