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As I mentioned in my last post, I recently completed reading Phil Simon’s book – The New Small.  While I liked his second book – The Age of the Platform – a little better, the New Small is chalked full of great ideas.  In fact, I would argue that it is the big companies that should be reading and learning from this book.  One of the best sections of the text covers the success characteristics of an employee at the New Small.

One of the entrepreneurs interviewed for the book stated:

“At large companies, one bad hire may go unnoticed for quite a while, and depending on the circumstances, many not do a great deal of damage in the whole scheme of things.  At small companies like ours, however, the same bad hire can have a devastating impact.  Short-term costs such as the salary of the unproductive employee can be significant, but the long-term ramifications can be ruinous.  These potentially include lost business opportunities, a negative impact on team dynamics or a permanently damaged reputation with a major client.”

I think this statement applies equally well to smaller departments in midsized organizations that may be under-funded and over-worked.  A single bad employee on a team of twenty or fewer can have a significant negative impact on the organization.

Phil Simon summarizes five of the key characteristics of employees that best fit into the small business culture:

  • Low Maintenance – Avoid employees who require constant handholding and those who bring too many personal issues to work.  Independent folks who leave their personal baggage at home fit in much better.
  • Ability to Wear Multiple Hats – Small companies have fewer formal departments.  It is not uncommon for things to change suddenly and employees must be able to take on different responsibilities.
  • Comfort with Ambiguity – These are very dynamic work environments.  Things happen.  You won’t find a detailed job description or formal schedule.  Employees need to adjust quickly.
  • Multiple Skills – Employees often need to pinch hit because of some sort of crisis.  The best employees are those who can muddle through another person’s job without causing irreparable harm.
  • Willingness to Learn – Small companies often move in a different direction, abandoning one approach because another comes along that is better.  Companies like this cannot afford to be held back by stubborn or change-resistant folks.

If you work at a small business or a small organization within a midsized organization, be sure to write these five qualities into your next job description.

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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