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5 Ways Every Company Can Embrace Startup Culture (Without Overdoing It)

Source | FastCompany : By Rana Gujral

In 2014, I served as executive vice president for Cricut, a small company that manufactures personal electronic cutting machines for creative design. At the time, the company was struggling. Once an industry leader, it was being outpaced by competitors, and it was my job—along with senior management’s—to turn things around. We needed to do more than rebrand; we needed to think and act more like a startup.

That’s a familiar solution to a familiar problem that once dominant companies face. Earlier this year, Samsung announced a major push to reinvent its culture in the startup mold. That isn’t easy to pull off, though, and unfortunately, our initial changes at Cricut fell flat.

Rather than embracing an entrepreneurial attitude and more collaboration, we wound up simply redesigning the workspace. Adding a Ping-Pong table to the break room and an open floor plan didn’t give our employees a new sense of ownership or help our teams pivot more quickly.

What ultimately did work took longer to sort out: Our efforts to flatten management hierarchies, incubate ideas, and spend more time listening to employees rather than directing them. But while that was harder, it had a deeper and longer-lasting impact on the company’s culture.

STOP LOOKING FOR A RULEBOOK TO THROW OUT

You can’t just bottle startup culture and apply it to another company. Unlike established businesses, startups don’t follow an existing business model—they’re trying to invent a new one. Startups are busy running experiments, testing what happens, and then pivoting in a new direction based on the outcome. Most importantly—as I’ve since learned while running my own startup, TiZE—there’s no standard operating procedure, because everything is happening in foreign territory.

So while you can’t mimic an existing startup, you can take steps to embrace the energy and ethos of one. Think about startup culture, beyond its physical trappings: It’s about passion, personality, agility, authenticity, and collaboration. You can’t force these elements onto your employees simply by adding beanbag chairs or easing up on dress code.

Instead, the goal is to create an “anything is possible” mentality in a place that hasn’t been conducive to that before. Here are a few ways to get there, no matter the size of the company or the stage it’s in.

1. FLATTEN HIERARCHIES

Startups are small, which means they aren’t beholden to the rigid management structures of larger corporations. You don’t have to throw out the org chart completely, but you should re-engineer an environment where ideas can flow freely.

So sure, if you add a Ping-Pong table to the office, people from all departments will gather around it. But there are other ways to foster community. At large businesses, social business tools and company intranets can be useful. The key is to create an environment where everyone feels like they have a seat at the table.

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