December 12, 2010

Working with a Small Company

A small company is characterized by its "smallness" which can be described in terms of the following aspects:
  • Less number of employees
  • Just a handful of customers
  • Just a handful of products and services offered
  • Relatively simple type of products and services offered (generally speaking, though there are niche companies which may be working on high-end or newer technologies)
  • Low annual turnover or revenue
  • Thin senior management layer (typically the promoters, owners occupy the various CXO roles and also generally one person would be in more than one role)
Just like every coin has two sides (Heads and Tails), so is true about working with a small company.

What is it like working for a small company?
  • You would be like a big fish in a small pond and what you suggest or work upon will be easily noticed in the organization - you may not get eaten by other animals but the pond being small could dry up easily!
  • You would get chance to handle more than one kind of work (multitasking) - there won't too many hands around in any case so you must be willing to work a little bit on many things, but this may prove to be a serious career handicap depending on other factors.
  • You could get fired any day as such decisions are typically made based upon the thoughts, assumptions (or in the worst case even the moods, whims and fancies) of the CXOs and not any defined policies and procedures. The owner-cum-CXOs' decision will be the final call in all cases even though it may be defined otherwise in the policies and procedures. You must be prepared to hear statements like: "we aren't making much money these days so let's shunt your department and lay-off the entire staff". The key thing is the owner-cum-CXOs' will always ensure that they get their share of cash to maintain their and their family's lifestyle, others can simply go to hell!
  • You must become a trusted member of the CXOs' coterie to survive and never get fired. In a small company there are a lot of informal sets of relationships that outlive and outsize the formal working relationships. Display of trustworthiness, admiration (even though faked up), servitude to the CXOs' is a crucial survival skill in all work and non-work dealings with the CXOs. This is so since the CXOs are the company!
  • You should not expect too many employee welfare measures as there won't simply be enough cash to run them. Of course, their will always be cash for owner welfare measures. All the employee retention measures one would see in a bigger company will be typically conspicuous by their total absence!
  • Your experience may be discounted in the job market especially if you give interview with a big company especially the blue-chip ones. The experience of working with a small company is supposed to "weigh" lesser than those with a big company. This though unfair is how the job market operates.
  • Your performance has to be excellent or you must become a trusted soldier and if you don't fit in one of the above two category your days will be numbered. The CXOs' of a small company like to keep only those employees who perform well and bring in the cash or those who are trusted soldiers and willing to do anything as and when asked or bring in "the news from the grapevine". Also if you are in the first category (excellent performer), you must make sure that there's no adverse news about you in the "grapevine", you must also know who are the trusted soldiers and take care when speaking to them about anything and in particular anything to do with the CXOs' management style - remember CXOs are the company!
The above points may not be true in all cases and in fact, there are many exceptions as well. However, knowing the above points will put you in an advantageous position as you think about "Working with aSmall Company" as part of your next career move.

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