Is bigger really better? Let’s think

HEADQUARTERS of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yes, that’s a big building (Wikipedia).

“Bigger is better!”

Well, that woke me up. I was sitting there in the Garden Grove City Council chambers enduring another Much-Longer-Than-They-Need-To-Be discussions and one councilman came out with that bit of management advice.

The topic at hand was whether the city should replace the city’s fire department with a contract with the larger Orange County Fire Authority for firefighting and paramedic services.

Setting aside this specific instance – which wasn’t easy­ – my thoughts ran to the whole size issue. Don’t laugh.

In my opinion, bigger is most definitely not always better. Large bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient. They tend to encourage top-down thinking and work to stifle creativity.

It’s easy to suggest that Walmart’s dominance is the reason for its success, but that’s not even most of the story. Walmart was not always big, but it had a smart leader and a smart business plan.

The great leading companies in today’s marketplace started small. Tales of Apple and Microsoft and Amazon starting in garages and basements are true, and stories about big companies ignoring great new ideas – sound movies, photocopying, reliable delivery services – go on and on.

If size was the chief factor in success, the Yankees and Dodgers would be in the World Series every year, Texas would still be part of Mexico and the Titanic would not be resting at the bottom of the North Atlantic.

THE RMS TITANIC … maybe titanic is even better than bigger (Wikipedia).

Frequently, companies and organizations grow themselves into failure. The Los Angeles Unified School District is one of the biggest public school systems in the nation, and is riven with bloat, weak leadership and a constant battle between the teachers’ union and the charter school business.

India has the second-largest military in the world – 1.36 million active duty personnel – but would probably get its buttocks kicked by forces half its size. Corruption, nepotism, outdated military vehicles and defense systems and a lack of real combat experience are considered the root causes of its inadequacies.

Oh, I know that sometimes big is better. As the saying goes, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”  But that’s not exactly the textbook way to run a great organization.

Better can be better – even great – regardless of size if you are smart and disciplined enough to make it happen. Think about it. Even better, sleep on it, like I almost do when those meetings are bigger but rarely better.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts runs on alternate Wednesdays. Other days he mostly walks.



1 reply »

  1. Regionalization of services rarely yields improved quality of service, never improves productivity and almost always ends up costing more than doing it yourself. OCFA’s one size fits all approach is great for spreading out their massive overhead over a larger community which is why Gadsden grove fire union is pushing for this so hard. The real winners is them – in the form of huge pay and benefit increases, garden grove taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag. Too bad garden grove can’t learn from the great example Placentia is demonstrating.

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