The world turned upside down: big companies learning from start-ups culture

Until recently it was considered that there were two ways of doing things in the business world, both of them perfectly valid in their fields: on the one hand, big companies and their hierarchies, their bureaucracy and their control; on the other hand, start-ups and their flexible culture, their lack of hierarchy and their freedom.

Large companies saw start-ups as harmless “toys”, which culture and way to do things were only valid in a specific scenario, with a small volume of business and people.

However, in the last few months there seems to have been a turning point in this respect. Large companies have realized that their bureaucratic and slow way of working does not fit the Internet world, so they started to study the way the start-ups works. They even hired people coming from this environment to head their “digital departments”. The supposed best student copying from the rookie on the final exam.

While having considerable advantages, these big companies are aware that they are running weighed down in this territory, the digital, what it is not their field and where they don’t feel comfortable. They are seeing how these “toys”, that not long ago were light-years away, are now real close and improving much faster, without the burden of reinventing themselves, just because they were born this way.

These start-ups were born without the servitudes from a former experience, an advantage in this case since the experience from olden times are of little use in the digital environment, quite the opposite, they only create wrong prejudices in most cases. This is why the start-ups work in a more flexible and efficient way, having as foundations the flexibility, the use of public cloud, the lack of procedures, a culture of freedom and responsibility, the care for workers, etc.

But then, there is place for this new way of working in large enterprises? The answer is clearly yes. And finally the major Spanish companies have understand it, the challenge now is how to incorporate it.

The great challenge: the culture

The main challenge is, of course, the culture. A startup is designed to innovate, to constantly fail and try again. While large companies are designed to maintain and optimise a business that has been functioning most of the times almost immutably the last 10 years. A way of working almost mechanical, a spiral from which it is difficult to escape without a profound organisational and procedural renovation.

Changing the company’s culture is the most difficult, due mainly to people’s change resistance. Chiefs who have been years climbing in the organisation don’t want to see how the hierarchy flattens out and they lose control over “their resources”. However it is indispensable lightening up workers and procedural control systems, that only serves to monitor that everyone do their work in the “standard” way, without leaving any space to innovation.

The solution lies in a more participatory enterprise, that trusts their employees and where everybody, from the CEO to the last worker, rolls up their sleeves and accepts that the future is not going to work in the same way they are used to.

Second challenge: maintaining the culture despite growth

The second challenge is the size. A lot of start-ups have died from their success when they have tried to change the scale. As they grow up, they progressively incorporate more control and bureaucracy while losing flexibility. The good news is that we have some examples outside Spain about companies like Google, Amazon or Facebook, that have known how to grow up maintaining the freshness of a start-up. So we know that it’s possible to keep the culture despite growth. Many companies have succeeded growing by incorporating better profiles, so they have been able to keep this culture of freedom and responsibility without the need of constant monitoring.

Flexibility and organisational structure, main allies

Therefore, the solution to this challenge lies in applying the principle of flexibility to the organisational structure, assuming that the organisations must reinvent themselves thinking only about providing the best possible customer service, and forgetting any reference to the former organisation. They must start operating with a product-oriented strategy so they can break the walls between departments, forgetting the Game of Thrones style quarrels.

There is still much to be done inside the large companies in this regard, but at least I see a turning point in this respect. Even if they still don’t know how to do it, at least they have realised that they have to change something if they want to remain competitive in the new digital environment.

DTMA, ¿Conoces el nivel de Transformación Digital de tu compañía?

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