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Size isn’t everything – how Organizational Development practitioners can support small businesses

As organizational psychologists and practitioners, we sometimes find ourselves a little pigeon-holed when it comes to our audience.

Some of us specialize in helping large companies, others small, but all of us want to help businesses reach their full potential no matter how big they are. It may appear that large companies are more likely to engage with OD practitioners and their services, as when issues are present within large organizations it is often much harder to get to the root cause and design solutions that suit hundreds if not thousands of people spread across various locations. But this isn’t to say that OD practitioners aren’t interested in supporting small businesses. Quite the opposite! Every business, no matter how large they are now, started somewhere small, and the issues that OD practitioners are on a mission to help overcome are present in businesses of all shapes, sizes, and sectors. 

My own experience has been largely within the education,  oil and gas and construction sectors, but my research and years of working in the field means I am well placed to help organisations of any size or nature. For some, scaling up or scaling down their typical ways of working can seem daunting, but it’s all about finding out how the client wants to work and tailoring your solutions to fit their needs. 

OD practitioners focus on building capability to achieve and sustain organisation health and performance. These are markers of any business large or small.

Small businesses are just as susceptible to issues like conflict, machine downtime, absenteeism, demotivation, and poor communication. It can feel like these issues are more intense in small operations as people are likely to be in close contact with each other and frictions may be more keenly felt as a result. It can be difficult to have open and honest conversations when employees are so closely linked and often straddling different areas of the business, making it more likely for problems to fester and an attitude of ‘it’s just how it is’ to become prevalent. Family-run or owned small businesses may have even greater difficulty in facing issues as personal feelings and loyalties enter the mix. 

Similarly, structure, clarity and culture are needed in every organisation to combat silo working, complacency and low performance. Where processes are evident they can be tailored around the approach the organisation would like, and this is the same for small or large businesses. Similarly, lean value mapping is a vital component of any business whether growing or expanding into changing markets and seeking to understand where value add is, and where resources are needed or diverted.

As psychologists first, OD practitioners are well versed in how to manage and understand people. This means that no matter how difficult a situation might appear to those within it, an outside third party can identify the problems and implement solutions that work to benefit the business and the employees. The reality of being an OD practitioner is all about evidencing the symptoms that may be present in the organisation that limit it from performing at its peak in a healthy way. An OD practitioner can then determine cause and find the most appropriate solutions needed.  

Some tools may be more difficult to implement (for example, using surveys that rely on lots of data inputs) if the employee base is small. But practitioners can opt for using one-to-one interviews and choosing more qualitative approaches and methods to diagnose problems, analyze the courses of action available, and implement solutions.

My Organizational Development Framework and Planning Checklist are both fully scalable for use in any size of project or organization, and questions can be tailored to fit the sector and company-specific issues. Where it isn’t appropriate other OD models can be used to evidence an organization in context, logic, behavior, resources, and structure. At times the solution may be found in a conversation, a workshop, training, or organization-wide solution. Having a wide range of methods and tools at your disposal is essential when working with companies regardless of their size, as what works for one may not work for another – there is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach to helping implement organizational change and development. 

By seeing businesses as complex structures that interact in unique ways, OD practitioners can help with businesses of any size. Ensuring there is a culture of innovation, motivation, and accountability within a business is essential for good organizational health. Like with our physical health, we are all equally susceptible to illness and injury. Small businesses have the capacity for growth and with their smaller size, I find that working with them generates more intimate solutions and results that are harder to achieve in a large multinational organization. 

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