Many executives in the life sciences kick off their careers in large companies and then, after gaining substantial experience, leave for a small company or start-up. Having helped several executives make this move during my career at Ashton Tweed and having done that myself, I know how exciting this transition can be. However, there are some major changes to consider in this career shift.
Small companies offer a drastically different culture and one must be prepared for the potential culture shock. What works in a large company doesn’t necessarily work in a small company – and it’s beneficial to prep yourself before jumping in. Here are a few tips to make the move from a large life sciences company to a small one as smoothly as possible:
1. Start relying on yourself.
At a small company, your impact is going to be much bigger and you’ll really be able to see the change you are making. That being said, you’ll have to solve problems yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you. It’s vital to trust your judgment in order to make decisions quickly and efficiently. Channel your inner entrepreneurial spirit to get things done.
2. Don’t be constrained by your title.
You no longer have a narrow set of responsibilities according to your title like you may have had at a large company. Defined job roles and strict hierarchy give way to teamwork and well roundedness at a small company. With fewer guidelines and structure, you have to be more adaptable. Instead, you may have to learn some things on the fly and take on some tasks you have never done before.
3. Adjust your speed.
Everything moves faster in a small company because it doesn’t have to go through the same processes of a large company. Additionally, it is more conducive to success to act quickly at a start-up, whereas a large, established company might have more things to consider with each new venture. This is the most common remark I hear from executives after making this transition, and it is something you must be able to adjust to. Plans, feedback, and changes are made quickly and often need to be implemented immediately.
4. Think on your feet.
In a small company or start-up, you often will not have the privilege to plan a year ahead. For example, you may have sporadic funding instead of a yearly budget to manage. So don’t spend too much time worrying about handling future issues if those problems are remote and not even guaranteed. Instead, you need to be able to plan quickly and think on your feet in order to confront whatever comes your way. This lack of certainty can prove to be stressful for those unaccustomed to these circumstances. However, less routine also means more flexibility, which is a plus!
5. Make sure it’s a perfect fit.
Confirm that you fit well in regards to the company’s needs as well as the company culture before committing to come on board. This is tremendously important in a small company and should not be overlooked. In order to succeed, you need to share the values of the company and get along with its leadership. It’s critical to work as a team in a small-scale setting. Personal motives, such as trying to further your own career, aren’t enough. You have to want to be there.
6. Get creative.
Small companies provide different and unique challenges from larger ones. In order to deliver, you may have to get creative with the limited resources and budget you have available. If being innovative and resourceful in the face of uncertainty excites you, then this is definitely an opportunity to explore. The skills and experience garnered at a large company are still absolutely useful in this environment.
While every company is different, these are the sources of the most common growing pains I’ve heard from both transitioning executives and start-up leaders. In the end you must ask yourself, “Which environment suits me better?” The answer may change as your experiences and interests shift throughout the course of your career.
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