Aiming to create an organization that is ready for constant change and learning? Or perhaps you are looking for ways to motivate your employees to think more creatively. Either way, startup collaboration is the best tool for creating an innovative corporate culture.
Why? Well, startups are famous for their agility and ability to execute ideas at a fast pace. These are the factors that big corporations often lack. By collaborating with startups and involving employees in the process, companies can start becoming more like startups; agile, innovative and great at executing those innovations.
But how exactly does collaborating with startups enhance cultural change and learning?
To transform your organization, you need to transform your employees first. Afterall, they are your organization. And they are also the ones executing the ideas and innovations. It does not matter how great your products and ideas are, only execution matters. And execution is nothing without the effort of your employees. Your employees are the key to becoming more agile and innovative. And for employees to learn and change, the key is to get them doing.
To actually get your employees to learn from the startup’s you should get your employees involved in the collaboration as much as possible. This way they learn by doing. And the more employees you involve the greater the learnings and changes will be. A couple of employees can’t make big changes in your organization. But the more the entire corporation is involved, the greater are the learnings and changes achieved.
In this post, I will present the four cultural benefits that partnering with startups can bring with the example case of Ann.
So, let’s begin with Ann
Ann is an employee at a big global corporation. For five years she has been part of the human resource department. She really enjoys working for her company. Working at a global player gives you the opportunity to work in game-changing projects, which really excites her. At the same time, those projects take time to happen: new ideas need the approval of many people, and changes require many meetings. Ideas are sometimes also called off when other, more urgent tasks appear.
Ann’s company is getting more involved with startups, and she has been asked to mentor a startup. One of her tasks now is to make sure the corporation and the startup partner, so that her department becomes more efficient. She had been involved with startups a bit before when her company organized a hackathon, but she never saw a long-term difference after that.
Next, you will find what Ann experienced after working with the startup. This also includes the four benefits startup collaboration has on the company culture.
1.Openness to renewal
The first meeting with the startup was already an eye-opener. The startups came with a proposal already in mind, but after a quick discussion, it was clear that it would not work inside Ann’s corporation. Ann thought that this was the end of the partnership. To her surprise, one of the entrepreneurs came up with a brilliant idea. After a brief discussion, they decided that Ann would discuss with some colleagues and get back to the entrepreneurs. They proposed to meet the next week.
Ann was a bit skeptical of whether she would be able to get answers by next week. Ann was aware how slowly the execution of some ideas took place in the company. But she was even more skeptical that the entrepreneurs could do all the things they promised.
While consulting a few colleagues, Ann discovered that most people were quick to dismiss her and the collaboration. Many people offered to discuss with her only after a few weeks! In contrast, whenever she had a question for the entrepreneurs, she got a response in a matter of minutes, and with a different attitude. Instead of formal structures, startups were open to any sort of idea sharing. If she wanted to make this partnership work, she needed to make sure her colleagues were more responsive and open to change. And for that to happen, she needed to be open to renewal herself.
In order for innovation to happen, employees must be adaptable and open to discussion. Yet, corporations generally have rigid structures. As a result employees revert to default behavior and start rejecting big changes. Nobody sees the incentive to develop ideas if the implementation is restricted by the structure.
To solve this issue, some organizations have organized official channels for startup collaboration. This is also what Ann’s corporation did. Startup collaboration creates the impression of proactivity and openness. It encourages employees to adopt a similar mindset. This further fosters business renewal as well as innovation.
Three meetings and countless discussions later, Ann and the entrepreneurs had talked with most of the departments involved. They all understood that, if the collaboration worked, the corporation would benefit greatly. However, several of them had concerns over whether what the startup was proposing would really work.
On the next meeting, she decided to tell the startups what was delaying the collaboration so much. One or the entrepreneurs asked “What if we run a small pilot with some customers, to show how people really use the product? And if they don’t use it the way we expect, we will redesign it so that they do”. They identified all the risks that people had mentioned and designed a pilot that would give the more information about those risks.
Ann could not take the uncertainty out of innovation, but the startup showed her how to deal with it, by talking to customers, testing and learning.
