HR & Management

Three things large firms can learn from startups

3 min read

14 November 2012

A corporation is an oil tanker, a startup is a speedboat. What can large firms learn from their smaller counterparts, asks Rich Martell.

Chances are, if you’re an adult living in a city, you’ll have worked for a large corporation. You’ll be practiced in Heath and Safety, timesheets and holiday rotas. 

Fewer of you will have had the experience – and a unique one, at that – of working for a startup.

Life in the “newborn business” environment can be challenging, both socially and financially, but there are useful lessons to be learnt from the growth stage that can be applied to the larger workforce too. 

Here are three tips for big bosses to do good by thinking little:

Reinforce autonomy

Ensure each employee knows the value of their contribution to the business as a whole. 

As if they were a founding member, the business’ growth is still dependent – to some degree – on their productivity. Focus on this by ensuring clear lines of responsibility at every level.

Cut quickly 

Many corporations’ biggest downfall is the luxury of complacency. No matter how much time or money you have, stay lean. 

From suppliers to clients to staff, if they are inefficient, cut them. It goes without saying that the longer you leave it, the more difficult it will be.

Structure by people, not department

Don’t allow any “leadership” initiatives let you dilute teams. Put A players with A players, B players with B players. 

Building domestic rapport will offset the need for HR significantly and should be a priority in organisational design: it will be the biggest aid to softening hierarchy and nurturing growth culture. 

Having smaller “platoon” teams of a maximum 25 staff and bigger departments at 150 (Dunbar’s number), is a contemporary management style intended to captialise on complimentary qualities of individuals. Think Twitter, Facebook and Google – social synergy with like-minded founders is what caused these startups to soar.

With minimal restructuring, instating these shifts is easily achievable and usually beneficial within large company cultures. 

Remember the metaphor: a corporation is an oil tanker, whilst a startup is a speedboat. If you can maintain the flexibility and agility of the smaller vessel, you will be sufficiently flexible to seize opportunities as and when they come along, regardless of your size.

Rich Martell is the founder of Floxx and part of the Future 50 Class of 2011.