Can Any Company Act Like A Lean Startup

Startups are famed for agility and speed, but can any company do this?


You might wonder why a Fortune 500 company would want to act like a start-up – surely the marketplace has accepted their business model as a justifiable, profitable one - so why should they go back to their roots to start the whole process again?

The truth is that both established companies and ‘lean’ start-ups can learn from one another. Take planning - start-ups often don’t have the required resources to plan 5-10 years in front – established organisations do, and for strategists this is incredibly important. But on the other hand, you could argue that the Chief Innovation Officer doesn’t need to work within the same timeframes – his or her department could operate on a strictly no planning policy where money is invested when an ‘innovation’ hits the right spark with the company. This gives the innovators more opportunity and scope to be creative without being burdened by both financial and operational planning.

Leadership and culture remain the biggest stumbling blocks for large organisations. Teamwork has always been important for every company, but now it’s essential. Problem is, the larger an organisation gets, the larger its teams become. In a start-up, things are leaner because a team can consist of two or three people all of whom know how to get the best out of each other. In larger companies, teams can have thousands of members – when it gets to this level, the only way to ensure the team is working efficiently is to have guidelines and a very distinct way of doing things.

That isn’t to say that large companies can’t get leaner. In the words of Rich Karlgaard; ‘There’s a right size for every team, and it’s almost always smaller than you think’. The key is to keep teams as small as possible – get them working together and for each other so that they’re willing to step in and help when times are tough. This would represent a massive turnover for some companies and in many cases it would require a new style of leadership to take the old guard into the modern era – but it’s important to say, that this is more than feasible for any company, regardless of size.

If even parts of a company were to take on board this new approach, there’s a great chance that it will be radiated throughout the company as results become tangible. There may well be a rear guard action on behalf of the management who believe in the tried and tested, but soon enough, new leadership will emerge which has a culture of change and adaptability at its core.

The bottom line is that established companies can and should look to become more adaptable. But at the same time, they should use their financial clout to great effect as well – being agile is great, but being agile and efficient is even better.


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