“Start-up” – the word calls to mind visions of open floor plans, witty banter, colorful collaboration spaces, and out-of-the-box thinking. It is the kind of environment that empowers its employees to fully utilize their talents and bring radical ideas to life.
“A start-up mentality cultivates innovation,” says Kevin Mulleady, global entrepreneur and executive leader. “It creates a mission-driven culture that grants employees the autonomy to think creatively when solving complex problems as well as ample resources to implement novel solutions. This is the kind of culture that transforms an employee into a motivated team player, constantly striving for growth.”
But even more importantly, says Kevin Mulleady, a start-up mindset is a “hungry” mindset. Even after a business outgrows the “start-up” title, one must strive to preserve that initial hunger – that drive to innovate and contribute to the company’s mission.
“It is hard work to sustain that level of ambition in a company that’s ten, twenty, or even a hundred times larger than it used to be,” admits Kevin Mulleady. “Communication may become slower, departments less agile. But there are so many ways to foster a start-up mindset that can reduce or eliminate these sorts of problems completely.”
Encourage More Questions and Establish Ownership Says Kevin Mulleady
“One thing that many employees love about a start-up culture is that it provides opportunities for employees to have their voices heard, not just by their juniors or peers, but also by their seniors. There is often less political hierarchy, allowing the best idea to prevail, regardless of job title,” says Kevin Mulleady.
This sort of culture is quite common in newer, smaller companies. However, when these companies mature into larger corporations, some employees may feel demotivated due to the fear of becoming just another cog in the machine. “A culture that discourages questions and critical thinking is a culture that discourages innovation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked ‘How can I best allocate resources? How can I make this process more efficient?’ And then when I respond, ‘Have you asked the employees in those related roles what they would change?’, it’s like a lightbulb goes off,” says Kevin Mulleady.
When employees are encouraged to ask questions, not just about their roles, but about the company mission at large, they develop a sense of ownership and are reminded of their significance as part of the bigger picture. “If one feels their only job purpose is to simply print labels and slap them on boxes, it is easy to inherit the toxic, ‘I don’t matter’ mentality. But if they understand they contribute to the greater mission by ensuring people in need receive proper medical supplies as quickly as possible….that’s an entirely new, improved mindset, and one that will lead to greater confidence and increased innovation,” says Kevin Mulleady.
When you allow people to be curious, you invite them to use their imaginations and assess the work they do critically. Perhaps the employee who handles the labeling, when properly encouraged, will be the one who helps streamline the mailing process to offer shipping that is one day faster than the competition.
“In a start-up, everyone is vital. Businesses have to remember that there is no ‘unskilled labor.’ There are only employees that are vital to the existence and growth of the company,” Kevin Mulleady enthuses.
Create open-door policies and provide anonymous feedback opportunities to start stimulating discourse. Some of the feedback may be surprisingly tough to swallow, or in contrast, delightfully reassuring – in either circumstance, improvements are right around the corner. “Remember that you’re looking for opposing positions to challenge the status quo. Put ego aside and really consider the validity of every question and comment, in order to move the company forward,” reminds Kevin Mulleady.
Make Room for Mistakes Advises Kevin Mulleady
“In my experience, the smaller the business, the more comfortable employees typically are with trying new things. When I say make room for mistakes, I don’t mean invite or reward failure – I mean trying new things comes with risk. But taking risks is necessary to progress,” says Kevin Mulleady.
The larger a company becomes, the more conservatively they tend to allocate resources, hire people, and structure the work environment. “As businesses become successful, they increase oversight – managers, budgets, corporate compliance, etc. And these are very necessary for a growing business. But it is important to allow some flexibility, some room to breathe, or the employees and company might stagnate,” warns Kevin Mulleady. “If new ideas are stifled, the company will fall out of touch and flounder.”