Startups Should Study the Corporate Playbook, Here’s Why

Part of the fun of being in a startup is the fact that it is a roller coaster ride. But it seems a bit silly to not fasten...

Photo: Linda Coussement, founder of Inspired Process; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Linda Coussement, founder of Inspired Process; Source: Courtesy Photo

Bureaucratic, inflexible, cold, and down-right evil; over the past years some have come to associate these words with large corporations.

To add insult to injury, the media (and Hollywood) are known for proliferating the “winning at all costs” greed story with images like the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the movie ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ or ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ a Martin Scorsese film based on the life of former stockbroker Jordan Belfort.

Both are adequate, and enthralling, representations of what many think large corporations represent: greedy, power-hungry vultures that will stop at nothing to win. So, it should not come as a surprise that more and more people are choosing a startup life in lieu of slaving away in corporate cubicles.


Corporate Lessons Every Startup Can Benefit From

But let’s not be too hasty in shunning larger enterprises. After all, they must be doing something right to garner such enviable earnings, right? So, here’s a look at lessons that every startup can learn from their larger counterparts:


  • Understand the Bigger Picture

    Though it’s not necessary to hire expensive business consultants to help you outline your strategy like the multinationals do, it is important to know which way you are heading as a business. Not just for the coming months, but preferably for the coming years. Your company vision and strategy will guide you forward — not the everyday bustle and the one (or few) large client(s) you serve today.

    This does not mean that everything has to be set in stone. It simply means that everybody should know and understand the desired direction you’re moving in and how to contribute to those next steps. Managing a successful business is a lot like playing a game of chess, not poker.

  • Build a Foundation Prepared for Growth

    With a growing business comes new types of challenges that most startups aren’t prepared for, such as: a) more clients with questions or complaints, b) more employees that require a clear role description and support, c) more potential partners who want to work with you and require your time, and d) investors who want to see results and reports too.

    All of these things require a tremendous amount of time — and you’ll need to be prepared. This includes clarity on roles and responsibilities, operational goals and metrics, and plans on how to continuously improve. It should be really clear that these systems and processes are in place to facilitate the flow — not disrupt it!

  • Manage Knowledge Effectively

    When it’s just a small team sharing a home office, it’s quite easy to ensure everyone is on the same page. And when things are unclear, it’s easy to ask. But as soon as you start hiring new employees, acquiring more customers and increasing the complexity of your products and services, tools should be available to ensure the day-to-day of your business is not dependent on just a few people.

    There’s no need for elaborate knowledge management systems like many corporations have in place; a simple Wiki like Igloo, or others, will suffice. If you want to save you and your team a lot of time and hassle, then make sure it is up to date and actually being used by making someone the lead and assigning responsibility for the management of it.

  • Focus on Company Culture, Immediately

    Working in a startup offers people one of the steepest learning curves they can ever experience. But it’s almost like you’re learning by accident; you come across a new business challenge, hustle your way through it and voila: new skills learned! Startups usually don’t take out the time to learn new skills because, well … they simply don’t have the time. But as soon as you’ve established your business model and you’re settling into it, take a conscious look at your people; where they want to go and what they want to learn.

    If you can align their desires with your business needs (and help them grow in their roles) you’ve got yourself business growth gold! Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy and incredibly formal, as long as these things are on the table and in active dialogue.

  • Hire Fresh Perspective

    As your business grows, you might find yourself out of your depth. Though there is usually a lot of help and coaching around for startups in their beginning stages; it’s a lot harder to figure out what to do once your growth spurt hits mach speed. Corporations are often quite clever to hire external consultants or business coaches to offer fresh perspective.

    These people know exactly what you need and can give you quite the boost in challenging areas. Again, there’s no need for heavy duty consultants if you don’t have the cash; you can ask an experienced entrepreneur to help you for a nominal fee or trade places with another local CEO for a week and shake things up a bit.

Most startups don’t look beyond the building, marketing and selling their products, but as soon as they start to grow, they’re stuck with many unanswered questions. Dealing with this whilst you’re on a high speed startup train can be quite tricky!

Though larger corporations often have things a little too well thought out, there’s definitely something positive to say for being aware of the road ahead and creating the structure and skills to manage it. Part of the fun of being in a startup is the fact that it is a roller coaster ride. But it seems a bit silly to not fasten your seat belt when you can, doesn’t it?


This article has been edited and condensed.

Linda Coussement is the founder of Inspired Process. She’s on a quest to revolutionize the business world by helping entrepreneurs build, improve and grow remarkable businesses. Connect with @inspiredprocess on Twitter.


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