As an employee of a large utility company, I enjoyed all the benefits of working for a big organisation. However, when redundancy stared me in the face), I found myself accepting a job offer for a small, almost ‘family-run’ business that I had never heard of. Was I crazy? Or simply ‘bold’? At the time, these were the kind of ‘tug of war’ questions that ran through my head as I agonised over my decision, but not anymore.
Don’t get me wrong; making the move to a totally different type of business hasn’t all been a walk in the park. There have certainly been challenges along the way. Equally, though, I have enjoyed many benefits too.
Self-Reliance -–The biggest challenge for me when I made my move was getting used to being more self-reliant. I had to learn this very quickly in my first week, when there was suddenly no big building to go to, no clocking in, no strict hierarchy, no sales or billing departments, no management floor – and no stretched-out, six-week induction programme to help settle you in. You really do have to think on your feet in a small company – and fast.
Social interaction – Even in a big company surrounded by people all the time it is easy to feel lonely at times. However, this feeling can increase exponentially when you move to a smaller company when you are quite literally working alone at times. Although my colleagues have always been friendly and available at the end of a phone or webchat, I could not always turn to them in the same way I would lean on other people in a larger corporate company during moments of tension or stress.
Higher expectations – ‘Hidden figures’ is the phrase that comes to mind whenever I think of my time in the corporate world. I successfully delivered many business improvements, but no one knew it was me who had done all the legwork apart from closely involved colleagues. Having more than a few introvert characteristics, I slotted into the ‘unsung hero’ role extremely comfortably. The challenge I faced, therefore, when moving to a smaller company, was that everything I did was seen. In a smaller enterprise, you can often be the only one ‘on stage’ and when you turn up at other companies without an entourage, the expectations on you to perform as a solo act can be incredibly high.
Too close to the work – Working with a smaller company pulls you in close at an accelerated rate. This can be both a blessing and a curse. You feel a real sense of ownership in a smaller environment, which is amazing but conversely, the stress that can come with tough times and the guilt of clocking off at the end of a long day can be palpable indeed.
Pace – Everything, and I mean everything, is faster – you must deliver things in less time, grow quickly and face the threat of failing even more rapidly. Plans change daily. I had to learn how to react quickly and make and update decisions on the fly.
Office politics – One of the biggest advantages of working in a smaller company is no longer having to deal with all the ‘office politics’ that can so often go with larger organisations. I have never understood why people working in large groups can tend towards working against each other and focusing on point-scoring and politics, instead of prioritising their actual work assignments and targets. It all seems counterproductive to me.
More visibility – I love that I get to wear several hats in a smaller business, because this allows me to gain knowledge and valuable insight beyond my assigned role. I am also afforded a 360-degree view of company-wide operations, which gives me a deeper understanding of the company and where I fit into its overall vision.
Interaction – Now, I previously said that a challenge of moving to a smaller company is around fewer opportunities for social interaction at work. However, the silver lining that I quickly discovered was that the smaller team of people that I joined interacted more with me as we worked closely together, and I was able to form deeper bonds with my colleagues. The mutual trust that we built up also meant that we were much more likely to work beyond our own job remits to help each other out.
Part of the ‘family’ – The blessing of being ‘too close’ to the work in a small company, is that you also form a deeper connection with the company itself. You feel a more emotional connection with the successes and failures that you encounter, and so are much more inclined to act in the best interest of the entire company, as opposed to just focusing on your personal gain, or your small corner of the wider organisation. A small company cannot afford to do things in a sub-optimal way and waste time, so people pull together more to make the most of limited resources to get the job done.
Doing things right in a small company is absolutely imperative. The impact of your daily decisions and daily work is huge. Success is highly visible, which is amazing, but conversely, failure can quickly become a 500-pound gorilla ready to wreck the entire business. Being responsible for 20% or 0.2% of a business is a big difference. You need to have confidence in your own abilities.
There is also a good chance you will work closely with company leaders in a smaller set-up, which can help you become a better employee as you can see up close how they operate and how the business works on a level that others at the same level as you in a larger company cannot.
Of course, these challenges and benefits are all dependent on where you find yourself working and how you handle the changes you are presented with along the way.
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