Companies of all sizes and in all industries, including manufacturing, are taking cues from startups when developing their corporate culture. Some think it’s all about the bells and whistles: Ping-Pong tables in break rooms, lounge-wear on Fridays, etcetera etcetera.
And there’s more to it than that. While there is no exact definition of a startup (for more on that, check out this excellent Business Insider article), the feeling or energy of startup companies is part of their model.
Startups emphasize innovation, growth, and a culture of entrepreneurial thinking. All companies can benefit from focusing on those three areas. As CEO of Pacesetter, I’ve looked at what startups are doing right to inform our culture and processes.
Pacesetter has a people-driven culture that prioritizes innovation, community, and growth. Encouraging our people to drive our innovation—to bring ideas and technologies to the table that will help the company as a whole—keeps them engaged and invested in the work they do.
For instance, who better to assess the need and effectiveness of new technology than our Database Manager, Brian Goldstein? In this article, he describes the way to evaluate a piece of technology—does it really make your business more efficient, for example—in a way that’s accessible to both our team members and to our customers.
This sharing of ideas and information is one way that startups stay fresh and innovative. Think of it as, “hey, I have this idea and I’d really like input to make it a better idea and then see what we can do to actualize it.”
For a startup to succeed, lines of communication must flow in every direction, not just top-down. At Pacesetter, we try to duplicate that model. In fact, I make a concerted effort to create an open environment for this type of communication. I have a rotating schedule of one-on-one lunches with our mid-level leadership team so that we have dedicated time together and they have the opportunity to express to me directly their needs or the needs of their teams. This is not to circumvent their managers or the proper chain of command, and yet it helps everyone stay aligned without the game of telephone. All associates are welcome to come express an idea to me directly, and I make sure to encourage all new associates to start sharing ideas on day one. Who better to have an idea for improvement than the person who hasn’t been living in it day after day?
It’s important to create the environment of open communication and engagement. Give your team relevant information so that they can provide relevant feedback and ideas. What really drives it though is acting on some of those relevant ideas. When your team feels heard, they bring more ideas. This cycle drives the type of engagement combined with passion and excitement seen in a startup’s culture.
Once a team is working together, and everyone has contributed to the conversation, it’s pretty hard for anyone to walk away from a project or new process. I feel blessed that the people who make up the Pacesetter team stay with us, and for a long time, too: more than half of our associates have been with us for at least 10 years, many of them moving into new roles as the company evolves! I think that truly engaging them and letting them know that their ideas and input are valued helps keep our turnover rate low.
Low turnover helps not just the bottom line but also morale and engagement. It also helps with our mission to create what we like to call the Ultimate Customer Experience.
We also innovate in order to meet customer needs, and to stay even-keeled (and even grow) in a tough industry. We find creative ways to meet our customer’s’ bottom line, adapting to meet their demands, which is another way in which we follow the startup model. The financial software company Intuit, for instance, first offered a personal software package, Quicken, and added QuickBooks and Turbotax in response to customer need. Like Intuit, we look to our customers to redefine our products, rather than keeping our products the same and hoping it’s a good fit.
Of course, it does take some fun, food and a focus on the needs of our team to keep the energy positive and ideas coming, which startups know good and well. While we have a gym and a library and can afford some of the bells and whistles, we, like start-ups, also focus on having a good time and celebrating our successes in cost-effective ways. It’s more important to “Keep it Fun” regularly than it is to have blowout events a few times a year.
Keeping innovation, growth and entrepreneurial thinking at the center of our business model really is key to our success. Borrowing those three principles from startups has helped the bottom line, customer relationships, and associate retention. You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to do that.