4 Ways Big Companies Can Act Like Start-ups to be More Innovative

Big companies have the resources.  Big companies have loads of talent.  Of course they should be able to do what they want to do, when they want to do it.  But, that’s not always the case. Being big can be great, but being fast, nimble and desperate does have its advantages.

Small, shoestring startups play David to a big company Goliath all the time. Just take a look around and you’ll find a steady stream of stories about small companies who, in a flash, are either acquired by a much larger competitor or are making headlines for creating a truly innovative and amazing product or service.

Groupon, founded in November 2008, reportedly turned down over $5 billion dollars for their company just 24 months later.

What can large companies do to act small it comes to innovation? Let’s take a look at four strategies we’ve identified from working with some of our past clients.

Manage your talent, not your job descriptions.

Big companies generally standardize how they think of the talents and abilities of their employees, often inadvertently reducing them to rigid job descriptions. However, as we all know, most professionals have capabilities well outside of their assigned job duties. And when those talents aren’t tapped into, employees often become frustrated and either exit the organization or completely shut down.

To keep that from happening, let people bid to be on teams and projects that they’re excited and passionate about.  Give them the chance to use talents that aren’t necessarily in their current job description. When you do, you will be leveraging new skill sets that were previously untapped and your team members will be engaged in a whole new way.

Take some risks.

Burying your team in process and risk aversion is a close cousin to ignoring the talents of your employees.  The quantitative nature of how large companies are usually run focuses on trying to predict every potential for failure for a given project.  That means avoiding projects that look like they might not be successful.

Innovation requires a willingness to take some chances. Create a culture that allows team members to take calculated risks without having to first have their boss and their bosses boss sign off. And be sure to grant forgiveness frequently.

Talk to your customers. Often.

Big companies fill themselves with risk mitigation strategies to protect what they have:  people, markets, customers and intellectual property. They get conservative.

Don’t be afraid to let your project teams spend more time defining their goals.  Force them to get out in the marketplace and understand the customer by asking for a mini-business plan up front that requires a compelling, documented reason for the customer to buy.

Don’t hide that new product idea.  Make the customer a constant advisor throughout the process.  Test the concept.  Bring them prototypes.  Ask them to beta test.  If they feel like they helped to create it, not only will they want to buy it, they will want their friends, cousins, aunts, uncles and mothers to buy it.

Be big, but act small.

Small companies have the advantage of easy connections.  They can yell a question across the room, or look at the person sitting next to them and get an answer, generate a decision or start a new plan.  As the company gets bigger, the size creates physical separation that makes it much more difficult to communicate with others within the organization.

Let small teams make the small decisions.  Shorten the communication path by creating clearly defined guidelines for when they need to engage upper management.  Make sure the times when they have to get permission make sense.

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