Established companies differ from startups in many ways. Established businesses tend to be large and slow-moving. Startups are small and agile. Established businesses are structured, while startups are free form in their nature. Each side has its advantages and disadvantages. But there are a number of practices that startups use to great advantage which larger companies can and should implement. By implementing them, larger organizations can create a significant competitive advantage in their markets.
1. Have Passion for What You Do
Entrepreneurs start businesses because they have a passion for something. It’s their passion, more so than their products or services, which makes them successful. Regardless of whether we’re talking about widgets or ideas, people “buy” emotionally rather than logically. It’s not that logic and reason are unimportant. People will rationalize and justify their decision with logic. But the decision to buy is an emotional one and a founder’s passion can be quite compelling.
As a company grows, often that passion is lost within the organization as people become immersed in the churn of day-to-day activity. And therein lies the problem. Without a passion for what they do, people simply go through the motions of getting the work done. When passion is lost, success becomes much more difficult (if not impossible). An established organization needs to recapture the “why” of what they do in order to take their success to the levels they know are possible. Apple is a great example of an established company who has been able to retain the passion for what they do.
2. Hire People with Passion
Startups have limited resources. Consequently, the only way a startup can succeed is by attracting and hiring people who share the vision and passion of the founder. Passionate employees are highly engaged and this engagement makes all the difference. Passionate people care about what they’re doing. They develop more creative solutions to problems and don’t become discouraged when the inevitable obstacles present themselves.
As an organization grows, the pressure to fill new positions mounts and the temptation to compromise by hiring skills without regard to passion is compelling. The result is a workforce which tends to be competent but ambivalent. By seeking out individuals who are passionate about the vision of the organization, the company ends up with an engaged workforce that drives success. Zappos is a great example of an established company who has intentionally hired people who share the company’s vision and passion.
3. Strive to Be the Best
Startups have no reputation to leverage. So they gain traction in the marketplace by striving to provide products and/or services which exceed expectations. It’s this culture of excellence which creates word-of-mouth buzz and causes the business to go “viral”. Additionally, when people strive to do their best, customers are quick to forgive mistakes.
Many organizations strive to provide great products and services, but challenges arise when mediocre performance becomes acceptable. When mediocrity prevails, a poor reputation is established and becomes difficult to overcome. We all know companies whose customers are anxious to leave as soon as an alternative presents itself. The Cheesecake Factory is a great example of an established company who embodies excellence.
4. Solicit and Respond to Customer Feedback
In an effort to be the best at what they do, startups seek regular feedback from customers and they act on that feedback. Because the entrepreneur and the key employees are often face-to-face with the users of their products and services, they regularly hear first-hand what works and what needs improvement. By soliciting and responding to feedback, customers feel appreciated and valued for their insights and ideas. This give and take strengthens the bond between the company and its market. It builds brand loyalty and results in a superior product or service.
As an organization grows and – by necessity – adds layers of leadership and management, leaders lose touch with the problems and desires of their customers. Without actively seeking input from customers, great opportunities can be overlooked/missed. Audi is a great example of an established organization who actively solicits feedback from its customers.
5. Care for Employees Like Family
Startups appreciate people who come to work for them. Employees are attracted to a startup by the personality and passion of the founder. Because of that dynamic, strong bonds are often forged. Loyalty is high because the founder treats everyone as if they really matter – because they do. Everyone wears multiple hats and they all rely on one another. Their life becomes the business and the business becomes their life. In effect, they become a family.
As an organization grows, an ever-growing portion of the workforce has limited contact with the founder. Additionally, work becomes more specialized for each person. The climate can become one of getting the work done more than of pulling together to accomplish a worthwhile vision. But when an organization demonstrates they care about its people, a bond forms and engagement increases, leading to better results. Costco is a great example of an established organization that cares about its employees.
By intentionally crafting a culture which approximates that of a startup by implementing these five practices, established companies can significantly improve engagement and drive operating results.