Startups move fast—this should come as no surprise. Why and how they develop the ability to be so nimble, agile and market-responsive is a deeper secret.
We know that traditional companies have: (a) stuff that works, (b) stuff that needs to improve, but it’ll do for now, and (c) stuff that’s not good. Startups on the other hand have just (a) and (c).
When we say “stuff” we mean everything. People, premises, systems and procedures, hardware, software and, in today’s web-connected world, “stuff” also embodies the services-based world of cloud computing.
So how can larger-scale enterprises emulate the abilities and attributes of a start-up mentality?
Companies are now consumers
One of the first, and most important, realizations hinges around the concept that business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) are now morphing and changing to a new, higher plain where consumer-to-business (C2B) rules.
Why is this so? Because businesses themselves have become consumers―so in effect that knocks many of our old notions of B2B out of the window.
And it is not just the case of a different semantic. Every business conversation has now become so much more of a consumer conversation. Back in the day, we used to think about selling to departments inside an organization. Now we have to think about selling to people and how the end users themselves really interact with a product or a service.
Being able to appreciate and deliver at this more granular and essentially more personal level is crucial if larger-scale enterprises want to develop a start-up mentality—and consequently gain from the agility that comes with it.
Enterprises need to appreciate just how much User eXperience (UX) defines this new world of work. If we can give each person the right tools for the job, simplify the way they have to carry out their workload by automating repeatable tasks and make work more positively experiential, then we can increase productivity as well as personal wellbeing along the way.
How to share skills like a start-up
The sometimes clunky and often slow-moving enterprises of the past need to rethink their approach to skills if they want to be as nimble as a start-up.
In a start-up, everybody makes the tea, anybody answers the door and each person is willing to share workloads with others. This openness allows employees to bring unknown skills forward and often leads to skills transfer between individuals and teams.
In an enterprise, it’s different. People have a job, a defined role and an agreed set of targets, objectives and processes that they work within. They may even know which day they eat which sandwich filling for lunch (this is not a joke!)
Enterprises need to break out of that mindset and think about the breadth of their organization’s staff base as they create a “task marketplace”. This is where we take a new approach to activity and task management that allows departments to get access to skills and competencies outside of their own individual silos.
We know that everyone has skills and talents outside of the core role that they are initially employed to do, so building a matrix to be able to tap into these talent streams will be crucial.
For example, did you know your receptionist also speaks German and could help out with some foreign sales projects? Did you know your database administrator was also a fastidious copy editor capable of correcting grammar and sharpening corporate documents? Everyone has hidden talents.
Tearing down the shroud
When firms build their own task marketplace, suddenly they start to find things out about their own staff that were previously shrouded by departmental walls.
What these same firms ultimately find is that people actually do want to fulfil their potential and do more. Once enterprises embrace this openness, they can almost always use it as a route to building channels that lead to greater productivity and profitability for the business.
It’s also important for the startup-thinking enterprises to remember that almost all products and services have now become transient and easily available. Just as users will now move from dropping a web page or app that they aren’t happy with very quickly, commercial customers will start to look away much faster now than at any time in the past.
Business won’t drop goods and suppliers quite as fast, but they will ultimately drop them. This means we need to embrace the opportunity to champion continuous service improvement and always look to be moving forward and doing better. No business process, departmental hierarchy, workflow method or individual team structure should be put in place to stay the same for the next decade. Half a decade or 18 months might be too long in some cases.
Reengineer your mindset
Enterprises must now realise there is a progression to be made because the expected norm has changed for us all.
You do not need to reengineer and re-architect every aspect of your business by tomorrow, but what you do need to reengineer your mindset and company ethos to appreciate the new factors governing startup agility.
This mindset puts people before processes and skills before systems. When we then get to a point where processes and systems are created, we will find that they actually function more effectively. It’s about embracing human-centered design whenever we’re building anything that touches employees or customers. Perhaps we can even extend this to the newer breed of sentient machines driven by Artificial Intelligence―they have feelings too, kind of.
Putting human needs at the center of business is key for startup thinking enterprises. After all, business exists to serve human needs.
Paul Hardy is Chief Innovation Officer for EMEA at ServiceNow