The Career canvas (6 - Organisational Size)
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
There are a lot of different sized organisations out there, so here's a chance for you to define which size you think would suit you best. Of course, a organisation can consist of anything from just a single individual up to several million employees.
To make it simple, let's just talk about three basic categories for now: small, large, or medium-sized organisations. Of course, there is no static definition, no way to actually draw the line between for example what constitutes a "medium-sized" or a "large" company. A company with 1.000 employees might be considered a large company in one context and a small company in another. All the same, having some kind of categorisation can be useful.
Small companies to me are characterised by their flexibility. They are able to adapt to rapid changes because they are small and therefore light on their feet. Small companies are typically driven by profit. But apart from this, they can actually differ substantially in how they funciton, and what their reason for existence is.
A lot of small companies are actually what can be called "Lifestyle Companies". These are often profitable private businesses, but they don't typically reinvest all of their earnings into growing their company to continuously become larger and do more business. Rather, they will only grow as large as their owners feel comfortable with. This is because these companies first and foremost exist to provide their owners with a good life.
Sometimes Lifestyle Companies are run by a single individual, who is very good at what they do, and whose profession is very much in demand; such as a Web Designer, a Physical Therapist, or a Legal Advisor. As long as these people wish to practice their craft on their own, they might actually turn down clients whenever they feel they have too much work on their hands.
Other Lifestyle Companies are run by owners who prefers to grow their companies to a certain point, but no further. As long as they can build a company that pretty much runs on its own -being run by skilled employees or subconsultants- and provides them with an income that can support their preferred lifestyle or their early retirement, they will simply aim for growing it to a size where it is stable, rather than risk what they have built by trying to overreach by attempting to grow too fast.
Usually when we think about companies in capitalist economies though, we're thinking about the kinds of companies that are simply trying to scale; to go from being small to grow to become as large as possible, and to take as big of a market share as they can.
In order to make it big, these companies often possess what is called a Unique Selling Point (USP), which means that they have a an idea, a product, a technical invention, a patent or similar, that they feel gives them an edge over their competition. They also believe that they now have a perfect window of time to try to bring this unique thing to market and carve out a big market share for themselves.
-Organically Grown Scaleable Companies
Among these companies, some try to grow Organically. This means that they try to grow in a rather steady way, by re-investing most of the earnings they make into growing the organization. In this way they can create a virtuous cycle, where they make more money, which means they can hire more people, which means they can make more money, and hire more people... and so on and so forth.
-Inorganically Grown Scaleable Companies
Other small companies try to grow Inorganically or Artificially. In this context this means that they will try to raise money from investors, and use that money to grow, well, unnaturally fast.
Of course, this implies that both parties need to taking a leap of faith, are comfortable with a high-risk-high-reward kind of setup. Of course, that's exactly what Angel Investors and Venture Capital firms are all about - they might invest in 10 risky projects, but if only one of those projects become a new Instagram, they will still make a lot of money overall. And startup founders who start a small company and fail, can most often merely file for bankruptcy, and just close down their company without loosing too much personally. Often, they can be back up and running with a new company, and a new product or business idea, only months later.
Small organisations, summary:
If you think that joining a small company is for you, I recommend you to take some time to consider why this choice would suit you. For example, working in a small company might mean that you get to try your hand at a lot of different tasks, simply because there are so few people around in a small company and everyone needs to be flexible in their thinking to solve problems as they occur. Perhaps that's just up your alley and that could be why you want to work in the world of small companies rather than in the world of large companies.
And, of course, if you think small companies are for you, take some time to consider what kind of small company actually would suit you. Would it be working in a Lifestyle company, that doesn't change all too much over time, or would it be working in a company that wishes to grow and take over the world? And it's a company that wants to grow, do you want to join an early Startup, which stands a high risk of failing, but which could also see you become the 10th employee of the next Spotify, with an ownership stake to boot? Or would you rather make it your strategy to try to join a hot Scaleup company, which has already proven their business model and is now planning to rapidly expand?
Large companies, on the other hand, are to me characterised by being very effective machines. The reason they are competitive is because they are able to work at scale, with low costs.
-Traditional Large Organisations
A lot of companies that are really large today started out small several decades or even over a century ago. That basically means that they've grown their market share incrementally year over year. They have been able to deliver more and more products every year, by taking on more staff, and by continuously honing and perfecting their processes. They have been able to construct a hierarchy where every person has a specific function, just like cogs in a complicated machine. And so they have built up a lot of rules, guidelines and manuals that its people are required to follow, so that the huge machine works in a perfectly synchronised way at optimal capacity.
