Jun 012017

Company of Origin

Most psychologists, and lots of executive coaches, end up talking to their clients about their “Family of Origin” as a means of more deeply understanding the origins of their clients’ motivations, fears, hopes, and dreams.  Presumably they do this in service of helping their clients gain self-awareness around those things to be more effective in their personal or professional lives.

A smattering of highly-ranked search results on the term yields snippets like these for its definition:

  • One’s family of origin—the family one grew up in, as opposed to the people one currently lives with—is the place that people typically learn to become who they are
  • From the family of origin a person learns how to communicate, process emotions, and get needs met
  • People also learn many of their values and beliefs from their families

…and these for its impact:

  • As a worker, your experiences in your family of origin are likely to impact on the way you work
  • Families always involve negative and positive dynamics, which may lead to members gaining strengths and abilities or experiencing difficulties
  • Differentiation from family is a significant concept. Well-differentiated people function better
  • Greater awareness of the impact of your family of origin on you will benefit your work

I’m no shrink, nor am I an executive coach, but this makes sense to me, and I’ve seen it in action many times in both my personal and professional life.

The concept I want to introduce today is a related and in some ways parallel one, and one that I think may be equally if not more important to how someone behaves professionally.  That concept is the Company of Origin.  I’ll define one’s Company of Origin is the first place or places one has meaningful work experience.  For most working professionals, that is probably the first full-time job we held for at least a couple of years after college or graduate school.  For others, it may be a couple of long-held part-time jobs during school.  There are probably other cases, but hopefully you get the point.  A couple of my trusted colleagues in the HR/OD profession suggested that this could also be labeled Profession of Origin or Manager of Origin or “When I came into my own as a professional.”  I think the same concepts apply.

Going back to the definition above of Family of Origin and modifying it (only slightly) to define Company of Origin would look something like this:

  • One’s Company of Origin – the first place or places one has a meaningful work experience, as opposed to the place one currently works – is the place that people typically learn to become who they are professionally
  • From one’s Company of Origin, a person learns how to communicate at work, how to experience success and failure, what accountability means, what reward and recognition mean, what good and bad management and leadership look like, etc. etc.
  • People also learn many of their professionals values and beliefs from their Companies of Origin

I know this rings true for me in my own life.  My first job as a management consultant still has a profound influence over my work today.  My first few jobs before I started Return Path all had a profound influence over how I decided to set a culture and make decisions (and still do, though a bit less with each passing year).  Some of those influences were positive – “let’s do more of that!” – and some were negative – “if I ever become the boss, I’ll never…” – but you’d expect that from a Company of Origin, just as you would a Family of Origin.

It also rings true for countless other people I’ve worked with over the years.  Think about people you’ve worked with.  Have you ever said or thought anything like this before?

  • Bob used to work at GE.  That’s why he has such strong leadership skills
  • Why is Jane so concerned with expenses?  Her first job was at a family-run business where every dollar spent was a dollar out of the CEO’s pocket
  • Wow is Harry political at work.  I guess it’s because he used to work at XYZ Corp where people stab each other in the back to get promoted
  • Oh, Sally is ex-military.  That’s why she’s so hierarchical
  • Doesn’t Doug understand that part of being an employee here is doing XYZ?  That’s not how he was conditioned to think at work when he worked at PDQ Corp.  He’s just hard wired that way
  • Frank just loves standing up in front of a room and drawing things on a whiteboard.  I guess that’s because he started his career as a teacher

Of course, unlike a Family of Origin, you don’t have to live in some way with your Company of Origin forever, and unlike family configurations, where the average person will have a few in a lifetime, the average person will have many places of work.  All of those workplaces will shape one’s behaviors in the workplace.  But there’s something about the Company of Origin that sticks with professionals more than other workplaces.

Again, going back to those “impact” comments about Family of Origin and modifying them only slightly for Company of Origin, you get this:

  • As a worker, your experiences in your Company of Origin are likely to impact on the way you work
  • Companies always involve negative and positive dynamics, which may lead to employees gaining different strengths and abilities or experiencing difficulties or experiencing the workplace differently
  • Differentiation from Company of Origin is a significant concept. Well-differentiated people function better as they move from job to job
  • Greater awareness of the impact of your Company of Origin on you will benefit your work

As I wrote several years ago, People Should Come with an Instruction Manual.  Understanding your potential employees’ and actual employees’ Companies of Origin would go a LONG way towards fleshing out their strengths, weaknesses, likely behaviors, likely fits with your culture and organization, and on and on.  Whether during the interview process for candidates or the development planning/360 process for employees, I hope this concept is something useful to consider.

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