July 24, 2014

Think small, even when you’re big

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Nearly all of my career has been spent in large organizations.  Whether publicly traded or wholly-owned subsidiaries, most of these companies have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of employees in nearly every corner of the globe.

Recently, however, thanks to nothing more than a lot of dumb luck and maybe a smidgen of effort, I’ve gained a little bit of exposure to some tiny companies – from 3-person startups to proven ventures with a dozen or so employees looking to make the leap into the growth stage.

The biggest difference, I’ve realized, is the amount of information that gets shared.  When you are part of something small, especially if you have an equity stake, the information is much, much more open and flowing freely.  Even if things aren’t directly in your area of responsibility, you’re still aware of what people are doing, why they’re doing it, the tradeoffs that were evaluated in order to decide upon that course of action, and the overall performance and health of the company.

In a large organization, information is often tightly controlled, provided on a need-to-know basis, and when it is shared, it is usually edited for content and to run in the time allowed.  Why must this be so?

Whether a large organization or a small one, the people who rely upon the business deserve to know what’s going on.  Those same people, however, also have an obligation to stay abreast of the decisions being made and to understand why they were made.  Many a company has to deal with rumors and speculation born of cafeteria conversation among the rank and file, which are every bit as bad as executives who keep information to themselves in a paternalistic attempt to tell people “only what the need to hear.”

All people have a stake in the performance of the organization.  Even without equity and stock options, people still look to their company for stable income, which enables them to lead their lives.  When information is withheld or doctored to depict a situation for the sake of not causing a panic, or raising undue concern, it portrays an attitude that states the rank  and file simply aren’t able to understand the complexities and must be prevented from learning the truth – as a parent withholds details of an R-rated move from a child.

The better path, both for esprits-de-corps, as well as for simple efficiency, is to share information with all stakeholders.  Make people feel like they have a genuine impact on the success of the organization, and you’ll find a much more engaged workforce than anything you’ve seen before.

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