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Big Fish… Small Fish: Does Pond Size Matter?

Strategy

The catchiest of phrases… and we all know it… “Which would you rather be… do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?”

I can’t help it. Whenever I hear this phrase, the image that pops up in my head is of a big fish getting really bored and stifled in a small pond or a little cute goldfish in a big pond being eaten by the bigger fish.

But why do I need to be either? Why can’t I just be an illustrious ant or a honey bee collecting my food and preparing for the future? The point is why must I be restrained by these preconceived notions when making my career choices? Does size really matter?

Having the unique perspective gained from working international in both small and large organizations, I have first hand experience of working in a one-man, family run business and a full blown Corporate Head Office. We’ve all heard it. The myths and the conventional wisdom of working for small or large businesses from “you will learn a lot in a small company” to “big corporations provide better career growth opportunities”… and everything and anything in between.

Big Fish… Small Fish: Does Pond Size Matter? image Koi 264x300

Personally, there’s no right or wrong. It ultimately is a matter of what suits you and what is conducive to your personality and experience level. Having worked with differently sized and structured companies, one thing is clear… work satisfaction depends on the leader’s management style. Big or small, that’s all that really matters. Some managers like to groom you or give you the freedom to bring in your unique style of work while others like to micro-manage or to delegate their decision making, and yet again, some like to spend time on training new people while others don’t.

In big companies, the hierarchical structure provides an immediate supervisor who is there to provide training and supervision using existing company training resources. Job roles are also more specialized enabling the person to get a good grasp over his/her specific domain. On the other hand, in a small but fast paced company, it is difficult for a new person with no experience to survive if no training is being provided. Depending on your character and personality traits, at the beginning of your career, this could be devastating for your self esteem.

Since big corporations have larger teams and more resources, they have the money to spend on training and development of their employees. Annual appraisals and promotions also provide a sense of accomplishment to employees motivating them to perform better and grow further. It is also easier to have a work life balance since there are systems in place to provide employees with a balanced workload and working hours. Sounds great? Again, depending on your chosen career path and your ultimate objective, as well as your personality, being in a silo environment may stifle your long term career plan.

In small companies, due to a constraint of resources and funds learning is gained on-the-job – one person usually ends up wearing many hats having a wider scope of learning… however, dedication towards the job is often mandatory which means hours… compromising on valuable family time or outside work interest or self development projects.

Where you should work depends largely, on what you want to learn, how passionate a drive you have and where you want to go. So there is no simple answer to whether you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. Either way, big fish… small fish, you will belong in a school that collectively moves in the same direction, working together to reach a common objective.

So what’s it going to be… Big or Small?

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