Chances are that the company has identified a good business model, and now they are milking it for all that it is worth. But if the market should change rapidly, they might have a hard time ahead of them, since they have invested so much in their machine. Since their ship is so large, so to speak, it takes a lot of time to turn it around, should that be neccessary. So often, they lose out when it comes to flexibility. For example, the cell phone company Nokia was blown out of the water when Apple released the first iPhone, and Kodak, the gigantic leader in the Photographic film Camera industry, went bankrupt when they failed to anticipate how quickly everyone would move to Digital photography.
-Modern Large Organisations
Some of the largest organisations in the world today didn't exist many decades or a full century ago. For example, Google was founded in 1998, Facebook in 2004, and YouTube in 2005. These are fully digital organisations, and so they have managed to grow large in a less traditional way. For example, companies such as these often focus on digital products or services, rather than physical products. And not being dependent on having physical products can be a huge advantage. If the latest version of their product has a bug, companies such as Facebook or Youtube can simply patch it up by pushing an update, and the problem is solved in minutes. In contrast, if a company such as Audi realises after launch that their new car falls over if it breaks too hard, it will be very time-consuming and costly for them to recall the faulty car model and reimbursing their customers. And even when everything works like a charm with their products, they still might run into problems when transporting the cars to the sales point, or if the car doesn't sell as predicted they might have to find and pay for extra storage space to store their unsold products.
Even companies such as Amazon, that does deal in physical products, base their business idea around the digital dimension. Their business model is based around making it easy for people to find, pay for and receive products with just a few clicks. And then to use automation and AI to make the physical delivery as economic as possible.
Large Organisations, summary:
If you think that working in a large organisation is for you, it might be because you feel that you want to work in a company where the work and the processes are highly organised, and plans are set for the foreseeable future. In a work culture where you will be a very specific cog in a large machinery, with very defined tasks and responsibilities. And perhaps where the path to advancement is already mapped out and all but ensured.
Medium Sized Companies
Again, it's difficult to classify exactly what a Medium Sized company is, but it's still worth mentioning if that makes it easier for you to communicate your preferences. If, for example, you have a hard time deciding between working in the world of small companies or in the world of large companies, you could communicate that you'd like to join one that combines a bit of both worlds. Perhaps to you that means a company that has been around long enough, or has grown large enough to be a bit tried and tested, but they haven't yet become entrenched enough in they ways to the point that it makes them lose their organisational flexibility. For example, a scale-up company, or an organisation that has only been around for a few years but is growing rapidly.
Finally, the world of companies is not always as clear-cut as I have described above. A lot of times, large companies buy smaller companies, or collaborate with smaller companies, or start smaller off-shoot daughter-companies in remote locations, or under different brands. Maybe your strategy will be to look to work in a Creative Agency, that is owned by a large Management Consultancy firm. Or in a small semi-independent film studio, that is owned by a large movie production company. You could even be an intrapreneur and start a small company inside of a larger existing one, protected by the larger organisation and drawing on its capital and connections, but without having to go through as much red tape as people working in the main branch of the business.
Take 5 minutes and write down what you think your preferences are!
"I want to work in a small organisation with growth potential, and because I aim to be part of a team that goes from a small startup to a large success. I'm very exited about being part of such a journey, to the point where I wouldn't mind sharing in the risk and working for a low pay complemented a stake in the company. Also, I like the idea of joining a team where everything is new and exciting as opposed to set in stone. That way, I can be part of creating the company culture and part of influencing the organisations future. I'm very self-going and prefer to ask for forgiveness rather than asking for permission. I also prefer to work with varied tasks over working with repetitive tasks."
"I want to work in a large organisation, because I want to work in a company that has a business model that is tried and tested. In a large company, I will get to work alongside other specialists who are highly efficient and organised, where everyone has their specific role and works towards set and measurable goals, drawing on processes that are among the most widely recognised in the world."
"I want to work in a medium sized company because I think it would be the most interesting choice to me. A medium sized company has had time to become a real company, but it hasn't yet become too set in its way. I like the thought of working in an organisation that has had time to mature in how it does things, but hasn't grown so big as to become sluggish."