Posted by & filed under Guest blog, Human Resources, Organizational learning.

We tend to think of corporations and startups as being on opposite ends of the same continuum. That corporations are the more evolved form of startups, and they are what every startup hopes to eventually become.

And while this is true to some extent, it doesn’t mean the relationship is one-way. Just like startups can learn lots from corporations, they also can teach corporations how to think in new ways and embrace new possibilities.

Company culture is one of these areas where startups can offer some real insight to corporations. Most business leaders agree that a strong and appropriate company culture is a real competitive edge, but organizational change is a daunting task that sometimes seems too great to undertake.

If you’re skeptical that startups can teach business leaders about company culture, then consider the following.

Culture is a Living Thing

We tend to think of culture as something that’s already there. When we consider it in the context of a country, we perceive it to be steady. But this just simply isn’t true. Culture is constantly changing and evolving. Just think of how different American culture is today as compared to even just 20 years ago. Some things have remained the same, sure. But so much more is different.

Things are no different in a corporation, but sometimes it’s harder to see. How many times have you heard someone say “That’s the way we’ve always done it” when someone questions a particular practice or custom? Probably a lot. But this type of thinking simply doesn’t exist in the startup culture. If someone has come up with a new way of doing things that’s better, then most startups will be eager to adopt it.

Working with startups can also help change your organizational culture.

It goes back to the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Large corporations are what they are today largely because they’re good at what they do. And this often leads people to think they can’t get any better. But you can always innovate, and you should always be innovating, otherwise, you’ll stagnate and die. Startups are keenly aware of this fact and this is something they can teach to corporations during a collaboration.

Management Can Directly Impact Culture

Business leaders understand culture is an important part of their business, and that it can provide them with a big competitive edge. But many are unsure as to how exactly they can bring culture to this point. Here’s where startups can step in and show them the way.

Startups are much smaller operations, meaning small actions can have a much bigger impact. Ask any startup founder or employee and they’ll tell you how they can feel on a daily basis the impact they are having on the business. This is true for culture just as much as anything else to do with the company. If startups want to emphasize one aspect of their culture or downplay another, they can do so quite easily, either by adopting new practices, bringing in different people or changing their messaging.

However, just because a corporation is larger, it doesn’t mean it’s any less capable of guiding change in this way. Business leaders have many tools in their arsenal they can use to help shape the direction of company culture.

For example, using internal communications as a way of highlighting best practices, or driving home company messaging can be very useful. You can also work to establish clearer a vision, mission, and core values, something that will help both you are your employees set better goals for cultural development. And you can also use human resources to help you recruit hire talent based on how compatible they are with your company culture.

The main difference, though, is that these changes will take longer to show their effects, and this is why business leaders often shy away from trying to shape company culture. But startups can show you that it is possible, and they can lead you towards the strategies that will have the highest impact and best return.

Nothing is Sacred

If you have any experience with startups, then you know how each and every day feels like a fight for survival. Resources are tight, and the pressure is on each day to do things right and keep the arrow move in the same direction.

Because of this, startups tend to be far more open to the forces of creative destruction. This is the idea that to move forward you must blow up some of the things you’ve done before. You can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect the same results. Someone out there once said this was the definition of insanity.

And this is especially true when talking about company culture. If you keep things the same, they will always stay the same. There needs to be some force acting upon your culture that is weeding out the bad and highlighting the good. And that force needs to be you, otherwise, progress will halt, or worse, the culture will develop on its own in a bad direction.

If you work with a startup, then they can ask the tough questions that you’ve been avoiding. They can quickly identify when you’re doing something that doesn’t make any sense, and this will force you to rethink things and look for solutions. This is how startups have to think if they want to survive, and it’s a valuable lesson that any corporate leader should learn.

From the Mouths of Babes

There are lots of examples out there of youth providing exceptional wisdom. And this is also true when it comes to startup-corporation relationships. Sure, corporations have much more experience and far more resources, but the fresh perspective and focus on innovation that many startups have can be a great way for business leaders to rethink how they do things and find optimal solutions moving forward.


About the author:

Raj is the founder of JavaPresse, a specialty coffee subscription service. Company culture has been a core focus since the beginning days of the company, as Raj recognized it as something that could give his business a competitive edge. While building his company, he participated in an accelerator program and found the time spent with large companies to be invaluable in helping get his business off the ground. He enjoys writing about his experiences to help others.