Clear out the corporate cobwebs and think like a startup

Richard Anson
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For many corporates, from the moment you walk into the grey reception, any creativity you may have inside you is quickly drained away. (Source: Getty)

There is a cultural shift impacting many organisations across the globe – the idea that corporates should create a “hacking” culture and attitude to innovation.

In other words, they need to act like startups.

Whether an established company with hundreds of employees and many years’ experience, or a much younger startup, workplace environment is incredibly important. Not only does it have an impact on the way teams work, it also influences how the business speaks to employees, customers and investors.

Some startups are bordering on chaos. The reality is often that at the very early stage, the team focuses every ounce of energy on one thing – growing the business. However, challenges arrive as the business scales up, and this is when serious thought to the environment and culture needs to be given.

Cool culture

There are those startups that ooze “cool” from the beginning. The Google style office, complete with ping pong table, well-stocked bar and bean bags for all. The hip employee perks, choose-your-own hours, and laissez faire attitude to work all make for “cool” companies.

The founders have thought about the culture from day one and look to weave it into how their teams work and play. This kind of thinking may seem a distraction in the early days, yet the reality is that the founders have set themselves on a “scaling” trajectory from the get go – and the culture should grow with them as the business grows.

What about corporates?

Here’s where the challenge lies. For many corporates, from the moment you walk into the grey reception, any creativity you may have inside you is quickly drained away.

The whole image is based on history and past success, and sustained by simply continuing to do the same thing that has worked so well for so long. That’s a pretty scary thought when you consider that, as a result of creative destruction, the average tenure of corporates in the S&P 500 has never been shorter.

So, what should a corporate do?

While it may seem like a continuation of the status quo, the first step is to not try too radically to overhaul the whole work environment in one go. Ripping out all of your desks to create an open plan office is great, unless everyone ends up sat on the floor.

“Business as usual” is hugely important and organisations must continue to exploit what they already do very well.

Something borrowed

However, organisations must start to allow parts of the business to innovate, and that means borrowing from startup culture. Firms should create a culture and environment where speed, experimentation, failure, and learning fast are part and parcel of the way the business works.

To start with companies may well need to force things a little. Experiment, visit startups, see what they look and feel like, and borrow from them.

A great example is the environment of the John Lewis Innovation Lab – even down to where the lab is located (by the carpark). The moment you walk into the room, it reeks of creativity. Not as much as the nearby rubbish on bin days, perhaps, but the whole setup is very raw and John Lewis is reaping the benefits.

As startups grow, they can learn from corporates without losing that culture of innovation and speed – the grey suits have a lot to teach. For corporates on the other hand, learning to act like a startup can feel like a daunting and patronising task.

But by starting in one area of the business and experimenting, even the oldest, slowest-moving company can begin to move towards a more innovative workplace culture.

Richard Anson is founder of Reevoo.

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