The larger the company the less agile they are. This is a basic truism of business. In fact, companies often spend millions of dollars trying to improve processes, streamline workflows, and reduce unnecessary staff – all with the aim of becoming more agile, more competitive. Smaller companies can react more quickly to market changes. What is the tipping point though? There are plenty of large companies doing very well. Some companies are reporting earnings completely off the charts. These sorts of earnings can evoke disgusted reactions from even the greediest of greedy. So, what is the secret?
I’ve had the great opportunity to work in companies ranging from the very small to the very large. It’s given me a unique perspective that comes from seeing all sorts of business models in action. The one thing all businesses large and small have in common is people. People are the same no matter where you go. The differences emerge in the sort of policies a company has toward how they treat people. A company that has low turnover may be a very happy place to work but may not have the most productive staff. Another company may have a high employee turnover but be a market leader. It’s hard to pin down. In the ‘new’ economy there does seem to be a way to differentiate the successful from the not so – at least in my experience. Successful companies, no matter how dysfunctional they may be, differentiate themselves by how successful their strategy for the future is. This may seem like a ‘duh’ but you would be surprised how many companies spend most of their time and resources just trying to hang on to the status quo. In the post-mainframe world, these strategies for the future are now intimately tied to an information technology (IT) strategy that is in line with a company’s market. If these two are not in line with one another you will find a company consistently working on solving yesterday’s problems while ignoring the future.
Some people love what they do – most don’t. For those who do, this is a frustrating experience. How do you know if you are at an organization that has lost its strategic way? Well, the stock price is usually a good indicator. Big investors do their homework and unless they are infected with “irrational exuberance” this will usually be a good indication of how well a company is executing its strategy.
A successful company will have little or no technology consultants or contractors. Consultants are like lawyers. If you start working for a company and on your first day you see more lawyers than employees… run. The same is true with consultants. Like rats abandoning ship, if you backtrack the rats you will find yourself being led into a room jam-packed full of IT contractors. They are sinking the ship by bleeding the company of precious resources that would be better spent on full-time people. There is a time and place for consultants just as there are for lawyers. However, keeping them on your payroll permanently gets expensive and makes it hard to evaluate full-time employees and their performance.
I recommend spending the money that is usually reserved for consultants to hire some well qualified full-time employees and remain focused on the company’s marketing and IT strategy. This will allow the company to implement tactical initiatives and maintain the current business while others dedicate their time to the vision and new ideas. This is easier said than done. I can say with certainty that the companies where I have seen this process in action are some of the most successful in the marketplace. To use a baseball metaphor: to be truly great takes more than just hitting a lucky home run. You have to be Babe Ruth… able to point your bat towards the grandstands and know where the ball will go before you even take a swing.