I worked for “the man,” a media giant, for five years. I reveled in the internationally recognized name and loved that my former high school and college classmates raised their eyebrows in jealous acknowledgement of my success.
But as much as I enjoyed the notoriety, I left my office of hundreds to work for a nonprofit with just five people.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made professionally.
The blessing and curse of a large business or association is that in order to be effective with such a large staff, they often have to operate like a machine. Staffers were uniquely specialized cogs in the machine. In other words, we were replaceable, but not often able to be plugged into other positions in the works.
The benefit of this large organization was that my career path was clear and clean-cut. There was a goal in mind and only a few ways to get there.
The drawback: branching out was limited. Had I wanted to look into graphic design, a skill that could be beneficial to the organization but had nothing to do with my career path, it would be an enterprise largely taken on by myself in my own time away from my position.
So in a wild break attempted by few, I left the mother ship and landed in a dinghy. There were entire offices standing empty in my new workplace, which is just an embarrassment to the Atlanta real estate scene if nothing else.
The goals of a small organization and a larger one are strikingly similar. Make an impact. Earn money. Achieve the goals. Get your message out there.
The advantage (and terror) of a small organization is that you’re chucked in the deep end. Where as my large business experience involved a lot of wading pools and water wings and lifeguards blowing whistles, my small business threw me in and said, “Swim girl! There aren’t enough people here to hold your hand through this!”
While scary, I was basically forced to learn new skills (thank you, amateur tutors on YouTube) and grew tremendously vocationally and as an individual.
The moral here is don’t undersell your small staff as “less than” the alluring draw of an organization of hundreds or thousands. Emphasize the tremendous growth opportunities you offer your employees if they are willing to collaborate and take the ball and run with it.
A large organization might have more resources to tout their professional development, but working for a smaller staffed-organization could result in unexpected learning and growth for the lucky new member of the team.