ATD Blog

Three Things To Remember When Onboarding Into A Smaller Organization

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The same three things derail people onboarding into small companies as into large companies: poor fit, failure to deliver and an inability to deal with changes along the way. But the way to deal with those obstacles in smaller companies is different. You must:

  • Fit within the organization’s broader ecosystem as well as your workgroup
  • Deliver with fewer resources and less structure
  • Create change instead of waiting for it to happen

Fit with the Organization’s Broader Ecosystem

Forty percent of new leaders fail in their first 18 months.The number one reason is poor fit. In a large company, this is about fitting in with your boss, direct reports, and key peers and the culture of the organization. In a small company, external stakeholders like the board, key customers and suppliers, and the community in which you work tend to be much more closely integrated into the functioning of the organization. It’s important to fit with them as well. 

Many moving from large to small companies don’t know this. Now you do and will invest in building relationships in your new company and its communities and in helping others to do the same.

Deliver with Fewer Resources and Less Structure

At one point I stopped hiring people directly out of Procter & Gamble. The trouble was that everyone there knew they could depend on their colleagues to deliver what they promised to deliver when they promised to deliver it. If manufacturing said it would ship products on May 10th, it shipped on May 10th. When finance gave you a set of numbers, they were right. When R&D said something was true, it was true.


This doesn’t always hold in smaller organizations. Groups are stretched thinner. They have to do things faster. They’re inventing processes and procedures on the way. Things slip through the cracks. People accustomed to everything working like clockwork often get disoriented the first few times the clocks miss a beat. It turns out that flexibility is a learned skill – and an important one for a small company.

As you move into a smaller company or help others do so, put a premium on flexibility and contingency plans.


Create Instead of Adapt to Change

Darwin told us that survival of the fittest is all about survival of those best able to adapt to change. Almost by definition, larger companies have more moving parts, each of which must adapt to change. If larger companies don’t adapt, they get hurt. But it’s a whole different game for smaller companies. If smaller companies don’t create change, there’s no reason for them to exist.

As you move into a smaller company, pay attention to its attitude. “Proactive” is going to have a whole different meaning there than it does in many larger companies. Understand how the organization chooses to win: its strategy, posture, and culture.

Bottom line, smaller companies aren’t for everyone. If you do choose to move into one, make sure you fit with the broader group, deliver with less structure, and create change.

About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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