Most people working in corporations tend to focus on tasks with high certainty. But as you might know, innovation is uncertain by definition. Fearing to take risks is the all time enemy of innovation. This is why developing new products is often seen as challenging.
Startups are the opposite of corporations. They are famous for the ability to develop and produce products under uncertainty. Startups favor experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition and iterative design over traditional development. By collaborating with startups corporation employees are encouraged to work in a similar manner. This allows them to become accustomed to working in uncertain environments.
3.Understanding the need for quicker execution
Everything looked good after the meeting with the startups. It looked like her corporation would soon be collaborating with them, and both of them would have happy customers. That probably made the fall worse: once the project started looking real, it seemed like there were more and more decision-makers that had to be involved. In addition, several departments had to give clearance, which required more and more analysis.
When she told the entrepreneurs that the agreement could take a few more months, she could see that they were not happy with it. She didn’t even know if they would last that long, without a source of income.
Ann had also noticed how fast and well startups executed their new ideas. “How would you guys solve this, if this were your company?”, she asked. “Good question! We would probably look for something doable, something that we can get a shot at right now, and leave the rest of the complex stuff for later.”.
That was it! She could use this way of working too! Ann figured out that if she cut out some parts of the pilot, she would not need a clearance from the other departments since it would be an internal project with a relatively low budget. This would also make the bigger project later on much easier. Otherwise, the project might die at the idea stage. While ideas are good, but the execution is the only thing that matters.
As described, entrepreneurs are faster at executing than corporations. Speed is essential for startups. Why? Well, without speed there is inevitable failure. The fast eat the slow. When startups decide on a course of action they don’t wait. They don’t rethink or hesitate. They put the plan into action the moment the plan reaches consensus in a meeting.
In contrast, the strict structures and formal processes of corporations restrict this behavior. Decisions move slowly. Ideas go through a path of managers, board rooms, decision-makers, analysts, researchers, legals, marketing…
Success is no longer about being big or small. It’s about speed, pivoting and rapid scaling. When corporate employees are exposed to the faster pace of startups, they will learn to value the fast speed and further mimic this behavior. They will also be willing to make more agile plans that get results immediately.
4. Focus on risk optimization, not only minimization
With her new plan of having an early pilot first, everything seemed set. There was only one step left: the final approval by Sarah, the head of her department. Sarah had seemed confident with the collaboration so far, but now it seemed like she was less comfortable with the situation.
“Is there any problem?”, asked Anna. “Well”, Sarah answered, “I’m just thinking if this is the best for the department. At the end of the day, we’re the ones promoting this project, and if it goes wrong… well, it’s not good”. Anna realized that her department was taking a risk, and investing time in something that might not have any effect in their quarterly targets.
“But it could have a much bigger impact later on”, Anna pointed out. “It’s a controlled risk, and even if it fails, little failures can add up to big success”. Sarah nodded quietly for a few seconds. “You’re right Anna, and you’ve actually spelled out the risks and opportunities very clearly. We should take these opportunities much more often. For the next quarter, let’s make sure we include some metrics related to this project, and even give ourselves some room for innovation”.
Corporations typically focus on performance and KPIs, which encourages employees to become risk-averse. But if radical innovation is on your company agenda, you should give people the possibility of being flexible.
Instead, the focus should be on the acceptance and management of both risks and execution. Successful startups go quickly from failure to failure. They then continuously adapt and iterate what they have learned from customers. Similarly, employees working in startup environments are more willing to work with risks, as opposed to avoiding them.
As shown with the case of Ann, allowing employees to work in the startup environment improves innovation levels and standards. Working with startups makes employees more likely to identify potential improvements.
Working with startups creates a culture of constant change and learning.
Employees learn to become ready for the unknown future. They view the organization through new, different lenses and beyond the plans. They learn to become prepared for the unplanned success.
Read more about renewing organizations with the help of startups:
Download the Nestholma whitepaper
How corporations can benefit from working with startups. This white paper explores the benefits on branding, innovation and learning. It also reviews alternatives and best practices on collaboration.