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Revolutionize change management with a startup mentality

Dispel fatigue and instill an appetite for constant evolution

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Nov 27, 2023

Change and, in particular, change management is a huge issue for HR leaders; 77%* say that their employees feel fatigued and 82%* report that managers at their organizations are ill-equipped to lead change.  

We at Enspira have seen this to be true.  When the only constant is change, the statistics are alarming for companies of all sizes.  

So what can we do to make change management a smoother path? 

Our experience tells us that smaller companies, like startups, won’t be reporting similar statistics.  We have applied learnings from startups and their cultures to address change management more broadly across industries and in varying sizes of company.  We believe that all businesses can dispel change fatigue and actually instill an appetite for change with a few, well, changes.

Startup success

At Enspira, we have worked with many startups which despite being operationally small, embrace change and constant evolution as everyday realities.   Startups have to be nimble and react to ever-changing conditions.  With business growth comes employee growth, both in the number of employees needed and in the skills of those employees.  It can be exciting, stressful, demanding, and continually fluctuating.  

Startups have a particular mindset and model that prepares them well for change and there’s no reason why larger companies can’t employ the same.  Here is how to go about making change management easier with a startup mentality.

Embed a Startup Culture

This isn’t a simple ‘how to’ guide to operating like a startup.  Getting into the weeds and doing the work is required and where better to start than with culture.

Culture is important.  It’s what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to do it– the working environment you’re going to create. A company’s culture should be strongly defined in the minds of its employees from the outset otherwise one can evolve organically leading to inconsistencies.  

Culture sets the tone for working life, including employee performance and business decisions, and that culture needs to be built upon the solid building blocks of vision, values and purpose.  What we notice about startups is that they also tend to add additional building blocks, the more inclusive workplace practices of DEIB and psychological safety.  

DEIB and psychological safety are explicit parts of a culture which allow people to bring their whole selves to work and feel safe in their authenticity. This feeling of belonging allows greater exploration of possibility and creativity with permission to make mistakes.  It’s liberating and when accompanied by greater agency to make decisions, it is empowering for employees, boosting morale and reducing fatigue.  We all know that feeling when a spark of an idea ignites and tiredness lifts!

Encouraging this way of working is invigorating for employees and delivers results.  If all ideas are welcomed in a firm, people know they can speak up and bring unlimited innovation to a business.

Importantly, employees will also be more receptive to change because they’re dealing with it more often – change is part of the culture itself.  They will become more resilient and adaptable; it’s expected and the norm.  

Culture should be revisited regularly to ensure it still rings true and that existing projects are still the most impactful and relevant.  It’s never too late to shake things up entirely and establish a fresh way of doing things – the perfect juncture to consider being more like a startup.

Create a Startup Employee Development Program

Communication is critical in any organization and is imperative for imbuing the workplace with its culture.  But what Enspira sees startups doing really well is engaging with their teams and making it clear how individuals’ roles fit into the organization’s processes and structure. Leaders build buy-in for ideas, changes of direction and the challenges that accompany growth because employees know what they’re working towards.  In addition, leaders are listening, informing and responding to employees.  The communication channels between founders and their teams are well and truly open, allowing for free movement of ideas, feedback and a clear view of the ‘bigger picture’.  There’s no mystery.

These principles can be applied to any size organization and can be broken down into:

  • Role definition and alignment to company goals
  • Clear performance development process
  • Communication, communication, communication

Role definition and alignment to company goals

You’ve explained to your new hire the technicalities of the job, but do they know why they’re doing it?  You want employees to understand where the role and they themselves fit into the organization to help them live and breathe the vision, values, and purpose.  They also need to see where their job sits within company goals to understand the bigger role that they’re playing.  If their role/their department didn’t exist they should be able to see where the company would falter.  

This deeper understanding of purpose helps to foster a feeling of belonging and a feeling of security – two essentials for survival in any environment.  

Ongoing culture of feedback

Once role definition and alignment to company goals is established (with room for iteration), we find that most employees have increased ambition to progress and excel in their role.  That might mean assuming more responsibility, learning new skills or taking the steps to change roles all together.  In order to achieve this, it’s integral for employees to receive both positive and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis.

Startups excel in this area as they often have structured but simple performance and development processes that enable ongoing feedback.  Employees know what they can expect from the process and the parameters - poor vs good vs great performance are clearly defined and easy to understand.  

In addition, leaders are aware of the importance of development and review, and regular meetings with team members are held sacrosanct. These meetings are more than ‘status updates’; they’re a safe space to discuss how employees are progressing, hear what employees are enjoying and what they’re finding challenging, and provide ‘real-time’ feedback (positive and constructive) on their work.  

The result?  People feel valued, they know where they stand, and they feel secure.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

It may seem obvious, but communication is what binds all this together.  

Role definitions should be available company wide.  What needs to be done to succeed needs to be simply written, clear and easy to locate.  Leaders should be tying roles back to company goals in all company meetings and announcements as well as in 1-1s and performance reviews.  

Communication leads to transparency. Thorough policies around roles and progression creates a sense of security.  And when people feel happy and secure at work, they are more likely to be open to the opportunities that change brings.

Keep up momentum – hire the right way for the right values

There are two ways to hire, right?  Someone who can do the job, and someone who can do the job and aligns with an organization’s culture.

If you’ve worked on creating a startup culture and you’ve worked on engaging with your staff like a startup then you want to keep up the momentum and hire like a startup.

Make sure that your hiring process seeks out those with the values you need to succeed and those who are more likely to move with the times and embrace change.  You’re looking for skills like resilience and adaptability; accountability to others and comfort with ambiguity; creative thinking and a collaborative mindset.  Some of these may be new to you and your hiring process may need to be adapted itself.  For example, look for those candidates who have embraced challenges and handled ambiguity; be more wary of those interested in job titles and pay or those who cannot demonstrate client focus.  

Startups understand that culture is how you operate, how your employees feel when they step into the office every day and how the business moves forwards.  We see in startups that their cultures create a great sense of belonging, employee security (and therefore increased retention) and purpose – everyone knows what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and the manner in which they have to do it.  Belonging, security, and working towards a common vision cultivate camaraderie, boosting morale, individuals’ performance and, of course, employees’ propensity for change.  They’re in it together.  

When change is inevitable, companies need a workforce ready and able to take it on.  It may feel revolutionary to adopt a startup mentality, especially in a large, established company but start with small steps.  Revisit the culture and assess if it still rings true.  Book those recurring, immoveable meetings with employees.  Think about the skills needed in your next recruit.  

Want to chat with a member of the Enspira team about your core values or other strategic HR needs? Contact us.

Interested in reading more about the importance of establishing culture and core values early on in your organization? Check out Enspira’s partnership with Primary Ventures here.

*source: https://www.gartner.com/en/human-resources/trends/top-priorities-for-hr-leaders

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