Like a startup – what we can learn from agile companies

The 6-point guide to becoming more agile

This is about competencies. These are things that we do – demonstrably and observably – and how. So it’s about learning, and learning by example is particularly stimulating. If we learn from others, the probability increases that we can also do something or at least tackle it. Therefore: let’s learn from the approach of startups. The most important, because agile and out-of-the-box, techniques we can copy for our company and thus gain a bit of agility and new shores.

What does agile mean? Being agile, daring to try new things and tackling new things quickly. Out-of-the-box? This is a nice term, because it is worthwhile, for doing things differently. Start-ups bring new products or services to market, so they have just launched. They rely on everyone to think and give their all. Even a more traditionally positioned company can learn a thing or two from this – provided it has the courage. Here are the instructions in six points:

#1 Everyone counts and everyone can do something: Making competencies visible.

What is there to learn from start-ups here? Everyone does everything. In other words, everyone can contribute whatever he or she brings to the table: privately, professionally, as a person, from his or her own network. Everything counts, because it is often unclear whether it is needed. But it is important to uncover the potential and make it visible. Organize internal workshops where you ask who contributes what. Take an X-Day or a Barcamp as a template, for example. Offer workshops where employees can show their skills – not only those that occur in the narrower purpose of the job description – but also others. For example, how a childcare was privately founded or the association organizes a marathon run or what special knowledge is available in the gaming sector.

#2 How do you communicate in a start-up? Transparency applies.

Young companies that rely on the knowledge of others use it for the common new thing. As a result, everyone is always up to speed because they see the product in front of them. This “everybody-knows-everything” is often lost as an organization grows. Channels and filters are created, often unconsciously, but here it is necessary to swing back to a generally shared openness. If there is hierarchy, it should not be a bottleneck. Look for ways and tools to openly share any information, especially about problems and business performance. No one deserves to be less informed. Sharing information generously means giving trust. This is the basis for identifying with the employer and doing one’s best.

#3 What is our vision?

If a company has existed for a long time, this is often lost. Originally, there was an enthusiasm for one’s own product, for a certain way of offering the world something more than others. This is exactly what needs to be revitalized. Often, the creation of structures has blurred the purpose of what is distinctive. Large corporations like Google, which know about the power of vision, have therefore readjusted their visions and given you openness. After all, which vision is more motivating: “We always give our clientele that certain something” or “our paper cups are made of recyclable material”?

Also use inspiration from outside: especially non-profit organizations are strong in defining a purpose for themselves. What are your values that you stand for? It helps to consider what makes you smile, what you really love to provide – for the customers, for the organization.

#4 Live your culture!

This doesn’t mean the Christmas party. More value in everyday life unfold the small things. The beautiful and loving decoration of the entrance area, the attentiveness of the superiors given to your employees. That is culture in everyday life. Here, too, it’s all about the little things: beautiful, high-quality food in the cafeteria, careful employee information. The generosity to sometimes let things go. Also generosity in occasional rewards. And these don’t even have to be a bare monetary value, but a recognition, a museum voucher or a spa voucher.

Attention as a culture also goes online. Home office sessions should include time for “check-in”: a brief feedback on how you’re feeling. Or you can ask again whether everything has really been discussed. Online, too, you can look people in the face and try to read their moods. And online networking also works extremely well. Scheduled breakout rooms for speed networking or simply an online coffee break may create trust and closeness. A little, at least, and enough to grow a base that can then be further cultivated at an analog meeting.

Also, make sure you have a culture of feedback. There’s nothing more valuable than a frank word now and then, feedback that reveals how something was received or what was triggered in a person by something. A path to authenticity can be laid in this way, which – cultivated in a mannerly way – can contribute to an added value of level in a company.

#5 Playful approach

Sure, processes have to be there. Yes, it must be clear what the results are to be and what quality standards are to be set. And: the learnings from the work must be named. But: be open for experiments and prototypical procedures. Don’t postpone new things until the end of time, but consider them as temporary experiments and put them into practice. This also includes giving employees the confidence to try things out. And for supervisors: be an example yourself. Consider something as an experiment, show that you also (want to) learn and look for new things.

Playing is learning. This is often lost. In pedagogy, this is called self-directed learning and is considered the golden way out of bulimic learning, which is by no means self-directed. An attitude of openness means to allow new things, to learn from them – and quite sportingly – to continue. To stay with it.

A word about strategy: often it is the strategy that is invoked when one does not realize something that it offers. It’s not in the strategy. Take the opportunity to anchor a certain openness in your strategy. New things are created by association, by coincidence, and by the ability to live a willingness to embrace new things.

#6 Pay attention to lived knowledge transfers.

It’s not just the organic fruit basket that opens up the new culture. If the employees become more over the years, the special responsibilities increase and the company becomes more complex. This is where knowledge transfer is in high demand. Especially in view of the wave of baby boomers leaving the company. Do you have your knowledge management under control – Are you satisfied with your transfer activities? Look for innovative ways to tap into conscious and unconscious knowledge from departing or changing employees. Unconscious knowledge – and there is a lot of it – is most likely to be tapped through questioning techniques. Train HR people or consider questions that crack open “how” someone does the job. This is how you ensure distinctive quality in your products and services.

Also, don’t forget that job rotations within the company itself are sources to stay awake and sharpen understanding of problems and competencies of other departments and employees. Job rotation is experiencing a revival, especially under the aspect of promoting services and customer journeys and internal understanding. And: should you fear the time investment, remember the paradox that a measure that looks like a time and resource investment pays off when it is “worth it”. Knowledge and innovation gain and refreshed organizational power are the added values here!

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