AMA: What’s it like to transition from a large company to a smaller or mid-size company in your career? What was the push back you faced, and how did you overcome the bias from your “big company” experience for startup environments?

Andrew Johnson, the leader of the HR-in-Transition networking group that I’m a member of, posed a thought-provoking question to our group following a session where many members shared their struggle to move from large, Fortune 500 companies to small startups. Andrew’s call to action was for members of our network to share their organization transitions with the group, and I answered the call. Keep reading to learn more about my experience.

My career arc is unique. I went from smaller organizations (less than 250, one with global reach) to consulting for four years with a variety of exciting startups to a significantly larger, rapidly growing global organization (7500), and back to a smaller org (300 employees internationally before 5+ rounds of layoffs).

At the large companies (before 2022), I saw more significant investments in People and Talent programs and resources – higher headcount across HR and TA teams and more cash for resources that could automate repetitive HR tasks and technology that provided self-service resources for employee FAQs; this allowed my team to focus on being HRBPs to their client groups.

When I returned to a smaller org in 2022, it was made clear that investments in People and Talent were not crucial to the founder and global execs, so my function was always unfunded. I leaned into my startup experience operating with extreme leanness and agility. Still, I was so in the weeds building foundational People and Talent resources with my teams AND serving as a business partner to executives that I was working around the clock (literally, because I had team members to lead in Europe and APAC).

An unfortunate perspective from smaller, more Agile organizations is that functional leaders from large organizations are only strong and comfortable in the Strategy/Vision phase. It’s believed that these leaders struggle with being hands-on when building programs and processes from scratch, testing them, deploying them, managing them, and iterating for scale and the flexing needs of the business. I don’t personally subscribe to this way of thinking. Still, to combat that mindset, I actively chose to lock in my Agile architect mindset and never step away from the user experience research and design phase of program design nor the day-to-day People Ops because I thought it would cripple my ability to build a team and People programs that serve and support employees.

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