How to Make Your Company Smaller

If size mattered, dinosaurs would still be around.

Truth is, the corporate veil of bigness and anonymity no longer works.

If you want to be approachable, be less.

This is a topic I’ve been addressing a lot lately.

First, with a post called 21 Reasons to Stay Small.
Second, with a post called 6 Ways to Stay Small and Win Big.

And this week, my client at American Express Open Forum ran the latest piece called How to Keep Your Company Small.

Here’s how your company can embrace that possibility:1. Plan is a four-letter word. Big companies love to plan because planning preserves their sense of control. It underwrites the illusion that they know what they’re doing. The problem is, planning is a big decision. And big decisions cause you to prematurely commit to a trajectory that (might) later prove to be unprofitable.

What’s more, over time, the more you plan, the harder it becomes to invite healthy derailments. That’s how you miss unlabeled opportunities to grow: When you’re too busy managing the stress of planning to experience the benefits of executing. Don’t close yourself off by making gods out of your plans. Have your long-term plans turned into anchors?

2. Cut down to the bone. Enough to make the bone nervous. Here’s how to trim as much fat from your process as possible: Remove redundant procedures. Axe inactive people. Delete stupid expenses that drain organizational resources. And instead of wasting time tinkering with broken processes, invent a new way to do it, jettison outdated procedures and get on with your life.

Ultimately, it’s about excising as much fat from your process as possible. That’s how you become lean, trim and nimble. Are you yielding gracefully to necessity or kneeling obediently to mediocrity?

3. Sweat the small stuff. That’s what big companies do: They sacrifice experience for expense. And as a result, the hallmark of their size is providing impersonal, emotionless non-service.

On the other hand, if you’re small enough to care, you can make a conscious decision to put the experience above all else. You can move beyond the mechanical and transactional and into the emotional and transformational.

That’s what customers are coming back for anyway: How interacting with you makes them feel. What small action might make a big difference?

4. Capitalize on the momentum. Big companies are quick to think – but small companies are quick to act. That’s the best part about keeping your size down: Speed.

No standing by for approval before tweeting.
No waiting for legal to clear a customer service complaint.
No lingering three days for human resources to sign off on your blog post.
No spending a year in meetings trying to calculate earning potential and assess how to mitigate risk.

You just go. You just try things. And you execute with all your might – not all your policies. How impatient are you willing to be?

5. Never overlook the profitability of accessibility. According to a recent survey by eMarketer, small businesses are not only keeping up with large companies, they’re actually beating them when it comes to acquiring customers via social media.

The report found that nearly half of small businesses around the world have acquired a customer via social media, as compared to twenty-eight percent of larger businesses with larger budgets.

As small business educator Josh Kauffman writes, “Large companies move slowly and good ideas often die on the vine because they had to be approved by too many people.” How many of your big ideas were jailed last month?

6. Learn to delete the average. Average inhibits your ability to flourish. Average chokes your ability to matter. Average numbs your ability to contribute. And priding yourself on average means programming yourself for irrelevancy. Try saying no to the mediocre work.

In so doing, you preserve your ability to choose how much to grow. What’s more, saying no to the good makes room to say yes to the best. If you want to stay small, you have to set standards for rejecting opportunities. You have to develop a policy for saying no. Otherwise you wind up getting so big that you have to give up the parts you value most.

Remember: You are what you reject. Differentiate yourself by saying no. Are you big and average or small and awesome?

7. Lose the posture of pretense. Ditch the pomp. Erase superficial distinctions. And speak with a casual voice. That’s how you make communication between employees and customers unexpectedly personal.

Otherwise, if you’re too busy defending past decisions, massaging executive egos and destroying evidence of your shortcomings, you’ll never carve out the time to be human. And that’s when your customers will stop listening to you.

Think of it this way: If clothing conveys class, hierarchy and status, your organization is too big. Are your messages sending people scurrying for dictionaries?

8. End the editing. Most big organizations are designed to restrict individual expression, mitigate dissent and preserve the status quo. There’s simply too much red tape to be honest.

My suggestion: You don’t need more procedures – you need more philosophy. Policies are restrictive devices that keep people from doing something; philosophies are enabling devices that empower people to do something.

In a beautifully small organization, your employees should be able to express themselves without resorting to code, take action with asking for permission, take a piss without submitting a requisition form and make adjustments without having to go through the chain of command. When does the feeling of formality keep you from communicating freely?

9. Make your mission more than a statement. The bigger the company, the less likely people are to feel essential. For example: Employee’s inboxes don’t need another boring, overextended piece of corporate communication that they delete immediately or (at best) peruse passively.

If your words don’t speak directly to what’s important to them, you’re nothing but spam. That’s another problem with big companies: Their sense of mission easily fades. And under the weight of irrelevant action, they perish spending time on the wrong priorities.

Your mission is to stay in touch with your own story. Are the messages that deliver that story notably professional or dubiously slick?

REMEMBER: Getting as big as possible, as fast as possible, isn’t the only goal that matters.

You don’t always have to take it to the moon. Resist the pressure to expand.

Seek greatness – not bigness.

It’s more manageable, more flexible more approachable and, most importantly, profitable.

Where do you need to be smaller?

For the list called, “8 Ways to Out Question the Competition,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

“I’ve been a supporter of the approach that mentoring should not be a paid activity as this has the potential to change the dynamics of the relationship and create a power imbalance. But I have to be honest and say that after Scott’s first mentoring response to me, the fact that I had paid something to be working with him left my mind – as far as I was concerned, the value of that (and subsequent) exchange of wisdom and knowledge, far outweighed any payment.”

–Gilly Johnson The Australian Mentoring Center

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