Last post I introduced the big-small-big theory on how to get ahead in the corporate world. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you go back because this post won’t make any sense otherwise…
I talked about the concept of how working in a small business produces more productive employees which can then progress faster in their careers but if this were the only factor, couldn’t you just go from university into a small business, maybe even a crappy business working as a manager then move into a job as Head of Equities at Citigroup?
See, big businesses like order. They like structure and the LOVE process. And it’s not like its without merit. Start up workers cringe at the thought of filling out forms for stationary and needing to complete detailed expense reports at the end of each month. But when you have 100k+ employees, small numbers make a big difference.
So while big businesses tend to make inefficient employees, who take the long route when encountered with decisions and actions, it needs to be done or the company would implode.
This is why big companies don’t like people from small businesses. It is too much of a culture shock. While the big business doesn’t need to teach them how to do their job (ie how to program) they need to teach them all the processes such as documentation, communication logging, project scheduling etc…
If a programmer spots a bug in a live program, he can’t just solve it like he would in a small business.
He would have to analyze the program. Report it to the support team with a detailed document and submit a support ticket. The support team would then send it to the testing team to make sure the bug exists. Then it’s sent to a support development team that focuses on fixes and upgrades. They will organise a meeting with the developer who found the problem. A solution will be drafted, while consulting with the architect. The project will be approved by the Project Manager. It will be inserted into the project schedule by the coordinator and it will finally be executed.
That may seem inefficient, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary because if every programmer just started hacking at the system, and ONE single guy messed up, causing the system to go down for 10 minutes. It might cost the bank the equivalent of that guy’s entire life’s salary – probably more.
Understanding this process is essential for anyone working in a big business, and this is exactly what you’re taught in your first few years as a graduate in a big business. In fact, this is basically all you are taught as your first few years as a graduate. Besides how to scan shit… (If you’re a recent college grad and don’t like the sound of this, don’t worry. You can still get some value from this job by adding everyone to LinkedIn)
Small businesses on the other hand need more of this structure if they want to expand. This is why small businesses like bringing people in from the big guys. They bring order to the chaos. Then they get corrupted… But at least they understand how and why structure is necessary.
Once they pick up some actual knowledge and skills from the small business, they are now a super worker. Who actually knows stuff, has had to make real decisions, not just small tweaks to existing processes and hopefully has results making a real impact on the success of a business. Plus they understand the value of order and process.
At this point they can walk back into a big business in a higher position completing the big-small-big structure.
This method of getting ahead is not without its risks. That being said, no method of getting ahead it without its risks except maybe being born rich or looking like Megan Fox.
Risks include picking a crappy small company that either doesn’t do anything or dies. You should obviously analyse this before you take the job. The great thing about this strategy is that you can look for your small company while sitting in the big one. Don’t leave until you find the perfect position. Look for a small company that is rapidly growing and one that will have progression opportunities. One that has holes in its organisational structure or has huge growth potential (pre IPO anyone?). Look what is happening to Google right now! They are fighting an uphill battle to keep their top staff including recently throwing $3.5 mil at an engineer to not go to Facebook. If you pick your small company right, it can make all the difference.
Another downside of this is work hours and stress. Moving to a smaller company will likely increase both of these elements. If you are planning on having a kid, now is probably not the best time to leave your stable job for a risky start up. Be prepared to work hard in the small business or you will not get the rewards.
Where as in a big business, lots of the time it’s not really worth working hard. Because the reward for doing an exceptional job is usually the same as doing an OK job. If you know anything about the Dilbert Principal doing a crap job will probably get you promoted faster, drinking helps too, but in reality it’s all about personal preference, so networking is probably the best way to go.