Old dogs, meet new tricks.
Long-established companies walk a fine line. On the one hand, they’re known quantities with powerful brands and products people like and recognize, so there’s generally (some) merit to staying the course and evolving more incrementally. On the other hand, there’s the “shark” theory of innovation: big businesses have to keep moving forward or die, just like the predators of the sea.
That said, either way a Big Company chooses to go, there are some useful takeaways from the startup world. Here are three.
Pivot quickly. Pivot is such an overused word in Silicon Valley but it applies here. It’s the perfect way of looking at the act of moving quickly away from one product, service, course of action, or issue – and on to the next thing. A so-called Big Company should think about how it could move quickly in response to what data are telling them. That could be as simple as removing unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to enable yourself to move faster when the time comes or as complicated as an about-face in product design in response to changing market demand. More broadly, it might just be a shift in culture and mindset – helping leaders and employees understand that survival means moving smartly and quickly, more than they’ve done in the past.
Maintain that small, personal feel in a Big Company environment. One reason people like startups? They feel like their ideas have big impact on the company, that theirs are voices that resonate. Work to integrate that feeling in your culture. Avoid gimmicky offsites where people are tasked with homework to describe their “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs).” Smart people will figure out that gimmicks are gimmicks. Instead, in general, keep groups working in small teams and give them some autonomy. Never underestimate the power of independence and how liberating it feels for employees to work under their own steam. That invigoration will nearly always produce good results for you. Consider integrating some creative perks – help student loans get paid off or institute an unstructured vacation policy. You could even strategically shut down for a week around the end of the year – a professional cease-fire, if you will – because when everyone is off work, everyone can relax. Think about the occasional day dedicated to good works, where employees can do positive things for causes they care about. LinkedIn , for example, offers monthly inDays which are very popular among the employee base and very useful for the community. Little touches like this that are congruent with your culture but feel like a generous “extra” can positively impact employees.
Break down the hierarchy. There’s no question that respect should be a watchword in both the Big Company and startup environments; that kind of consideration should be given and received. But startups generally are very good at encouraging collaborative confrontation. That is, pushing each other – even those above us in the chain – on ideas, assertions, and beliefs in the notion that such dialogue results in company betterment. Big Companies – particularly those that have been around longer than a couple of decades – tend to be more hierarchical and formal. Employees feel more pressure to work within the system to probe or challenge what’s coming down from the top – and often that kind of pressure has a chilling effect on straightforward speech. It’s a shame because, as startups often recognize, some of the best ideas and thoughtful comments come from those who are more hands-on each day.