As an organization grows from its entrepreneurial roots as an innovative upstart into a larger organization, it must guard against developing attributes of the Big Dumb Company; attributes that repel the top talent that it had once attracted, depress revenue growth and margin, and alienate customers.
At Service Express, we vigilantly guard against “catching” the cultural attributes of, what we call, the Big Dumb Company. Our leadership team is intentional about consistently communicating the values of SEI to ensure that everyone understands what makes our people and our culture great. We like to say that we’re living the SEI way.
I have the privilege of being able to talk to SEI leaders and employees regularly about our business. Because we’re a growing company, I often take those moments to remind them that we must continually guard ourselves against becoming the Big Dumb Company; a transformation that doesn’t happen over night but is gradual and almost imperceptible to those who are unguarded.
Here are attributes of the Big Dumb Company:
As the Big Dumb Company grows, so also do its layers of management. Often, managers at the Big Dumb Company create these layers to “shield” themselves from ideas, problems and customers and it works.
The bureaucracy of the Big Dumb Company effectively repels those “A Players” that organizations desperately need. “A Players” are problem solvers; but when a culture stifles their ability to solve problems, they leave.
The bureaucracy of the Big Dumb Company does one thing well- it retains “C Players,” who are content to hide behind the bureaucratic veil.
At the Big Dumb Company, innovators cannot innovate and the complacent can coast.
2. Prioritizing Numbers before People
The Big Dumb Company loses sight of the people who are responsible for its growth and it shifts its focus to numbers and metrics.
I often tell leaders at Service Express to focus on the people and the numbers will follow. Don’t misunderstand, it’s important to measure performance. At SEI we do so through our SR5 performance measurement system. But trying to motivate people with numbers is an indication of where the organizations priorities lay- in the numbers and not in the employees.
3. An Intolerance for Failure
The Big Dumb Company’s culture is one that penalizes failure and doesn’t recognize failure for what it can be; a valuable teachable moment.
This intolerance for failure stifles risk taking, and risk taking is a proven ingredient of success.
Great organizations minimize the effects of failure by building it into their processes.
At SEI, we think big, start small and scale quickly. If we’re going to fail, we make sure that we minimize its effects by failing small then conducting autopsies to strategize what we can do differently.
4. Lack of Vision
The Big Dumb Company often has a mission statement, but they don’t have a Vision. If you were to ask employees of the Big Dumb Company about their Vision, you would get very different answers.
Great organizations understand that people go to work for more than just a paycheck, they want to know that what they do matters. And they want to know how their work aligns with the bigger picture. Leaders must be Vision casters.