On Working at a Small Organization

OnStartups and VentureFizz have two interesting posts on working at big companies vs. startups. I think everyone would benefit from working at both big and small organizations because there a lot of lessons to gain and trade-offs to make that ultimately provide you with greater perspective in your career. I found that the lessons on working for a startup are especially true and useful not just for startups, but any small organization. In particular, #4 and #5 standout.

4.  That you love/hate process.

Regardless of whether you love or hate the processes at your big company you need to rethink your position. If you love the process at a big company then you’re going to hate the freeform day-to-day workings of a startup. If you hate the process with a passion, and you’re hoping life at a startup will be a do-whatever-you-want free-for-all then you;ve got another thing coming. Startups often shun process to innovate, but as they grow process is necessary in order to scale.

It’s your job to delineate between the processes that can reduce time-to-market and the processes that stifle innovation and kill employees’ sense of autonomy.

When you work at a growing organization, you need to be conscious of when to implement processes and procedures, and what type of work requires it. More importantly though, you need to be thinking of process in a sustainable way, so that as your organization continues to scale, you are not reinventing processes continually. (Of course you should always evaluate and adjust processes to make them more effective, but not to the point that it becomes a time management hindrance when you should really be focusing time and energy on execution.) As new staff joins the organization, processes should be easy to explain and executable, even if the originator of the process no longer works there.

5.  The phrase, “That’s not my job.”

When a problem comes up at a big company, it’s often easy to say “Well, that’s not my job, it’s someone else’s job to handle that.” In fact, all of the extraneous process at big companies is designed specifically to make sure that problems are caught and directed to the responsible parties. Whether or not it actually accomplishes that end is a debate for another day, but at a startup, that process infrastructure likely won’t exist. You are the process. When you find a problem, your job description instantly changes from developer or CEO to “cleaner”. Like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” it’s your job to get rid of those technical dead-bodies before your customers find them.

At small organizations, everyone needs to be a “window cleaner” every once in a while—it’s part of what you sign up for. Those who excel at small organizations embrace this fact and enjoy the opportunity to take on responsibilities beyond their formal position description. With this increased responsibility also comes the opportunity for many at small organizations to sit at the decision-making table. 

On Working at a Small Organization

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