The larger a business grows, the harder is to main that air of startup culture. You know the one we mean: a close-knit team in a cramped office space filled with beat up laptops and big ideas. Larger corporations can come with a lot of perks not afforded to smaller startups: bigger offices, higher pay, instant name-recognition and better job security. But some of the passion, spontaneity, and innovation can be forgotten as the employee count climbs to 100 and beyond.

Is it possible to have a startup mentality, even at a multi-national company? We say yes. While certain things will be different (hello, corporate hierarchy) it’s certainly possible to capture the spirit of a startup with the right attitude.


encourage passion

Startups are built on passion. They’re formed around an idea or product that the founders and early employees believe in. Often this idea or product is borne of a side project or passion project that evolved into a full-fledged business. Everyone at the company has faith in the idea. They’re passionate about sharing it with the masses.

This kind of enthusiasm can be a little more difficult to muster at an established company, particularly if the end goal is something as intangible as a boost in stock prices or increased profitability – these upsides are meaningless to the average employee.

What can do you to create passion? Be open to innovation and new ideas and have tangible goals that employees can feel good about working toward. People get passionate about ideas that they can believe in, and progress they can feel happening.

listen to new ideas

Startups create an environment where every employee has a voice. On a compact team, every person’s opinion matters – everyone is expected to toss out ideas (particularly as it relates to their specialty) and see what sticks. Sure, many of those ideas won’t make it past brainstorming, but at the very least everyone feels like they have a say.

At larger companies, with hundreds or thousands of employees, it’s easier for voices to get lost, especially as you trickle down the corporate ladder. Being open to ideas from employees of all levels and backgrounds can only make your company stronger. You don’t have to green light every idea. But you do need to listen.

react quickly

Startups are nimble and able to react quickly to developments. A client calls needing an emergency fix? A startup is on it and will have a solution by the end of the day. They can’t afford to bleed customers. Larger companies tend to think bigger and move slower. That customer is added to the customer service queue. A solution will be ready when all the others waiting in line have been served. If that customer is lost? Well, there’s a thousand more waiting.

At larger companies, there’s also a lot more red tape to cut through. It’s unheard of to have an idea pitched in the morning and go live in the afternoon. Big ideas must first pass through mangers, then executives, and finally the board. At a startup, an idea can manifest into reality in the course of an afternoon.

What can you do to improve reaction times? Start with eliminating unnecessary protocols and opening up lines of communication between employees and leaders. The larger the company, the more processes, procedures, and protocols there are to follow. Simplify your workflow and approvals as much as possible. The shorter your approval process, the better! There’s always room to streamline.

focus on collaboration

One of the key tenets of startup culture is getting together a group of passionate individuals who work together to make the company happen.  There’s a reason that startup offices are often open concept, open workspaces where cubes and separate workstations have been eliminated. Collaboration is not only encouraged, it’s all but a requirement for success. There’s no such thing as departments (or ‘silos’) where employees work in virtual isolation from one another. Employees bounce ideas off one another and rely on one another to get everything that needs to be done finished.

At larger companies, employees tend to be much more specialized. Everyone is assigned a precise task in alignment with their specialty. Work can often be completed with little to no input from anyone else.

automate and innovate

At large companies, employees often get caught up in meeting quotas or completing a set task assigned to them. This kind of quota-driven culture can lead to a complacent workforce that comes in, gets the work done, and heads out at 5pm sharp. The emphasis becomes the quantity rather than the quality of work.

Encourage employees to find better, smarter ways of doing tasks, so they can focus their time on meaningful work. Startups tend to be early adopters of new technology. They’re great at finding ways to simplify and automate tasks so they can focus employee efforts where the biggest differences can be realized.

recognize contributions

Startups have compact teams, so it’s easy to trace successes back to the source. If someone has a great idea or pulls in a big client, it’s immediately clear who is responsible. This makes it easy to recognize and celebrate contributions. At larger companies, where most projects are spearheaded by a team, rather than individuals, it can become a little more muddled who was responsible for what. That doesn’t mean that successes shouldn’t be applauded equally. Recognition doesn’t have to be monetary, either. While a bonus or thank-you lunch isn’t out of place after a big project is completed successfully, simple recognition of a job well done is also important.

Make sure leaders regularly meet with all the employees they manage to communicate about successes, in addition to areas for improvement. Celebrating positives at work is an important part of creating a productive workforce that feels good about coming into the office each day.

remember the small things

Startups don’t have a lot of money to throw around on expensive employee perks. But they’ve perfected the art of finding small ways to make employees feel appreciated in a big way. They know how to make the workplace a fun place to be, even when employees are spending grueling 12-hour days at the office.  From a casual dress code, to afternoon snacks, to a fancy office cappuccino machine, to leave-early Fridays, startups excel at turning a relatively small investment into happy long-term employees. Corporations can learn from this model. Sometimes small gestures can sometimes be just as empowering as expensive luxuries.

Celebrating the small things goes beyond company perks, too. It means recognizing and being appreciative of the small things that happen every day at work. Startups tend to have close-knit teams that are excellent at collaboration – they appreciate each person’s talents and use them to create a stronger whole.

No matter the employee count at your company, it’s possible to retain some of the characteristics that make startups great. You just have to make them a priority. With the right attitude and strong leaders, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds!

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