Companies such as Google and Facebook offer employees endless perks — free meals, bikes, stand-up desks, onsite barbershops and designated sleeping areas during the work day. It should therefore come as no surprise that prospective hires are flocking to these companies. Moreover, although many Silicon Valley technology companies are large, they have embraced a startup mindset that provides employees with a unique work experience.
But companies don’t need to be private, small or offer a litany of perks to promote a work environment rich in office culture, visibility and personal ownership — the main qualities of startups. Big corporations that emote and develop qualities like these can reinvigorate their business and motivate their employees, leading to a more engaged and passionate learning environment.
At its core, the startup mindset is an entrepreneurial spirit, according to Michael Larrain, president of active cosmetics at L’Oreal. He said developing a corporate culture that mimics a small business is an essential management tool.
“Large companies can reach levels of complacency that stifle risk-taking and creativity,” Larrain said. “I like to surround myself with individuals that have an attitude of exploration and risk-taking — which isn’t always the first course of action for traditional corporate leaders.”
Large corporations can quickly lose this spirit as the size and scale of a business shifts. This can also lead big businesses to become what Larrain called “stuck in the mud” in terms of their innovative thinking. Larrain said he works to prevent this.
A startup’s unique work environment innately values an employee’s aspirational vision, creative thinking and uninhibited experimentation, according to Brian Matthews, the associate dean of learning and outreach at Virginia Tech University.
Generally, when launching a successful startup, the founder, manager and employees work together with limited resources to achieve specific business goals. These goals ultimately shape employee qualities and culture. And while big businesses are not able to replicate the high-stakes nature of a startup, they can certainly facilitate favorable employee behaviors.
“The startup mindset is about staying lean, observant and hungry for new opportunities,” Matthews said. “It’s accepting that change is a part of the process rather than a negative thing that happens to us. In startups, we’re always looking for change.”
For large, well-established organizations, such an entrepreneurial spirit often gets lost. When budgets begin to increase and more employees adopt one-task, miniscule roles within an organization, employees are challenged to see how their work actually affects the business.
As a result, employees can become disenfranchised, with their role making them feel as though they hold no intellectual or political clout in the office, said Dinesh Ganesarajah, the founder of PreScouter, a Chicago-based startup. He said for these employees “their contribution becomes a lot narrower.”
“A corporate environment is about accountability and dress codes, and you don’t need to be a great individual performer to be a part of that company,” Ganesarajah said. “In a starter environment, an employee’s role is a bit clearer because everyone is focused on building a tangible output and is directly linked to the output of the company.”
The established culture and goals of a company will dictate how managers can best facilitate and promote a startup environment — meaning there is no singular approach. For Larrain, this means working from the top down.
“Initially, you must create an evaluation of the business relating to all elements of the organization, which leads to the draft of the hypothesis of intention,” Larrain said. “Once you have the right people doing the right jobs, the nurturing begins through strong communication, visibility into your vision, testing tactical hypothesis, coaching and operating off of high degrees of empowerment and accountability.”
Ganesarajah, however, said that focusing on each employee’s personal goals and motivations is the best approach. He believes an employee who understands his or her role and purpose within an organization will be motivated to think creatively and work harder.
“If you’re trying to get the most out of the people you have, you’ve got to look at their personal motivations and how they see themselves developing,” Ganesarajah said. “Look at your company’s vision and kind of blend the two. The development of the person ties to the development of a company.”
Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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