Is there a size-restriction for organizational improvement?

A baby American toad, newly emerged from tadpole stage, about a half-inch long

“You must be at least this tall to ride this ride!” Remember those signs at carnival rides — and the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression that they evoked from children who felt left out because they didn’t quite measure up?

Many people talk as if similar signage guards the entrance to organizational improvement. Some dismiss the practicality of such initiatives by saying, “We’re too busy (or too small in numbers, or too cash-strapped) to afford (or to need) that kind of thing.” Others lament that their organization is too big and too complicated to implement improvement of any significant scale or impact. Often, they sound more resigned or relieved than disappointed, as if they’re secretly glad to avoid the “scary ride”.

However, there is no minimum size for improvement. Organizations with scarce resources actually can’t afford not to explore where their precious time, money, and effort aren’t being leveraged as effectively as they could be. Perceived inability to revisit assumptions and mechanisms regularly (due to perceived insufficiency of resources) becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, as unmitigated inefficiencies and waste virtually guarantee future scarcity.

Similarly, no organization is too big to improve, because no organization is too big to fail. The complexity of today’s products and markets demands ever greater responsiveness and adaptation to changing requirements and constraints. Organizations of any size that do not improve their ability to change what they do and how they do it, risk losing relevance, vitality, or even viability — especially if they are growing, and potentially out-growing what has worked for them thus far.

Clearly, one size does not fit all for organizational improvement. It is vital to respect the realities of an organization’s constraints, needs, and context. Scope, objectives, timetables, and consumed resources of any improvement initiatives must minimize, moderate, and mitigate the inevitable disruption to ongoing operation. Nonetheless, the costs of such improvement must be weighed not only against the anticipated benefits, but also against the likely costs of doing nothing.

Regardless of its size, no organization can afford to be wasteful, inefficient, or ineffective with its time, money, effort, or any other resources — nor can it afford to neglect continuous monitoring and improvement in the long run. There’s an appropriately sized and scaled — and critically important — improvement initiative for every organization.

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