Building businesses with a start-up mentality

A start-up mentality is what can propel businesses quickly to the realms of successful SMEs: so how can you maintain the best traits when growing into the higher echelons?

A start-up is typified by a number of traits, typically characterised as entrepreneurialism and commitment to a vision. I believe these are fuelled by a sense of purpose, autonomy and mastery – and whatever stage of business you are in, these drivers that create a start-up business are fundamental to long-term success.

Arguably, the most risky moment for an organisation is when it no longer sees these as important and loses the fuel that energises the start-up spirit. It is this spirit that inspires individuals to think outside the box, go beyond what is expected and give the very best version of themselves for the good of the business.

In the competitive climate we see today, it has never been more important to stay nimble. Maintaining agility and this start-up mentality is a growing challenge currently facing many an established organisation. Fundamentally, the question is, how can business leaders ensure they retain a culture where the freedom to ideate, decide and act are the currency for success?

Companies with household names recognised amongst consumers and competitors, have maintained the ability to surprise, innovate and offer a differentiated experience. Brands like Google, Alibaba and Facebook continue to evolve the formula that has helped them to continue innovating like a start-up, growing responsibly like more established multi-nationals and, most importantly, inspiring their employees to see them as a great place to work. This is easier said than done.

>See also: Five business giants who failed first time around

Time, resources and effort must be dedicated if businesses wish to replicate this. All too often, the value of a ‘start-up spirit or mentality’ receives a lot of airtime around the board table but doesn’t always play out in the day-to-day running of a business. As businesses grow they see themselves starting to lose the fierce urgency, creativity and pro-activeness that once dictated activity and become pre-occupied with managing the bureaucracy, doing the politically correct thing and managing stakeholder expectations. If maturity means this it leads to the curse of complacency.

Entrepreneurship is nurtured in organisations that provide a clear sense of purpose, allow for autonomy and invest in building mastery as the lifeblood that grows the business. Instead of viewing an employee as a ’resource’, each person should be positioned as the CEO of their own job.

Whether your organisation is a start-up or a multinational, employees need to have a line of sight on the business strategy and recast traditional job roles to allow for ownership and accountability of their ideas. For the time and energy people invest into developing their skills, in return they want to see meaning in the employment experience they have. Successful businesses are recognising this and channelling this by ensuring each person is placed in a position that helps them perform above their potential by having the freedom to ideate, decide and act.

It is clear that belief inspires energy within an entrepreneurial environment and this is the critical ingredient for large businesses to re-capture. So how can multi-nationals create an environment that keeps talent “always on”?

>Related: Top five reasons why start-ups fail

Size doesn’t necessarily equate to safety in the dynamic and turbulent market we are faced with. Therefore it is in the interest of bigger business to never fall victim to the assumption that what they’ve done to get to the top will continue to result in success in the future. Teams are only as good as the last idea they translated into results.

With this in mind, the people agenda must be tuned in to the question – ‘What’s In It For Me’ so each employee’s aspirations are addressed. Businesses need people that are willing to step out of their comfort zones and are happy to question the status quo. Individuals must have the courage, character and confidence to take information and use it as fuel for adding value with both clients and colleagues.

The idea that success itself can be an enemy to creativity and innovation is a difficult one to consider. The research and literature today is based on motivating readers to shape management models for organisations to be agile, create better value, superior to competition and be indispensable to their clients.

Of course, as a business grows it is essential to remain responsive, fast moving, adaptable, spontaneous and cutting-edge. It is becoming increasingly apparent though that if businesses want to gain a competitive edge in a crowded market, going back to their roots and embracing their inner entrepreneur is the recipe for success.

>Comment: Five reasons to invest in staff training this year

Practises such as rolling out internal social media platforms or programmes where crowdsourcing and idea sharing are encouraged help. Such initiative helps with ensuring trickle-down of communication to local teams and encourages them to value creativity, think differently, and learn from the results.

At HCL Technologies, we see such people as ‘ideapreneurs’ and constantly aim to help them thrive in an environment of transparency, flexibility and trust, where the employee and their employability are put first. Although larger businesses can be fragmented, with operations spread over different geographies, time zones and cultures, this entrepreneurial philosophy resonates across boundaries. Far from being wrapped up in red tape, this approach allows teams to innovate, without threatening central operations or financials. In essence, think like a start-up!

Pritvhi Shergill is CHRO at HCL Technologies

Further reading on company culture: Developing a culture to thrive and grow

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.