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With Not For

Pretend I am recruiting you to join my company, and in the process I say this:

Come work for me!

How does that make you feel when you hear it?

Now, what if I said this:

Come work with me!

Does that sound any different to you?

To me, one word can make a world of difference. In the first request, the use of for sounds like what a boss would say. It makes me think I am going to work for someone who is going to tell me what to do; my job will be to do what that person wants. Worse, my work will be for the explicit benefit of that person, more so than for my benefit, or for the company’s benefit. I will work for you – you will benefit from me. No, thank you.

But, just switching out the word for with the word with changes the connotation entirely. Now when I hear the request, “Come work with me,” I think of a workplace full of collaboration. I will be joining a team, and that team will be just as much mine as it is for those already there.

So what?

I am in the process of starting a company, and I have spent the better part of the last 15 years thinking about what this would mean. I have thought about, read about, and observed what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to growing an organization. Through my own experience, I know that building and promoting a strong culture based on shared values is invaluable to long-term sustainable success. The culture is defined more by what you do than by what you say, but it starts with the small things – maybe the choice of one word.

In my recent reading on organization-building, the insight that sticks out most is that the best way to define the values for the company is to first consider what you think are the basic characteristics of the people in the company, or even people in general. If you think people are lazy and greedy, you will build a company with rigid structure, top-down control, and compensation perversely meant to incentivize. On the other hand, if you think people are trustworthy, motivated, and creative, you will build a company that amplifies those characteristics to its advantage.

My goal is to build a company of trustworthy and motivated creative types. Sounds pretty straightforward, and I bet few people would argue that it sounds bad. But what counts is when the rubber meets the road.

Want to work with me?