Does Size Matter?

Big’s big problem

Anyone who has worked within a large organisation knows that the most difficult thing to successfully accept, embed and land is change. It requires significant effort and, more often than not, these attempts either fail or are left, half-dangling, in the face of an unconvinced and resistant audience.

But while such a problem is complex in nature – involving differing points of view, levels of maturity and established hierarchies – the explanation for all that pain comes down to simple mathematics. After all, rolling out a change to a team of two can be done in minutes, but add a few noughts to that number, and you can begin to see that the struggle is indeed real – as are, fatally, the consequences.

What may seem like an initial failure to communicate can soon drill down hard, damaging your commercial basics and driving a culture of complacency and overconfidence which can, in time, lead to a loss of a competitive edge.

A failure to diversify can also affect big companies badly, such as Kodak’s inability to innovate when online photos pushed its printing business into obsolescence. By putting all their eggs into one basket, big companies often miss opportunities to champion new ideas and are left playing catch-up, and it’s not just an anecdotal issue; a McKinsey study from 2017 showed that ‘good implementers,’ – those whose companies reported top-quartile scores for their change implementation capabilities achieved superior performance on not only a range of financial performance metrics but more value than their peers at every stage of implementation, [1]which is sobering news for those who don’t.

So, if you’re finding change hard and need a solution to the struggle, just where do you go to find a solution to such stagnation? Well, not a company of equal size, that’s for sure. Take a second to imagine a cruise liner needing help to turn around, and you’ll almost certainly see a tiny tug-boat chugging into view to help, because agility, scaled-down strength, and speed all make small the perfect choice to help with big.

Honey, I Shrunk The Saviour

The analogous positives of small helping big can be found all over the place, including the natural world, where it’s the tiniest of things that can pack the biggest punch, from the humble ant who can lift up to 50 times its own body weight, to the smallest – and quickest – planet, Mercury, which races round the sun in just 87 days. But while small has been wowing the world with its power since time began, can it do the same in the boardroom, and if so – how?

Well, yes it can, and there are many small, British companies who are helping big businesses turn themselves around right now, and in deceptively simple style, too, such as Ken Burrell’s Pragmatic PMO who named his company after his belief that it’s important to get it right rather than overwrought, Jim Livesey’s PMO North, founded to bring PMO engagement, conferences and awards to the north of England, or Justenoughchange, who use clear metrics such as happiness and engagement to measure the success of the change. But why does this work so well? It’s time to take a closer look at tiny.

1 – Being small means having to survive differently, and small secures that safety by working with each other, building partner networks on a basis of informal, shared passions which champion innovation, connection and flexibility. In short, small has an established network to bring to the table.

2 – With fewer resources than big, small also has fewer costs and an authentic ‘waste not want not’ mentality that keeps the financials fair and transparent.

3 – Small is agile. As Leslie Hassler, a small business scaling strategist explains, ‘because small businesses are more agile than big…the decision-making process is much faster.’ [2] Imagine how liberating it could be for a decision to be made in hours, as opposed to days, or for results to be assessed so rapidly that they could be implemented next week? And time saved is money saved, too.

4 – Small has its finger on the pulse. Thibaud Clement, CEO of marketing firm Loomly, makes the point that with their ear to the ground, small businesses are quicker to hear the jungle drums of new trends. ‘Small businesses can signal emerging trends and needs to large businesses,’ [3] he explains, which means that big won’t miss a trick if it has small on their side with all the latest news.

Just look at fintech, an industry dominated by small, ambitious start-ups who have inspired change higher up the food chain by unbundling financial services and freeing the ability of consumers to choose who they use.

5 – Small means bespoke. Rather than rolling out a one-size-fits-all solution, small companies can craft clever, insightful and highly individual responses to big problems, cutting the corporate cloth to fit precisely, rather than an approximate, impersonal mess.

6 – Small carries the weight of big responsibilities in plain view. Working directly on the coalface means that small has nowhere to hide if things go wrong, so select small to be fully accountable, and they’ll show up – every time.

Large businesses, of course, have substantial advantages on their side, too; years of work means years of data, they have great customer insight, huge industry influence and, of course, the biggest resources. But all those positives, both big and small, mean nothing until you bring them together, so what really takes place when the magic happens? And what the heck has it got to do with PMO anyway?

What the heck has it got to do with PMO anyway?

It could be argued that the world of PMO is already wise to the successful sync between big and small; after all, the majority of PMOs consist of an average of just four people[4], and the dynamic of being small but delivering big is already at the heart of its culture.

But we’re curious as to just why does it work so well; knowledge is power, after all. Well, the key to its symbiotic success lies in just that – collaboration. By leveraging each others’ strengths, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds, with big’s objectives supported by the dynamism and agility of small.

And while this could be applicable to many areas of business, a properly executed PMO monitors the corporate heartbeat like nothing else, making it the very real difference between success and failure. So, let’s review some of those earlier key characteristics through a PMO prism, and see just how it can wow when properly paired.

Connection, community, cohesion
PMO takeaway = big outlines its vision and its needs, while small brings teams united by an authentic shared passion, who tend to be more driven, cohesive and committed – just the sort of team to successfully drive transformational change! And if you’re looking for a change leader, finding the ideal candidate is also better sourced from the outside, bringing a breath of fresh air that can really rally the troops. Back to McKinsey –

‘..we’ve found it’s more effective to bring in a skilled leader from outsider than to appoint an insider who lacks the leadership skills to rally the troops.’[5]

Agility, speed and dynamism
PMO takeaway = small teams can trial and upscale new methods, processes and systems much more quickly, making it easier to implement proven strategies for effective change without the traditional time-lag of big. And big, of course, provides the structure for those new processes to be embedded, setting up an invaluable feedback loop to guide small.

Innovate, diversify, breakthrough
PMO takeaway = while the temptation for a big company may be to keep their proven eggs in one basket, being open to opportunities is key to maintaining a market lead. So, by working with small, whose very nature makes them closer to new and diverse opportunities, big begins to engage in ‘open innovation,’ a trend in which flows of information come from both inside and outside an organisation, and one which can lead to big breakthroughs.

Getting it wrong
Commercial history is scattered with the failures of firms who didn’t see the potential of partnership or innovation, preferring to believe that their way was the best. Perhaps this is most painfully illustrated when the founder of Google, Larry Page, offered to sell his nascent creation to the number two search engine at the time, Excite, for just $750,000, who declined, and were later absorbed by ask.com.

Imagine how differently these stories, our cultural history, and even our language could’ve been had they had innovative, dynamic small teams working with them.

Yoo-hoo! Over here!

Of course, finding a small company in such a big business landscape can be difficult; while we have big ideas and can do great things, we need a helping hand from big to come and find us, so don’t be shy – squint and you’ll see us.

We are actively blogging, tweeting and sharing content on LinkedIn, which is a great place to search for your small soulmate, and if you’re unsure about the detail or design of outsourcing your PMO, this and this should help answer those questions. And don’t forget that all we’ve discussed in this piece we couldn’t do without you, so come and find us, and we can do brilliant things – together.

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/secrets-of-successful-change-implementation
[2] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15359-importance-of-small-business.html
[3] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15359-importance-of-small-business.html
[4] https://www.pm-partners.com.au/resourcing-the-pmo
[5] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/secrets-of-successful-change-implementation

March, 2020