Rebuild like a startup
Spring is around the corner, and with the pandemic seemingly in decline, signs of optimism are emerging in the business community. The fatigue of the recent months is giving way to new ideas for growth and innovation, but are medium and large companies flexible enough to accelerate down the new track?
Small, agile companies have probably already adapted to the new ways of working, whilst recently launched enterprises will have known nothing else. Larger, and more established businesses will be looking at this year with a slightly schizophrenic view. Critical mass is good, and helps to ride out tough times, but we all know how well tankers can steer a new course when the weather changes. Perhaps this is the time for those companies to reset their culture and approach, to ride a slightly different wave. To avoid being left behind, maybe the stripped-back methods of emerging companies have a place further up the corporate ladder.
A recent McKinsey article caught my eye. In ‘Organizing for the future: Nine keys to becoming a future-ready company’ they spoke of three concepts: ‘who we are’; ‘how we operate’; and ‘how we grow’, and this commentary resonated with my recent startup coaching work.
‘Who we are’ is similar in many ways to the ‘Start With Why’ ideas I explored in Six building blocks for every start-up. The ceaseless focus on purpose, product-to-market fit and a defining culture apply in both cases.
Under ‘how we operate’, they recommend flattening the structure, focusing on rapid decision making, and valuing talent within the organisation. These ideas will be familiar to the startup founders, who must cover a lot of ground with limited resources and can’t afford to hang around thinking about stuff. They need talent, and take a big step when hiring in the scale-up phase. Most important here, is to focus on the outcome, keep the structure controlled, and build for both capability and chemistry. Creating an operating model in this style is more likely to achieve results, and build a lasting culture across the team.
The McKinsey views on ‘how we grow’ are most interesting, as they try to apply some principles of emerging tech businesses to larger organisations. Their suggestions to focus on the ecosystem, with a data-rich approach and constant learning, may seem a tough call for established businesses with embedded processes, methods, and operating silos.
Whilst it may be tempting for leaders of larger businesses to return to the pre-pandemic comfort zone, they can benefit from coaching and mentoring in new methods just as much as startup founders.
It is an unsettling prospect to embrace a new operating model with hybrid working arrangements, a distributed workforce with access to digital assets across the company, and space to learn and grow. If this model can be adopted with enthusiasm and pace, however, it will transform how these companies work and compete this year.
Just as startup founders take valuable guidance from experienced mentors, they can also teach their peers in established companies a thing or two about agility, focus and identity. With these tools, larger companies can face the ‘new normal’ with confidence, to innovate and rebuild just like their startup friends.