After spending my early twenties living and working abroad, I moved back to England in 2012 to start my career.
For five years, I made my way. I was a little fish in the open sea – one of a global workforce of over 20 thousand people. I made progress, moved departments and secured a promotion. I learned so much about business, savings and investments, and worked with some wonderful people. At the same time, I learnt about office politics, who my allies were and who I needed to avoid if I wanted to get something done. I wondered, are all offices like this? My team are creative, willing and able, so why is somebody based in another part of the country not allowing us the time / budget / headspace to make things better?
I’m a few months into my role as Marketing Executive at Indigo Swan, and the decision to move from the ocean into a lovely little pond was one of my best. Here are 5 things I’ve learnt in 5 months.
New starters are a statistic in the employee turnover for big companies. The onboarding is brief and standardised. You might end up in a room with 10 other people all working in different departments. A small company, however, can tailor their training process to you. Chances are, you’ll be 1-2-1 with your Manager, giving you an understanding of how the company works, with lots of time for Q&A. They want you to feel ready, confident and qualified for your first day on the job.
SMEs don’t have the scale to offer secondments or promotions very often, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s no chance for development. You see the business from all angles; from marketing and client acquisition all the way through retention and to renewal, you understand the journey your customers go on. This gives you a great knowledge base to make decisions, and lets your colleagues know that they can rely on you. Plus, it gives you the chance to find out where your strengths lie. Teams in big companies are segregated from most other areas of the business. Nobody can know every area inside out.
National companies are often reduced to an unwritten “who shouts loudest” policy. I even received feedback during my previous role that I wasn’t “bolshie enough” (nail + coffin). If you put yourself in an environment that encourages innovation, supports your ideas, and gives you the time to see them through then you’re onto a winner. That’s what I’ve found with Indigo Swan and I see it happening around me all the time. We have a system in place where improvements are suggested and looked at by someone who can implement them. The best bit about this is that it actually happens. It’s not an empty promise from internal comms.
Goliath companies tend to reward hard work using financial incentives. This drives bad behaviours, with employees working double time in the months leading up to bonus pay day, scrupulously asking for feedback and collecting evidence. I’ve known people to delay their departure from a company so they get their bonus. Nobody really wants it to be this way, not even the managers, but those bad behaviours are a hard habit to break. Another thing making it hard is that the lines between role and responsibility are seriously blurred. Members of the senior leadership team often straddle two roles or manage too many teams, and sometimes one role is shared by two people. How can success be measured, or rewarded, if it’s unclear who’s responsible?
Now imagine a place 0.8% of the size of the one I’ve just described. Everyone knows what their job is, knows how to do it and enjoys doing it. They know who to ask if they need assistance, and also know what their own specialisms are. The work is efficient, and overflows with the small business mentality that everybody mucks in. When you get to this level of competency, employees develop behaviours that deserve recognition: being helpful, innovating, showing respect, working professionally, acting with integrity, going above and beyond. In this environment, reward isn’t often financial, but look around you – does anybody mind? The likely answer is ‘no’, because it comes in so many other ways. A ‘well done’ from your manager in your weekly 1-2-1, a ‘thank you’ from your MD in the monthly team meeting. Perhaps you’ll be given an opportunity to work on something new, because you’ve impressed everyone with how well you worked on your last project.
In this mythical place, you hear ‘well done’ more than once a year, and your career development is actively supported. Things are put in place to help you do your job better. Luckily for me, it’s not a myth anymore.
I’ve saved the best til last.
Individual teams from big companies tend to rally together and there’s often a great sense of comradery, but this isn’t the case outside the bubble – does your CEO know about the great work you do? Does your manager’s manager know your name? People shouldn’t have to log on at the weekend to prove they’re working hard.
Small companies look after their people, because they know they’re crucial to success. They provide their humans with the habitat they need to thrive. A safe, empowered pair of hands is a valuable pair of hands. Indigo Swan have a Mindful Employer accreditation, and everybody here knows what’s available to them if they ever want to talk about how they feel, positive or negative. In places like this, everybody is rooting for you.
It can be summed up in one example…
If you work for a big company, you buy a cake on your birthday to share with your team.
If you work for a small company, your team buys the cake for you.
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