Conventional wisdom suggests that larger, more established companies are slower to adapt to changing consumer habits and trends and less likely to take risks. They’re often criticized for having too much bureaucracy, too many levels of management and too many structures in place that prevent them from making decisions quickly and fostering innovation.
Conversely, startups are praised for their ability to be nimble, quick and freer to take risks. Innovation flourishes in this type of environment, where employees are empowered to think outside the box and business moves at the speed of light. But what if established brands adopted an entrepreneurial mindset?
The reality is, a company’s size isn’t important -- what really matters is its outlook and culture.
We all know that transitioning a traditional corporate structure to operate more like a startup isn’t easy. For established companies, shifting a corporate culture is one of the most significant changes that a company can undergo. But that shift doesn’t have to contradict the basic tenets of a successful established brand -- being nimble is about winning in the marketplace. It allows companies to be faster to market with more innovative products, thus beating out the competition and creating both financial and brand value. And there are many ways established brands can adopt the habits and culture of smaller startups.
1. Create a value-based company culture.
Creating a value-based company culture is the best way forward for any business and the best way to help employees thrive. Companies with a strong adaptive culture based on shared values are better able to build trust among team members. And creating an open and trusting culture that allows for team members to speak their mind and share their ideas leads to innovation -- thus benefiting the bottom line.
When I took over as CEO of H2O+ Beauty, an established skincare brand that had been around for several decades, I saw that the lack of constant innovation had resulted in the company losing its relevance. To correct that problem, we implemented a sweeping shift in the company’s business model and culture, which included moving its headquarters to San Francisco, bringing on new team members, and establishing an “entrepreneurial” culture that values teamwork and innovation.
One of my favorite traditions that reflect this culture is our Friday “winedown,” an opportunity for the team to get together every Friday afternoon over a glass of wine to discuss whatever comes to mind, both personal and professional. This casual and safe space for discussion and brainstorming has led to some of our company’s best ideas.
2. Transparency is key.
Another core tenet of a startup culture is transparency. While harder for large companies to adopt, its importance cannot be understated. Building a transparent environment where the team understands how the business operates and how the business is performing is a great way to get employee buy-in.
The best part is that it’s often reciprocated. When employees are honest and direct with management, and leaders understand how the team is doing and feeling, everyone is better off. Recognizing and rewarding those who live the values and walk the walk will help reinforce the culture and make these changes stick.
When I first transitioned from a large corporation to a smaller brand, I made a very common mistake: scheduling too many meetings. Instead of walking over to someone’s desk to ask a question, I emailed that person to schedule a meeting, which started to establish a precedent for conversations that were more closed-off and formal than they had to be. When I realized my mistake, a light bulb went off: fewer but more impactful meetings with team members at various levels helps align the whole team and allows for faster decision-making.
3. Celebrate wins.
One of the most important ways to maximize the potential of a brand is to celebrate successes along the way. Cheer for the team, because that gives them the confidence that the time and effort they’re putting in really matters. Celebrate small wins, because those communicate progress, which is important for team motivation. Remind everyone that they’re in it together and working toward the same company goals. These small victories help build momentum and motivate employees to continue to work hard.
Many established companies have a lot going for them. They benefit from greater resources, infrastructure, intellectual capital and financial stability. But with these changes, they too can become more nimble and, in turn, more innovative. Just think of all the possibilities if more established companies adopted an entrepreneurial, startup-inspired mindset. We’d have a lot of people challenging the status quo and creating something new.