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Power Bite: Bringing the Startup Magic to Large Organizations

Sep 19, 2022 | 5m


Bringing the Startup Magic to Large Organizations

When you're a startup company and hiring your first or maybe tenth employee, you have the luxury of being very close. Everyone’s fully tuned into what’s going on in the business, and it’s easy to arrange an all-hands meeting. This becomes slightly more complex as a 100-person organization, and the challenge only builds as the team grows to 500, or 1000 people. As the company grows, the founder is no longer as close to their employees.

Layer this with different geographies, and the challenge grows exponentially. You’ll now be dealing with different cultural practices or nuances. As you hire strong leaders, they might start creating their own culture within the organization because they’re able to drive it. Suddenly, instead of a unified culture, you have multiple cultures in the same organization.

This is why having a Soul System is incredibly important, and offers a framework – shared purpose, shared understanding and shared behaviors – to have clarity of thought across the company. It is a way to scale that intimate relationship that a small startup founder has with their team even as the company grows in size and across different regions.

LinkedIn is a great example of a company with soul. These statements are crystal clear and codify experiences within the company.

  • Purpose: Facilitating professional networking
  • Vision: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce
  • Mission: To connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful
  • Values: Members first, relationships matter, be open, honest and constructive, demand excellence, take intelligent risks, and act like an owner.
  • Spirit: We aspire to create a trusted, caring, inclusive, fun, and transformational experience for each other at LinkedIn, and through our platform for every member of the global workforce.

Another example from a different industry is Johnson & Johnson, who live by what they call their credo. The credo was developed over 75 years ago and has stood the test of time, which suggests that it's been well thought through. It was updated twice: once to address ecological responsibility, and the other time to reflect a more inclusive definition of parenthood. This credo reads like a blueprint for the stakeholder approach.

There’s an interesting story around this. When Johnson & Johnson’s CEO Alex Gorsky retired, the outpouring of love he received from former and current colleagues across all ranks was truly astounding. This wasn’t accidental. Gorsky, through his career, had embodied the credo and brought it to life. That's the power of the Soul System® – getting the ingredients right will mean making a very real mark on your people.

A more personal anecdote from the company I ran – Spark44 – which grew from 80 people, to 250 in three years, to 750, and eventually 1200 when I left! How did we keep that startup magic as we scaled rapidly? We codified experiences by giving them unique names and making sure they were memorable and repeatable, so people could connect with them at different levels.

For instance, employee evaluations happened thrice a year, and values and vision were embedded into these. So at least thrice a year, employees and managers thought about these key elements as they set goals and objectives for the following months. There were also programs like Sparkapalooza, which was a week of innovation, and SparkBnB, where employees from different offices swapped jobs with a colleague for a month or two.

Activities like these helped align the entire organization consistently and repeatedly around our shared purpose. The result? Employee satisfaction rates were over 90% and annual turnover was half the industry average. People loved to stay and stayed longer.

If you’re a leader wondering how to emulate the startup magic in your larger organization, here is my top tip: think about how your teams are experiencing your vision, mission, purpose in their daily work. Startups are very clear about why they exist. Many only survive pitching rounds for capital if they have a purpose and vision that convinces investors. The founders who make it are fully committed to bringing that vision to life, extending this mindset into hiring. People who join startups buy into the vision, knowing that it will fuel them through the tough road ahead.

In large organizations, this isn’t the case. People don’t hire for vision, mission, purpose, they hire to fill roles. As a leader, reflect on your hiring practices. Are you fully behind the vision, mission and purpose of the organization? If so, how can you bring those elements to life in your own team? How can you give your people a sense of the larger “why” behind their daily tasks?

Ultimately, the key questions you should ask are “Why am I here?” and “Why are we here?” Have an answer, translate it to your people, make sure they have a similar answer, you’re on your way to building a company with great culture and lots of soul.

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