Small Company Insights to Consider for Resiliency in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In my most recent podcast interview, I tell the story of how my personality and inquisitive nature led me down a path that was deemed inappropriate by my previous employer.

In short, I worked hard to add value to the company with my side hustle. Others confirmed it was adding value. My employer was not amused. 

While I’ll always be grateful for my experiment in corporate America, I would be lying to say the experience wasn’t hurtful.

This theme came up again when I was talking to a good friend and former colleague about his job hunt. He said, “one reason I think it would be great to work with Nexus PMG is you guys seem cool about side hustles.”

He, like me, has experience with larger corporations pushing back on employees working on a side project. 

In my opinion, creativity and passion for trying new things are what makes amazing employees. Where else is there room for these things in the workweek other than a side hustle?

I believe this so much that my only standard interview question is focused on asking potential candidates to expand on an experience where they did something innovative, or explain a self-taught skill. It’s through these self learnings that true creativity and passions are exposed. 

Still, I had never considered that a culture of support around innovation could become one of our most significant assets. 

Our conversation got me thinking about the expected demand for talent in the forecast in the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) sector. Attracting new talent and improving skills is a priority for a majority of construction industry CEOs.

Depending on who you consult with, we’re either on the brink of or at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution. I believe the latter. The rate of change in our current business landscape has not been seen since the last industrial revolution. Technology, sustainability, and agility are king. COVID-19 has only accelerated the industry in these areas. 

The World Economic Forum has been preparing for Industry 4.0 for years. They’ve even created a set of scenarios for the industry and a list of essential action items to prepare for them. 

Skills and talent are on the list, along with:

  • Integration and collaboration across the industry’s value chain.
  • The ability to adopt advanced technologies at scale.
  • Maximization of the use of data and digital models.

In reference to the scenarios, Michael Burke, Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Infrastructure and Urban Development community and Chairman and CEO of AECOM said:

“Current business models, strategies and capabilities will not be sufficient in any of these future worlds.”

Having worked for corporations and co-founded small businesses, I can’t help but notice areas where being small has its benefits. We’ve been in or ahead of the curve on all of these imperatives because that’s how we set things up. 

Meanwhile, some corporations have some unwiring to do. That said, I do think corporations conducting business in more traditional models can reach these goals, and they can start by looking to small companies. 

What qualities do successful small companies have that can help them develop a winning culture, agile response, and innovative habits?

Here are three key concepts I believe can reshape how business will be conducted in the future. 

Allow Side Hustles to Spark Creativity

If it’s skills and talent you want, creating space for experimentation is mandatory. Giving time to tinker and learn and even branch out breeds fulfillment and brings new ideas to the table.

It also keeps your team on their toes, ready to adopt new technologies.

While Nexus Lab, our internal innovation initiative has been challenging to launch during a pandemic, fostering a learning environment is at the core of the company culture. We believe that by our employees allocating a portion of their time to trying to implement something new, we’ll strengthen our culture around innovation and our passion for learning.

We recently launched the Nexus Lab Idea Hub to encourage creativity within the company, and it’s been a great resource for virtual communications. 

In the first two months alone, we’ve launched several new remote collaboration solutions. Most notably, our new comic series was an idea created, upvoted, and implemented through our Idea Hub platform. 

Thankfully we didn’t go with “Mr. Nexus.”

Are you a big or small company and want to pull a copy of Idea Hub to implement it for your purposes? Reach out, and let’s chat, I think this could be a cool open source project, and we have considered putting the code on GitHub.

As leaders of any company, we should continue to inspire our teams to try new things that interest them and hold ourselves to the same standard. I stand behind this statement even if there is no direct benefit to the company. If anything, you can always use it to promote your company culture on social media. 

No words irritate me more than, “that is how we have always done it.”

Remember, we’re just one small company. Corporations have large research and development budgets. They can make the investment to figure out better ways to spark ideas and foster side projects and innovations.

But what if your employees get so inspired, they shoot off and start their own company?

Well, then you’ve got another great relationship in your network. 

Embrace an Agile Mentality

As a small business owner, I’ve always argued that big companies can’t move as fast as a small business.

While I still believe this, the most recent pandemic did create a moment of pause for me. The rate that big-box retailers and restaurants that were able to implement curbside pick up and quality eCommerce in such a short period showed what employees could get done without the red tape. 

What it highlighted most for me is that a big company can move like a small business if they want to. 

The difference between then and now? Mindset. 

These big moves by big companies were made efficiently because they were under pressure. It was sink or swim.

Adopt and encourage the mindset that you don’t have another choice. You may not be feeling the pressure now, but rest assured that between climate change, industry growth and tech demand, it’s coming.

Your employees will appreciate the flexibility, too. Nothing would have made me happier while in corporate America than if I were afforded some space to implement ideas the way smaller businesses allow their employees to.

Act Small for Big Reward

When Main Street was still run by mom and pop shops, customer satisfaction was everything. The reputation of the business through word of mouth and customer interactions made or broke a company. I still remember my parents taking us to the local barbershop with a hot shave and head massage, and the family-run pharmacy that knew you by your first name.

Eventually, we traded that high customer quality and attention for larger corporate flexibility and ease of use for a lower price point.

There’s an adage among small business owners. You’ll hear this every time a large incumbent wins the bid.

“No one loses their job when they opt to contract (insert big incumbent).”

This adage, however, is starting to change.

A combination of the climate crisis and the recent pandemic is shifting the consumer choice back to quality over quantity. Relationships and reputation are a priority again. This shift is present in the business to the business environment, too.

Companies like Nexus PMG that continue to focus on our reputation and relationship with our customers along with a hyper-focus on employee happiness will prove to be the new successful business model. I look forward to seeing how large companies start to adapt their policies and procedures to be more nimble and allow employees the flexibility to meet ever-changing customer needs. 

I also look forward to the relationships that will come out of the business to business integration and collaboration in this new industrial revolution. 

Evolving to 4.0 Together

I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish Nexus PMG had the buying power or depth of corporate EPC companies. I would be crazy not to recognize all of the incredible lessons I have learned working at two of what I consider to be the best of these companies. 

I still hoard my ID badges from my previous employers, and occasionally laugh at my transition from a green college grade to power vest-wearing field rat. I also keep a picture of my first project on my bookshelf with the signatures of everyone that took the time to teach me about the industry.

The lessons I learned from amazing mentors and best-in-class project execution methodologies are the foundation I carry with me every day and how I approach problems both on projects and within the company. 

In this brave new industrial revolution, I envision a much more symbiotic relationship between small companies and corporations. Every business has its strengths and weaknesses, and through our relationships, we can unite to create a resilient industry we’re all honored to be a part of.

I am proud to say that several of the key senior folks I had the privilege of working with during my corporate experience have found a place with us. The relationships I built during my time at both of those companies are something I will always treasure, especially the relationship with my friend I mentioned at the beginning of this article. His words of affirmation about our company and culture mean more to me than he will ever know.

Take time to remember your roots. I keep a reminder on the top of my bookshelf to remind me every day of my foundation and the amazing people that have helped me along the way.

Roshan Vani