Big Company. Big Opportunity. Big Headache

Big Company. Big Opportunity. Big Headache?

5 MinutesIn Blog

Chatting with a dear friend last week we covered familiar ground – his frustrations working in a big company.

My bias, as he knows, is that he gets the hell out of there and sets up his own thing. He is brilliant and talented and well networked. While I am not suggesting it would necessarily be easy, I reckon it would be easy for him to create business.
He is still there though. And still in his love-and-hate relationship with the firm.
This time, however, we talked about why he was still there rather than the immediate problem he was dealing with, which was usually some variant of local senior leadership wanting to do X, and regional senior leadership wanting an approach of Y, meaning his team inevitably ‘did the wrong thing’.
What is it about big companies and their constant ability to ‘thrive’ despite making the wrong decision so often? And more presciently, what was he now getting from this set up, having been there five years or so?
Here is what we agreed:

  • Big companies are brilliant for development – the constant trade-offs between what is right ‘on the ground’ and what headquarters people who look at the spreadsheet or the policy want the automatons to do. How do you build goodwill to influence headquarters? How do you stay on-side with headquarters and bat for your people? How do you learn the headquarters mentality and bring as much as makes sense into your own area?
  • Big companies stop being brilliant for development. At some point, those trade-offs become exhausting, so we stop making them. At some point, headquarters just gets annoyed with our questioning and tells us what to do. Probably because they are exhausted too. At some point, you stop looking your people in the eye because they and you know what the right decision was, and you were not able to make it.
  • Big companies are brilliant for opportunity. So many projects to go after, such constant change, new leadership, new initiatives, new tech – and however much budgets are limited, there is always money to do some or all of these things – and if not, your company is clearly dying. This is a luxury that does not exist in smaller businesses.
  • If you are a pleaser, a fixer, a get-on-and-make-it-happen person, big companies will love you and adore you …. and take, take, take everything you can give. It is hard to make things happen in big companies. So hard. If you are someone who just keeps going and is determined to make it happen, in the face of resistance and passivity, then your big company needs you.
  • But they will not necessarily be fair about it. They will not remember all you have done. They will not reward you financially or in progression the way they ‘should’ – or they will but only sporadically, perhaps when you kick up a fuss. Ultimately, you are expendable. There is someone 3-5 years behind you who is also a fixer and will be the new bright shiny face.
  • Do not judge the big company people who do not make stuff happen – those people you look at and think: “Why aren’t you trying to do something about this problem that you so clearly see?” They are preserving their emotions and are in for the long haul. They want to protect themselves, not rock the apple cart. They do not go home complaining or ranting – it is just work.

Big companies. The trick is to know when to get out.

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