No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

‘Is your company an elephant or a flea?’ asks Charles Handy


In a keynote speech at the CIPD conference in Harrogate today, well-known organisational guru Charles Handy argues that modern trends in business growth are creating plenty of new opportunities for smaller companies.

Drawing parallels between larger companies as elephants and smaller companies as fleas, Handy argues that the growth of large supercompanies results in them becoming less flexible and less adaptable - key requirements for success in today's companies! Yet as these companies grow, they need to increasingly outsource and use freelancers, suppliers and smaller companies in order to sustain their supply chains and services - and thus they increasingly rely upon an army of smaller companies (the fleas!) to deliver this critical service and support function.

The smaller companies are inevitably lean, mean, hungry and adaptable; they fill the gaps which the larger companies cannot deliver themselves. And the growth of modern technology means that the fleas can look and act big whilst harnessing some of the benefits of being small and flexible.

Handy points to the growth of self-employment and start-up enterprises in which a new generation of entrepreneurs can make their mark (and potentially their fortunes) as a clear demonstration of fleas in action. The new generation of flexible, contract-based workers are earning a living from the requirements of the major companies to respond quickly and behave flexibly - something which their own size and inertia inhibits.

Finally, Handy raises some important questions about the future of both elephants and fleas. Elephants are important stabilising factors in our society but they need to counteract the forces of inertia. Fleas need to be nurtured and sustained despite the high degree of risk and uncertainty the face. The two types of organisations seem to be mutually dependent on each other for their survival, yet each behaves in a manor which can be critical of the other. Co-existance raises some interesting questions for the future of the business economy.

So, do you behave like an elephant or a flea? And which do you want to be?


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!