Small is the new BIG. Yes, that’s the buzz word of the 21st century. Initially, it was the technology companies, dreamt and architected by buzzing entrepreneurs, who built up huge valuations out of translating their ideas into big bucks. Now, the new and breakthrough on the political scene, are the mango people in a banana republic, who proved that size has got nothing to do when it comes to fighting the big guns who took them too lightly.
When David could do it with Goliath so could a common man. And that’s exactly what “Rahul” kept repeating when he took Deepika to Chennai in an express train. “Don’t’ underestimate the power of a common man”. My Mantra – “Don’t underestimate the power of a small business or a small entrepreneur with a big mind and heart and a fire in the belly” who can hurt the big guys with the aggression, quick moves and personalized dealings.
So what is it that sets aside these small companies which even the big ones are curious to learn from? In our decades of working with big companies and then the more exciting stint with more than 25 SME’s of va rious shapes, sizes and colors helping them restructure their business fundamentals, there were some common positive moves and strengths that these Aam admi entrepreneurs demonstrated along their journey – many of them not experienced by corporate soldiers under the protective cocoon of a large support system.
- Taking off - As an entrepreneur they did a great job starting off the venture against all odds, maybe against all societal pressures but purely driven by their passion.
- Selling the dream - They did an incredible job bringing the venture so far, attracting talent at the early stage and even when there was no certainty, sold them a vision and a dream, with the passion and conviction only an owner can do. Quite like AAP?
- Taking the baby steps - Some stumbled along the way, but like a baby never gave up and found ways of rising, of convincing stake holders, the banks, the investors that there was light at the end of the tunnel and the current year would be the turning point.
- Climbing over the hurdles - Most knew the organization strengths and accepted the challenges in managing cash flows and expansions into new geographies, products or services they were so passionate about. And they took it step by step, bruised but not beaten.
- Keeping the cash flowing- Salaries had to happen on time whatever the situation, even if it meant overdrawing funds or pledging more assets. Not something the employees would miss noticing and appreciating, especially when the promoters themselves often managed without any take home in the early stage period.
- Keeping the excitement alive - They kept the eye on the vision and the goals with the unbridled enthusiasm of an owner as an entrepreneurial leader and kept the team intact and excited and moved on relentlessly.
- Taking help openly - Where needed they openly sought references and expert help to guide them in areas they were not fully abreast with or competent in. Never let their ego come in the way of asking help!
Of all these areas, one thing that stood out for me was the way they managed to RETAIN their key employees and keep them engaged. In this day and age when staying long in one job is out of fashion and individuals think more about themselves and their learning and their earning, it is refreshing to see how many of the leaders and key employees in these SMEs have stuck through thick and thin over the years. While I speak to some of my SME clients, to delve into their DNA and style what comes out clearly is, that it is surely not about the money which is smaller compared to what someone with similar experiences can get in a corporate. It’s more about the employees:
- Being treated with respect as individuals, not only as employees.
- Being exposed to a number of areas, well beyond the Job descriptions (if there is one documented
- Being treated as part of the family and families being treated as part of the organization.
- Celebrating successes and occasions with a more personal touch, not just as an HR activity.
- Being given personal loans sometimes to meet essential expenses like a wedding or a house acquisition which the salaries cannot take care of. Far more personal and powerful than sign on bonuses or other perks thrown by larger organizations.
- Being made stake holders in the success of the company and encouraging risk taking without fear of failure or losing one’s job. Pink slip? An unknown term here!
- Being exposed to foreign buyers and markets even at relatively junior levels and hence offering great learning opportunities.
- Being offered a more informal work culture as against the more regimented, structured, departmental, ego and turf based approach elsewhere.
Some of these practices when done with the heart and not as part of a HR policy manual have possibly a more profound impact on the employees who feel that the organization is their extended family and commit themselves to the long term success. One interesting observation common to most of these SME’s was that they did not even have a senior enough HR head, leave alone a documented HR manual yet they managed what many larger corporates failed to because of the “human touch” of the business owner and the culture he/she creates.
Having seen so many employees in these SME’s who have spent upwards of 10 years in these organizations and also some coming back after sometimes testing “greener” pastures, it tells a story of how the little things mentioned above, ensure employee retention and success more than the fancy titles, perks, salaries and indulgence that other larger organizations sometimes dish out in the hope of more “employee engagement” and “employee motivation” and “people retention strategies”
Maybe the lessons from here can be imbibed by larger organizations in the form of reverse flow of good human resource practices and building entrepreneurial leadership qualities and culture among the leaders through smaller, cohesive, self-managed team structures that can make up the building blocks.
Small is not so bad after all! It can be beautiful and big and powerful quite like the picture up there. And give the bigger organizations a run for their money in a tight competitive market with their quicker response, lower prices, personalized service, customized services and relationships that are deeper and last longer.