Small, sometimes entrepreneurial companies (small and entrepreneurial are not the same) enjoy ways of working that are fit for their size. People often wear multiple hats, decision making could be fast, people’s commitment and engagement could be high (not necessarily, but very often the case) and many other characteristics that may shape a market (and organisational) advantage.
As they grow, the biggest challenge is to maintain agility whilst increasing complexity. Without critical thinking, the small company, growing towards a bigger one, soon will start to replicate ‘big company process and systems’ because they are the mirror and the (false) aspiration. In my consulting work, I see every day the growing frustration of people loosing the benefits of the agility.
The worse case is in the middle: growing to a stage not big enough to benefit form economies of scale and a ‘big company’ operating system, and not small enough to remain agile and (potentially) entrepreneurial. The middle is bad territory, Bermuda Triangle space, a recipe for the worse of all worlds.
The transitional stages (journey) need to be crafted with care. Extrapolations from the past should be avoided. A company ‘in transition’ is in a very delicate stage, possibly very rich. The leadership for the transition may be different from the one for other stages. Travellers and Cartographers may be more important than Managers and Marketers.
The journey cannot be blind. Early warning signs of ’big company syndrome’ need to be taken seriously. People should be vigilant. Trouble is, growth is contagious and exciting. Critical thinking may be in short supply. Suddenly you may have ‘ a small version of a big company’. And this is a bad situation.
A growth stage has choices: aspire to a carbon copy of the big company, or reinvent, redefine, protect the agility and entrepreneurial spirit and be different. Once the cloning of ‘big company’ as started, there is no way back.
Leading growth is an extraordinary skill. Critical thinkers must be welcome at any cost.
Fascinating post. I have been working on a paper dealing with the same topic, reflecting on my own experience, with a flavor of animal biology to convey the insights.
Will be sharing soon, when I have metabolized this additional piece on signalling pathways…