The downsizing opportunity

Small - sDownsizing doesn’t have to be all bad news…

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, many of those charities who’ve been hardest hit on income over the last four months, are having to make big, strategic moves to radically reduce costs. Cutting back, restructuring, downsizing, call it what you will; they’re about to get a whole lot smaller.

Shrinking like this is painful, demoralising, and usually creates weeks of work and stress for everyone involved. So there has to be an upside beyond pure survival. There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. And for some, that light will be the boon of smallness itself.

There can be big benefits to being small; benefits that increasingly get lost as organisations grow; benefits that can be incredibly hard to recapture through downsizing unless you deliberately set out to realise them.

We intuitively know what many of those benefits are. Small organisations are more flexible, more agile, and generally much less encumbered by the processes and bureaucracies that, in larger organisations, burgeon like barnacles on a boat.

Smaller organisations tend to be more entrepreneurial too: they have less to lose, are happier to take risks, faster to make decisions. In contrast, larger ones have more people to be engaged, more committees to give approval, more mechanisms to prevent anyone pressing the wrong button.

All of these forms and checks, meetings and monitorings, exist in large organisations for one reason only: to protect against the risk of “not very good people” doing the wrong thing. The inefficiencies they create, the agility they kill, the ideas they quash and the creativity they slowly strangle, are the lines on the annual bill paid by large organisations because they employ people they don’t really know, don’t really trust, and so don’t really empower.

In a small organisation, you know pretty much everyone personally; you trust them to do the right thing. Or at least, to tell you they screwed up, and to start fixing it straight away.

In small organisations with great leaders, there’s a whole different level of empowerment, based on genuine confidence in each individual, and a deep belief in the power of their culture: safeguarding and fraud aside, we don’t need strict processes that ensure compliance in every other area, because we all take ownership, we all do what it takes to get things right, we all know what we’re good at, and we trust each other’s judgment where theirs is better. And we see and feel the energy that brings, every single day.

Downsizing can give you back all these advantages, but only if you make it happen. Only if you keep the very best people, those whom you can genuinely trust to exemplify the expertise and culture you need. Only if you fully empower those people to do the right thing, as they see it, when they need to. And only if you deliberately rip out the bureaucracy, committees and processes that exist principally to prevent mistakes, but practically to prevent pace.

Speed, agility, empowerment, innovation, creativity, impact. These are the lights at the end of this tunnel, but only if you want them enough to make it your explicit goal to get them.

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