Convention 2019


Why it pays to keep your firm small

By Business Daily

Bigger is
better. We grow up with such a mentality. We have an evolutionary bias
to favour bigger objects. We prefer taller people, we want the biggest
car and the grandest house, and we desire larger institutions.

an evolutionary perspective whereby our brains developed to survive in
the ancient rift valley with lions, buffaloes, and snakes as our
prehistoric adversaries, bigger human development meant safety, security
and peace of mind.

But in today’s world, does bigger
still mean better? Many social scientists, organisational behaviourists,
and industrial psychologists would argue no, not anymore.

social science research on non-profit organisations in the 1990s
established three phases for NGO development, researchers and
practitioners alike debate which phase yields optimal results. An NGO
may start in the grassroots phase and eventually move on the
professional phase followed later by the institutional phase.

since the 1990s, researchers, such as Joann Carmin and others, noticed
that grassroots non-profits yielded faster and unique results, but
institutionalised NGOs yielded slower but expected, sustained and
meaningful broader results.
A grassroots non-profit might be a small
health clinic near Ole Polos run by volunteers, funded by the community,
and provides emergency snake bite antidotes for those in the
surrounding area.

If that small clinic began to grow,
hire professionally trained individuals to run it in different
departments, such as CPAs in the finance department, licensed medical
doctors in triage rooms, etc, then that clinic would be on its way to
the professional phase of non-profit development.

if that once small clinic grows to the size of Aga Khan University
Hospital complete with processes, procedures and several locations, then
it becomes institutional.

But what about our
post-secondary education sector? A small catering school for community
youth grows from grassroots to professional by broadening its offering
from just catering to also include computer literacy classes,
bookkeeping, and driving classes then enlarges to a large private
multi-location organisation, it becomes institutional.

a non-profit stays at the grassroots, professional, or institutional
phase depends on its strategy: whether to have breadth of outreach or
depth of mission.

Many organisational development
practitioners argue that the professional phase yields the highest
quality results with low bureaucracy whereby grassroots sacrifices
quality and institutional heaps mounds of slowing uncreative
administration, paperwork, silos, and internal chiefdoms.

distinct movement within America that has proliferated for more than
150 years and still continues strong to this day argues that smaller
institutions prove better for collegiate learners.

liberal arts college movement focuses on small class sizes,
personalised student attention, broad array of classes taken, full-time
lecturers, and all leading to more well-rounded minds of graduates.

famous universities that consciously decided to stay small with high
quality rigour and outcomes include Williams College, Amherst College,
Swarthmore College, Wellesley College, Middlebury College, and Wesleyan
University, among many others. Employers snap up graduates from top
liberal arts colleges quickly.

One could easily argue
that doctoral level learners need the resources and diversity of mentors
that comes with a large institution. But do we sacrifice quality for
our younger university learners as we get larger? Are we well-served by
medium to gigantic public and private post-secondary institutions?

we have small private high-quality liberal arts universities that focus
exclusively on excellent teaching and results for only undergraduate

Is this an important niche that we lack? If an institution is not-for-profit, why obsess about growth, growth, growth?
Let us quiet the clamour for bigger is better with university extension campuses on top of restaurants in high rise buildings or huge main campuses that lose the human-to-human feel and let us start obsessing about quality, quality, quality in our higher education and the commensurate results.


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