We are going through huge changes in technology and in the world in general. The future has never been this unpredictable no matter what industry you are talking about. Now is the last chance for big corporations to ditch their stiff structures and slow ways of working. To become agile and innovative like startups. That’s the recipe for success in the future.
Big organizations have a lot of benefits over startups: brand value, funds, knowledge of the industry and so on. But they are definitely not known for agility, disruptive innovation power and all the other things startups are amazing at. Corporations have already understood that working with startups is great PR and a way to get great innovations – way ahead of their competitors. But most are missing the biggest learning experience they could ever get. Startup accelerators shouldn’t just accelerate the startups, but also the corporation in the program.
We have now done 20 accelerators with big corporations. One of the biggest learnings has been that it is not just the startups evolving during the accelerators. The big corporations have also changed. The more involved the corporations have been, the bigger learnings and changes they have seen. In this post, I will talk about some of the key learnings on how you can transform your organization with startups.
1. If you want to achieve a lot, don’t settle for too little
Working with startups can be scary for a big corporation. Startups often seem like a completely different species. The way they act, their speed, even the way they speak are just so different. It is a completely new kind of world to operate in. A scary world. And at the same time the corporations are worried about the returns: will it really be worth the effort.
That is why many choose to go for a smaller event like hackathons. And sometimes that can be a great first step. But the expectations should also be appropriately small. That is because no matter how great the startups and teams in the hackathons are, they still only have a couple of days to do miracles. Or some corporations try to get the benefits by working with just one or two startups. But the thing is, you need to be lucky to get the right ones for you.
Those kinds of things can be a great way to get a peek into the startup way of working. But for organizational learning and real change, they are usually not enough. That’s why there are accelerators.
Accelerators are still relatively short in corporate terms (the program itself about 3 months of so), but for startups that is a long long time. They can do real miracles in weeks if not even days. And a couple of months means many many miracles. During the length of the accelerator program, the startups will also get to know you and your challenges so much better. That means they will create ready solutions that are pretty much tailor made for you. Of course, this means that you have to give them the possibility to learn about you; you really need to work with them. But that is also how you will transform your own organization.
2. To learn, you need to do
Your organization is your people, your employees. No matter how great your products or business in general are, they are nothing without the effort of your employees. They often say it’s not the great idea, but the execution that matters. And execution is on your employees’ shoulders. And that is why to transform your organization you need to transform them first. That’s the beginning of changing your whole organization, from inside out.
For your employees to learn and change, you need to get them doing. A lot of organizations send people to seminars and hire consultants. Those have their purposes, but the best way to learn is never to just sit and listen passively. You need to be doing. And when you learn by doing, you have already started making those changes. That’s why you need to get your people as involved in the accelerator as possible. To work together with the startups.
And when I say working together and I really mean working together. Many organizations just have the accelerator’s startups in a corner of the office and encourage their employees to go look at them. But again, like taking a look at a lion won’t make you into one, just looking at startups won’t do much. In practice, that means you should have your employees act as the startups’ mentors & business champions. That’s the way to get them learning. For best results, choose an accelerator that helps with that. Like I said earlier, the worlds of startups and corporations are different, and often a bit of help for joining those two is very much welcome.
3. Help the startups, help yourself
When your employees work with the startups they see first hand how startups work. How completely redoing something takes days instead of months. How they turn their business completely around, pivot when they realize what they are doing isn’t working. And so on, and so forth. When your employees help the startups, they will start to see a different way of doing. They will also see what is wrong with their own organizations, and even more important: how things should be. And as they have startups relying on them to help, they make those changes happen. Instead of thinking about and following all the usual procedures, they just do it. Take the shortcut and break the infamous silos.
In other words: while helping the startups the employees are in fact helping their own organization. They are learning and fixing it inside out. And that is much more efficient than getting an outsider to force their models on you.
For those little changes to become a real transformation, you need enough people to do it. One fish can’t change the waters, but a flock will. You need to have enough of your employees working with the startups. And you have to have your whole organization involved.
4. Make learning (and the accelerator) your organization’s top priority
When the changes in your organization happen you should let everyone know about them. You should use your own success cases as inspiration for the rest of the organization. And in general, you should make sure your people are aware of what is going on. That you have startups on board and you are transforming your whole organization. Not only is it good internal PR, but it also makes it easier to make those changes happen. What you make a priority in your organization is much more likely to happen.
5. The right amount of startups
You need to have enough of your own people involved, but you also need to have just the right amount of startups. Too few, and it is difficult to involve enough of your employees for real change. Too many and you will have too many changes needed to be able to actually execute them.
In our experience about 10-15 startups hits just the spot. Just enough to have a real impact, but not too many to overwhelm you. It is also a good amount from the innovation perspective.
6. Learn to fail
The right way to fail might even be the most important thing you can learn from startups.
First of all, the word failing is wrong. Or at least how we understand it. To most failing means the end, losing. But it really is a beginning: you did something and you learned. And the next time you do something you will be much better at it. That’s why startups have FailDay, and have this whole ”culture of failing”. Some even celebrate each failure AND the learnings from them. And that is what big corporations need. Many even say it is impossible to innovate if you don’t know how to fail. And to be the top player in the future, your organization can’t just rely on innovations coming from outside (or even worse: doing the same thing you have been doing since the beginning of time). You yourself need to have the capabilities of acting fast.
So, learn to fail. If you don’t master the art of failing safely, that’s when you will really fail. And even more importantly: you need to learn to fail fast. In a way, startups are constantly on the lookout for failures, things that don’t work. They learn from them, and pivot, change directions and try again. And they do it super fast, over and over again. When you do it fast enough, it really isn’t failing. Just learning and adjusting accordingly. And as it is done quickly, just the minimal amount of money or effort has been wasted. The faster you fail the faster you learn and start doing the right things.
- If you want big changes, you can’t settle for little. The effort you put in and your results are directly related to each other.
- Your employees are the key to learning and corporate changes. The change starts from them.
- Get involved. Don’t just look, but work together with the startups. By helping them you are actually helping yourself.
- Make the accelerator, organizational learning and changes a priority. That helps make the changes happen and make them stick.
- Work with the right amount of startups. Enough to have an effect, but not too many to paralyze yourself.
- Learn to fail fast.
And there you have it: 6 ways to transform your organization with startups. Remember: when the stiffest of them all, banks, have transformed, so can you.
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