A familiar start-up complaint is that the contrast in cadence (btwn small and nimble and big and slow) is incredibly frustrating. The time it takes to negotiate on OEM deal, partner with, sell to...large companies is often maddening.
Yesterday, over coffee with a great entrepreneur I heard the frustration summed up in a moment of brilliant wit.
The entrepreneur argued that:
an individual's competency x company size = a constant
In essence, the bigger the company, the less competent the people.
Now, we all know that there are many smart and hard-working people at large companies. There is, however, also a common malaise that somehow limits the ability of large companies to make decisions, to move quickly, and to be productive.
Many of my friends work at large tech companies and frequently complain of the siloed thinking, the blackbox decision making, the inability to make decisions, and the frustrating inability of the company to harness the collective energy and initiative of the group.
What is it about size that limits effectiveness? Why do people feel so powerless in large company settings and so frustrated?
While there many reasons, I see three core drivers
- the incremental compensation that accrues from initiative is not worth the risks and costs of fighting the corporate inertia
- a preponderance of energy is invested in internal battles
- companies and individuals have finite stocks of energy
- employees of large companies spend more energy on internal issues than on external customer facing and value-creating issues
- dead wood
- large companies become safe harbors for mediocrity
- middle management gluts the system and limits the ability of the young and the restless to advance
- the Wall St "up or out" culture ensures the young hard chargers always have room to advance and that seniority and tenure are no guarantee of protection