When working with or within a large organization, it's important to keep it simple and stay focused on the goal so you don't get consumed by bureaucracy.
Even though many of us work in small teams or small companies, we also work with large organizations all the time. They are our customers, our suppliers, and our partners. Some of you may even have been successful enough to build your start-up into a 100+ employee company that exhibits the organizational dynamics of a large corporation.
At Avondale, many of our clients, investors and partners are from large organizations. In one instance, we acquired a company that was owned by a large bank, which was especially challenging given the bank's group decision-making culture and aversion to risk.
We all understand the challenges of getting things done within a larger organization. First, it's easier for a large organization to say "no" than "yes." Second, decisions often require multiple people, who all have busy schedules, and in some cases only a few people in a large organization make the majority of decisions. Finally, it's often hard to find someone motivated to make any change that involves risk.
We recently sat down with one of our long-time clients who has successfully driven entrepreneurial-style decision making at a large company, first in various finance role, then as CFO and CEO of a business unit. Here are four things we observed that will help you to successfully navigate a larger organization:
1. Do the Right Thing
The first step is to explain how your idea, product or service will create the most value for the organization. In most organizations, saying "no" is a much easier answer than saying "yes." If you are pitching a product or service, build an offer-price combination that has clear benefits for the organization.
If the organization believes you are doing the right thing for them, you put up a barrier to saying no. They have to justify why they should NOT take action rather than why they should.
2. Build Relationships
In a larger organization, people need a reason to focus on something that they wouldn't otherwise, and most people will take a meeting with a person they like and trust. To sell your case, you need a motivated party to give you a fair hearing. A trusted relationship will take your meeting and can leverage their network within the organization to get you in with the right people.
3. Don't Take No for an Answer
Even if you are doing the right thing for the organization, the first answer you receive will probably be no. It's just too hard for most organizations to push forward a change of any kind, even if adopting your new software will save lots of money.
When you get your first "no," set up a time to restate your position and ask them to explain why they said no. You may also want to have additional conversations with influential people in the organization to be sure that the "no" is warranted and not just a copout.
4. Punch Above Your Weight
In every conversation, show that you understand the needs of the CEO, shareholder, or any senior decision maker. You can demand the respect that you deserve when you show you can be a trusted partner for decision makers. If you are selling software and you aren't relevant to anyone but the software engineers, you will only get a meeting with the software engineers.
Getting things done within a large organization is more challenging, but it's critical to driving growth in most businesses. Focusing your efforts on the needs and dynamics of the organization will serve you well.
Share your experiences on getting things done in larger organizations with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark