Who are you with?

“Who are you with?” is a question I am invariably asked by receptionists when I arrive at large organisations. The intention is obviously to find out which equally large organisation I work for. I sometimes respond with a mischievous “No one. It’s just me. I managed to get here all on my own”.

There’s a world of difference behind my cheeky response and their formal assumption. I can get myself places without authority from others. I can make decisions without authority granted by others. I have agency. Many in large organisations do not, or if they do it is minimal. Try getting paid by one of these large organisations to see what I mean.

With a few notable exceptions the larger the organisation the harder it is to get paid. The bigger the system the more distributed the authority and the less agency the individual managers have. My favourite recent story is, having done the work, being told that my client’s payment terms were a cash flow challenging ninety days. Not only that but the relatively senior managers I had been working for had no discretion in the matter.

Who are you with? How much agency do you have? Are you happy with that?

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