Key Takeaways from Big Business

Taking an in-depth look at how skills can be transferred across big and small businesses and projects

Most people working at Exo Digital have a side hustle or two, which puts us in the unique position of having a broad skill-set across a range of areas, which we leverage to Exo’s advantage.

Working for a small business that actively encourages us to pursue personal projects and interests allows generalists to become specialists and specialists to broaden their skill-sets, which benefits both us as individuals and Exo Digital through learning, developing and expanding our knowledge.

Getting the inside scoop

We spoke to a handful of people in the company who have a wide range of experience across many different types of businesses. We wanted to get their views on what small businesses and projects can learn from the processes and systems in place at big businesses and vice versa.

In this case, we are fortunate to have one of our designers at Exo Digital currently working full time at ANZ in the online application space. We were able to chat with her and get her insider perspective and takeaways from her experience of navigating the transition from a small team to a big one and the benefits and challenges that it presents. Let’s dive in.

Generalists Vs. Specialists

In a small business like Exo Digital, you are likely to find that the company or project is still in the discovery phase of the business lifecycle. They’re learning, growing, scaling, and are likely to be a team made up primarily of generalists rather than specialists.

In a big business like ANZ, you will probably find that the opposite is true. It’s a mature business, in a very different stage of the business lifecycle, and is mainly made up of permanent specialists working in their areas of expertise for over 20 years.

There will be people at ANZ who are generalists, but there are also people who are really specialised in their field and have been there for 20+ years doing one thing really, really well. It’s great if you need to lean on someone, there’s always one person who lives and breathes that specific skill and can help you… Whereas, in a small business you can ask external friends if none of the internal designers can help, or research it, or, worst/best case, is throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

In both cases, you will find somewhere along the journey that you need to lean on different skill-sets to get a job done.

As a big business, you might need more generalist skills and a fresh pair of eyes to give you a different perspective on something you’ve been doing the same way for years. As a small business, you might need someone to come in with very specialist skills to help fill a gap that you cannot serve from the current skill bank within the company.

It only takes someone to come in and give you a push in the right direction. That’s what Exo provides, both with small and larger businesses. Someone like Maxy with such a broad skill base can go into ANZ and say: “Look, I understand the way you’ve been doing it. You’ve been doing it for a long time; but, what about thinking about this or thinking about that?” and throwing around some ideas.

David – Director at Exo Digital

Having the experience of working in both big and small businesses gives you the ability to see where these gaps in your skill base are and the knowledge you need to fill them effectively.

…somebody like Maxy who has been encouraged on both sides, to be very specific and very broad, could potentially come into a business.. and be like: “Yeah, I can do this, easy peasy. I do it every day for ANZ, let’s just get this done.” It’s that benefit of saying: “This is my limitation as a business, who can I bring in who’s an expert to help me with this area?”

Paris – Marketing Manager at Exo Digital

Sometimes, it might mean temporarily bringing someone into the company, in the form of a contractor or freelancer, to help you achieve a goal. Other times you might have to get somebody on permanently to fill a skill gap as your business scales up and expands.

Transferring Processes

The systems and processes in place at each of these companies will vary based on their size and needs; however, some of these processes are transferrable and relatable no matter the size or stage of the business, for example, conducting user research or ideation exercises.

The more extensive processes, like managing teams involved in decision making, wouldn’t scale from a large company to a small one. In the same vein, some of the processes that work within a small business would cause too much friction and confusion if they were to be adopted by a larger company.

With Exo we have a weekly showcase where we do design presentations or more informal chats. The team at ANZ… it is a more formalised process. Because there’s so many people, we have to have a spreadsheet of who’s presenting when, and we have to send an agenda. Whereas, at Exo we can get away with just saying like: “Who’s presenting today?” That probably wouldn’t work at a place like ANZ because there’s so many people.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

When you go into a large business, the systems and processes are already in place to support you, so you don’t have to worry about that part. When you go into a smaller organisation, in some cases those things don’t exist or they might exist but they might be just an excel spreadsheet rather than a fully formed system or process.

David – Director at Exo Digital

Developing New Skills

Whether you work for a large corporate or in a small start-up, gaining experience across different areas before specialising in a specific field can be beneficial to how you approach problem-solving within your role.

Suppose you’re starting out in a large company. In that case, you might find that you automatically start to specialise in the specific area that you work in because the skill bank available is so bountiful that you never have to venture outside of your expertise. This can be great for young designers to be allowed to hone their skills before trying to swim more broadly.

Whereas, if you’re starting out in a smaller organisation, you are thrown into the deep end and have to quickly adapt to being pushed out of your comfort zone. You have to be comfortable with sometimes not having the answers and up-skilling to have a broader skill-set with which to problem solve.

When you’re a younger designer, being put into a corporate environment is a great opportunity… you hone your skills within that lane and then once you learn your craft you can say: “Ok… I want to swim more broadly.” Whereas, in a smaller organisation like Exo, you really are thrown into the deep end and it’s like: “here’s a poolbuoy and some floaties. Off you go, design something.” If you’re not the type of person who can do that on your own without much direction, that can be terrifying.

David – Director at Exo Digital

The Benefits of Consultancy in Business

Consultancies are fantastic for filling the gaps in knowledge and skills needed at any stage of the business lifecycle in any size company. No matter where you’re at, your business can benefit from figuring out what your skill-set is and then working towards improving.

In smaller companies or teams, you need someone to fall back on. Being able to accept your limitations as individuals and as a cohesive team is vital to moving forward and growing.

Having someone at Exo come in and challenge the way you’ve been working is very valuable. Even if you were doing it fine, having that forced time to think about and reflect together as a team is important for any business.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

If you have a product or project that you’re developing and you get to a point where you’re not sure where you’re going with it, a consultancy can give you the boost you need to move forward.

Exo goes in and figures out what you need and where you need to go. We do the investigation around the problem and then target resources needed to complete the project or build the product out.

David – Director at Exo Digital

Reflections

A business works well because everyone is trying and is generally positive with each other. You hear a lot about how the processes are slower at a large company, and it’s very risk-averse. It happens when a business is mature enough, and that’s natural.

But, as long as everyone understands what their limitations are and be able to work together to overcome them when necessary, that’s why they keep succeeding.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

If we look at building a website and the people involved in that process, there are many moving parts. When you have a large team separated into different areas of expertise, you start to feel those barriers in the website; you can feel the change in the teams as you hop around.

In a smaller business, you benefit from having a seamless experience, but the website might be a bit smaller or have a few unfinished pages. However, the designers working on it will know the entire experience end-to-end in their heads, and it’s easier for them to see the gaps.

So, for a big business, it’s having people check in on that is very important; but also making sure that you have the right people and communication in place that when you raise something like that it is dealt with effectively and with kindness.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

The kindness thing has really stuck out with me, because it is about finding that really great team and nurturing that culture is probably the biggest thing that any business of any size should really focus on.

Paris – Marketing Manager at Exo Digital

Consultancies help to have someone come in and throw some ideas around, challenge what you’ve become comfortable in, and find new, better ways to get things done.

At the end of the day, businesses will work well because of the people who work there. It’s about building a team, no matter how large the team is, of people who share a common vision, understand each other, communicate effectively with one another and are able to solve differences of opinion, at any scale.

Maxy – Designer at Exo Digital

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