Size Matters.

back 2 school : ruler
One thing I have learned since leaving the comfortable role I held in a huge American multinational and starting my own business is that large companies do not have a clue about how to run a responsive organisation.

They are slow (and very resistant) to change, unreactive and labouring. Their processes are usually large and complicated, and this results in a lack of ability to go with quick changes that are often required.

The governance process I worked with within the multi-national involved tortuous meetings with nineteen interested parties where prospective change agents would plead their case for why their particular affiliate/department/competency was different and required something to be changed. This would all then be discussed, moderated and voted upon. More often than not the stupid, nonsensical ideas would be passed, whereas the ones that would genuinely make a difference to the business were blocked. Sure, we would let the Spanish affiliate have its own, Spanish language, portal. And if we were doing that then we would also let Italy have an Italian language one, Portugal have their own and Germany and France have their own. But would we hold all these and sanction a European (or company wide) portal that was multi-lingual and customisable? No, not a chance.

Why? Size.

An affiliate that deals with its own portal can budget for its own portal. It can manage its own portal and it can pay for its own portal. If we put something in that is cross European (or global) then money has to be found from other budgets and responsibility for maintenance has to be found too. The fact that the money and resource all come, in effect, from the same big bucket is carefully swept under the table. It becomes a political game.

But in a small company, such as the one that I and millions of other small businessmen run around the world, something like this is a simple, no-brainer. Do we need a portal? Yes. Can we afford it? Yes. Do it! The governance is light and quick and the decision is made pretty much instantly.

The same can be said for process. Things work on a process in every company. In smaller companies the process is probably very light and fluid. Checks and balances might not be as necessary as they are in larger companies. But the ability to modify or redesign a process is a lot easier in smaller companies. We can react to the market conditions and change direction/strategy/ market a lot quicker.

So if small companies can do this so much quicker, why are they not ruling the world? Well, when they start to rule the world they get bigger and the ability to react as quickly disappears. Companies like Amazon and Google were once small start-ups. They had small staff numbers, small capital and big ideas. They were responsive to what the market wanted and they could pivot on a sixpence if needed. They could fail quickly and move on. This mentality is now no longer there to the same extent (although a lot of this is cultural. Google’s “Spend 20% of your time on your own projects” ethos has now fallen pretty much by the wayside, for example)

So what are larger companies to do? How can they become leaner and more reactive? The answer is easy (although the implementation is not). To become leaner and quicker you have to.. become leaner and quicker. Remove the levels of bureaucracy that slow down changes. Keep the organisational chart  shallow enough that you can get the decision makers into a room and make decisions quickly. Put the decision makers at the right place in the organisation. I’ve talked previously about process owners and the need for them to be at the board level. This is an immediate example of why.

Sure, size matters. 

But not in the way you think.

Photo Credit: S@Z via Compfight cc

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