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fish in waves

BIG Fish, small pond?

We are not going fishing but we are going to play a short game of “Would you rather…” in which you get to pretend to be a fish! Whether you choose to be viewed as a BIG fish or a small fish is all relative to the size of the body of water you choose to swim in. You may choose a little pond or small company versus Lake Michigan or a large company. Knowing the size of the pond that best suits you in the work world is important. Understanding whether you are at your best leading and setting the pace or whether you prefer to work as part of a larger team with common goals can determine your overall happiness and satisfaction with work and with your organization.

In my most recent work experience, I accepted a leadership position with a small company which was almost immediately gobbled up by a larger company. Overnight, my pond expanded without any input from me. In past work lives, I’ve worked for each a small, a mid-sized, and large company. Although I performed well within the different environments and I believe that I am very adaptable, each experience taught me something different about myself. The experiences provided insights into the types of environments in which I believe I excel best. Understanding that the position I accepted was no longer the position I held, I had to revisit a few questions that would determine my level of happiness with my future work. If you are facing a similar quandary, start your evaluation by asking yourself these “Would you rather” questions.

Would you rather be the architect or the builder? An architect designs and makes the decisions on the structure, whereas the builder follows the architect’s plans to bring the structure into existence. How much input do you need to have in the major decisions of your work? This question focuses on impact, the impact of your contributions. How critical is it to you to see an immediate or fairly swift impact in your work? In a smaller organization, you may be able to leave at the end of each day knowing and seeing the impact of your actions and your decisions. If that means a lot to you, it can be frustrating waiting for others to consider incorporating your input in a larger organization. But, perhaps you do enjoy knowing that you were part of a team that helped bring a project or plan to life? A builder’s team most certainly looks over a structure at the end of a construction project with a sense of pride.

Would you rather be MacGyver or James Bond?  This is in reference to resources. MacGyver didn’t do too poorly with string, duct tape, and a Swiss Army knife. However, Bond had the support of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, with fairly unlimited resources and state-of-art equipment.  This is not to say that well stocked small ponds do not exist. In general, larger ponds have a more ready supply of both physical resources as well as intellectual capital from which to draw. I’m certain there are many who love the ingenuity and creativity required to work with limited resources and still excel within small organizations. But it can be very appealing to have the road smoothed out so that you can move at a faster pace. Speaking of pace…

Would you rather be a tortoise or an antelope?  See how I avoided the hare? Okay, the pace of progress and the ability to be nimble varies greatly between the small pond and Lake Michigan. You can row across the small pond in minutes. In crossing Lake Michigan, we’ll see you…. I’m not really sure how long it would take but I can safely say it will take MUCH longer. Communications and decision-making can move quickly if all you need to do is travel down the hall a door or two. Within a larger entity there are levels of hierarchy that must be traversed, buy-in that must be gained from a larger span of people. If you are accustomed to moving swiftly to take advantage of an active market or address an unexpected complication or challenge within a smaller organization, you are going to have to become acclimated to the time-lag that is part of swimming in a much larger body of water.

The questions above were the essential starting point for me in evaluating, BIG verses small. There are others that will be specific to your situation but may revolve around new responsibilities, development and growth, as well as future opportunities for advancement within each environment. Your personal choice of small or BIG company should center on what fits you best, the magical pond in the woods or Lake Michigan where I hear the sailing can be very good!

Best regards,

Vivian L. Mora, MSS, SPHR

Vivian L. Mora is certified as a senior professional in human resources (SPHR) by the Human Resources Certification Institution and holds a master’s degree in sociology and economics. She is the founder and managing partner of Mora & Associates, a retained executive search and human capital consulting firm based in Katy, TX.

Vivian offers leadership development workshops as well as individual mentoring and coaching sessions (http://morahr.com/ExecutiveCoaching.aspx and http://morahr.com/CultivateSuccess.aspx). For more information, please contact her directly at (877) 310-6553, ext. 702.

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