What Big Brothers Can Learn From Their Little Brother

Written by Steve Leslie

My big brother used to beat me up from the time I was eight until fifteen. He claimed then, and still claims now, that he was trying to toughen me up, and prepare me for the world. But one day, the weekly beat ups changed, physics had caught up for me. My big brother learned a lesson that day; he learned that little brothers could get big!

We see the same thing in the business world. In this world of start-ups and scale-ups, the “small guys” often dominate markets by changing the rules of businesses. They are starting to have a significant impact on the innovation that is taking place in the robotics, artificial intelligence, and software automation industry. These once small companies are now getting big and beating the big guys at their own game. 

During my coaching and leadership career, I’ve taken the lessons learned from the insides of both large multinational companies and scale-up businesses and helped combine that knowledge to bring it to my clients. My career has been dedicated to helping shape company culture, align leaders, and develop people in this most effective ways possible. 

Because of my unique position, I have seen the difference between the big company and the scale-up. As industry disruption and innovation runs rampant, I’ve taken note of what those organizations should apply to their culture and approach to business. Here are the lessons I’ve learned. 

Don’t Be So Functionally Aligned

Functional alignment and expertise drive efficiency, but often it leads to silo thinking. By this, it means that you are splitting up the work and arranging by the function of the process. A silo mentality is when people are reluctant to share information with employees within their own company. As silo thinking begins to take over a company, it can lead to increased efficiency; however, it hurts innovation. And can even damage culture. 

Most businesses would all agree that they want to have a more collaborative vision and be able to communicate better. You don’t need to have an MBA to realize that with better communication and collaboration, the more financial returns your company will see. However, stepping away from those historical structures can be hard because the loss of control and departure from the familiar is painful for some. 

Start-ups and scale-ups can reach across the functions to generate and solutions. Instead of sitting on the ideas, waiting for approval, or pieces of the puzzle from other divisions, they can act quickly. If you are a large organization, you should do everything you can to remove functional silos. Try to encourage cross-functional teams and state a clear understanding of the ultimate goal of the company, to drive innovation.

The Best Idea Can Come From Anywhere 

Unfortunately, large organizations will rely solely on the vacuum of communication within a specific group of leaders and levels in the company. Ideas might be coming from just a few people instead of the whole organization. When a lower-level employee does have an idea, it might not even make it up to the decision-makers or is not encouraged. 

Small companies are different from these giants because they are often not biased towards ideas. They will encourage any employee to come up with ideas that drive innovation and lead to success. Start-ups that do find success will often have tried and failed many times. They use that failure to build something better than they had before. Big organizations are usually the exact opposite and reward their employees for taking the limited risk, rather than take a chance on something that has the potential to fail, but a higher reward if it doesn’t. Instead, they should start listening to every voice, regardless of level. 

Be Agile With Your Culture & Values

No matter how many new people you hire, it can’t change the culture of the workplace if the company doesn’t focus on keeping them long-term. Large organizations find it very tough to evolve their work environment or modify values in the face of market changes. 

Businesses that encourage an open exchange of ideas are in the best situation to attract new and talented individuals. Large companies should focus on creating educational opportunities for their employees to help them learn and foster a positive workplace environment. Showing that they care about their employees and are willing to invest in them, can go a long way. 

Being able to talk about values, and in some cases, changing values, to reflect the current realities of the business is a healthy way always to ensure you have a culture that is young, fresh, evolving, and performing at a high level.

Innovate At All Costs

Small companies excel at having a can-do attitude. They tend to be inspired by new ideas, markets, and opportunities. However, too often, big companies get into this mode of killing ideas, playing devil’s advocate, and never letting any different type of thinking get momentum. Instead, they should embrace new ideas by creating an environment that welcomes them. 

Large companies should have parts of their businesses that work like start-ups and allow their employees to fail. Try new things, and in team meetings, these employees can then share what worked and didn’t work for them. Creating agile parts of the business can start to fuel innovation. 

Most importantly, big companies must put a process in place to ensure that new ideas are allowed to be heard by the right people. Create chances for your workers to fail without penalty so that the learnings transition to the new business opportunity.

By remembering these four tips, maybe you can stop your little brother from one day teaching you a lesson to toughen you up. 

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