Can You Act Small When You're Big (Part 1)?
Is it possible to act like a small company within the context of a big company? Is it possible to operate with the agility of a start up when your team is ensconced within an organization that numbers in the tens of thousands?
I have my doubts.
As an organization grows, it naturally takes on more structure, more process, more controls. A good amount of this is necessary to maintain financial diligence - you can't have groups rethinking the go-to-market strategy for a particular product across regions without reasonable control and coordination across the company or division. You also can't have individuals making purchases without some level of central control, visibility or management. Nor can you (always) have a team developing its own promotional material that doesn't align with corporate standards, structure, look and feel.
But there's a fine line where the necessary bureaucracy becomes unnecessary, when it becomes constricting, when it impacts the ability to be agile.
This is manageable and not acutely transparent (at least at an overall level) in many situations, as a number of such organizations are driven by a sense of inertia. Without an external motivating influence, there is no need to change the speed or direction of activity, as there is no visible, near term impact on performance.
But when the shit hits the fan? It starts to matter.
Because when things go awry - when competitive inroads are impacting profits, when your biggest product is being disrupted or even when your target client sector changes and exposes new opportunities - then the need to react quickly becomes critical.
But the constraints of bureaucracy remain. Strategy changes require multiple levels of diligence and review. New product ideas don't rise up to leadership as quickly as they should because of reporting lines and layers. The investments needed to fortify infrastructure and technology to meet client demands are restrained not by budgets but by budget approval processes and review points.
Which is why I have my doubts.
Because at the core of it all, is a philosophical, cultural construct centered on control to the extreme i.e. that the product must be nailed down before it hits the market, or in the case of internal processes, that our actions must be fully vetted and broadly agreed to, within the organization before any initiative, investment or expense can move forward.
Because risk cannot be tolerated. Because Risk mitigation is everything.
Because agility comes at the price of complete (perceived) risk assurance.
Except we just don't have that luxury.
The market is changing too fast. Customers have short attention spans and are finicky. And our best people are getting frustrated that they can't be dynamic, responsive and therefore motivated.
So what do we do? How do we change?
More on that, in my next post, on Monday.