At Speakers Corner we have great plans and ambitions but I freely admit currently we are ‘only’ 17 people strong and in a wider business context, this means we are defined as a small company, irrespective of our vision. I firmly believe the greatest asset any company has is their people and so in order to be the best version of ourselves we must dedicate time to the development of our employees, despite this seeming like a hard task for a small workforce.
It’s a catch-22 situation, we are looking for the team to grow and fulfil their individual potential but as a small company, we take great pride in everyone chipping in to the collective cause and sometimes this means working on tasks that may take us away from our personal ambitions, but have a company benefit. We apply this across the board, for example in my role as MD of the company, I might be strategically thinking about the business one day and the next I’m knee deep bug fixing our systems. This flexibility in roles is a consistent theme in smaller companies and start-ups.
The concern for many small companies is how the ethos of ‘everyone mucking in’ jars with the some of the best business case studies we hear about regarding developing people. One of which is Google’s “20% policy”. Empowering employees to manage their own time and deliver amazing things outside of the core focus of the company is an excellent idea. However, when a company must focus on getting their main job done, often this can seem like an extravagance which only companies big enough, or cash rich enough, (or both in the case of Google!) can afford.
However, for smaller companies, this type of investment in personal development requires a leap of faith. If the culture is right, the employees are emotionally invested in the company and foresee an environment where they can grow, develop and be part of something, then it is certainly a decision that will pay off. Moreover, encouragement and active engagement by the company for the team to be developing new ideas and concepts away from the core strategy will only bring the individual team members closer to the company.
It will strengthen bonds and ensure they continue to deliver the required results without losing the ‘one for all’ culture, so I think it is a really worthwhile leap to make. Job satisfaction, sense of purpose and ownership is something every company should be striving to achieve for their employees and the best way to foster this environment is to allow employees that total ownership.
In order to attract the best talent, small companies have to compete with the larger players in the employment marketplace in areas which can’t compare to the standard benefit of pay. The traditional view, and in my opinion one that is reinforced by reality, is that opportunities to broaden an individual’s skillset is something that small companies should always offer. It is the reason that the 20% policy of Google gained so much attention as it was a clear demonstration that a huge company was trying to keep the ethos of the small company and take that competitive advantage (in terms of recruitment) away.
Any small company will face many twists and turns on their journey to their vision, but this vision will be driven by the team, and their experiences and it is why the encouragement, even the necessity, for the employees to be given time to develop themselves personally is one that will reap rewards for any business in the long run.
Nick Gold is the managing director of Speakers Corner.