Lessons Learned from the Corporate World

Part of my business involves advising other business owners how to avoid certain pitfalls they may encounter as they grow. I teach them how to manage quality, people, expectations. I teach them how to balance the need for an immediate solution against the long-term needs of the business for a stable solution.

The question I get asked most often, though, is how I know what I know, why anyone should listen to me. The answer – I learned, and continue to learn from my experiences, and I’ve been exposed to the issues they’re facing.

Much of what I learned came from working in a mid-sized (1000 employees) corporation, and seeing what works, what doesn’t, and why they do things certain ways.

Change Control

Large corporations have process for doing pretty much everything, making rapid change difficult, if not impossible. The reasoning is that by having a proper process, it can help mitigate the risk of a change being bad for the company by ensuring that the proper people are aware, and that quality control can be enforced via the process.

The catch, of course, is that process for the sake of process doesn’t accomplish this, and a long, drawn-out change control process will only work to mitigate risk if there are similar processes for quality control and communication management.

Communication

Little happens in larger companies that doesn’t involve copious amounts of communication, with meetings and emails flooding in-boxes and calendars. The benefit of this is that communication by volume reduces the risk that someone with key relevant knowledge will miss something from a project or change. Since everyone is invited, or notified, about everything, little slips through.

The catch, again, is that with all this time and effort being devoted to communication, it’s easy to become side-tracked from the real work that needs to be done. Too much communication slows things down to the point of inefficiency.

Documentation

If it happened, it’s been written down somewhere, using a standard format. The creation, and enforcement of usage, of documentation can help a business learn from its experiences and avoid repeating mistakes. Having standard documentation processes means that people don’t struggle to figure out what to write, where to write it, or whom to notify.

The catch is that a poorly designed documentation process can create useless paperwork that is never read once it’s been filed. If the document doesn’t make sense for the purpose it exists for, then people will resent filling it out, as they will know that the document is doomed to be lost in the filing records, never to be referred to again.

What do you think? What are some lessons you would take from a large corporation? How would you describe them, both in terms of the need the lesson fills, and the risk of doing it wrong?