How Major Corporations Can (and Should) Think Like Startups

Perks are great, but it’s how startups attack problems and mobilize talent that makes them unique

Startups
(Image: iStock.com/Susan Chiang)

“Wow! Look at your mural—you guys really are like a startup.”

I hear this at least a few times a week. Whenever we have guests to the office, the first thing they notice is the giant colorful mural that runs the length of the office. It’s not prospective employees or investors who get most excited, however—it’s our customers.

Our customers are big, global 1,000 businesses that tend to suffer from the slowness and drudgery that can come with hierarchy and having 10,000+ employees, and we sell them people analytics that help them to be more like startups. By knowing who their best people are and how they work together, our customers can respond to challenges quickly and effectively, like they were much smaller.

Our solution is only a small part of the picture. More and more, I’m seeing large organizations investing in multiple areas to try to be more like startups. From office planning to flexible employee benefits to silly perks, big corporations are trying to keep up.

But are these really the things that make startups so effective? Google didn’t become the company it is today because they did their employees’ laundry. Facebook didn’t get to over a billion users because of wall art. These things may be part of the lore, but they are not the differentiating factors.

Instead, it’s how startups attack problems and mobilize talent that makes them unique. It’s being able to focus single-mindedly on one problem that allowed Salesforce.com to become the king of CRM. It was a reputation for hiring brilliant people that made Google such a desirable place to work.

Large companies have their own DNA. Sometimes, that DNA has existed for over hundreds of years. But DNA can mutate, and through careful modification, it’s possible to make a big, old-school organization a little bit more like a startup. Through our work with organizations of all different sizes, here are a few things we think that large companies can do to be more like their smaller competitors:

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Zachary Johnson is the CEO and co-founder of Syndio, an enterprise people analytics company based in Chicago. Syndio helps large organizations use network science to systematically measure intangible aspects of employee-to-employee communication like trust, information sharing, and collaboration and to use this knowledge to dramatically improve talent management, innovation, and change initiatives.

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.