Being a purpose-driven organization — insights from startups

There is more than becoming a unicorn!

The often discussed question: “what can we learn from startups?” has many answers. At a particular one, I’d like to look at in more depth:

Sitting in the train back from a weekend in Berlin, the acclaimed startup city of Germany, from an event talking to many eager students and startup founders and investors: I came again to the conclusion that the generally quoted point what we can learn from startups is NOT ONLY their speed and ability to quickly adapt to the market and conditions, e.g. pivoting their entire business model within days and start again — agreed, that’s an absolute key asset but there is more!

Also looking at my husband’s startup, talking with him and his two co-founders as well as their team of EcoG, it became every time clearer that it is rather about purpose and meaning, they establish for and with their team. That it is about a simple, solid culture, no bells and whistles.

And that, to me, is the magic behind it: a meaningful and honest culture, values they truly believe in and genuinely live.

Want to get there, too?

1. Set your purpose by creating a company from your heart and giving it meaning

Simple, but not easy. I will not define purpose and its impact in this article since there is a lot of talking about it as well as about purpose-driven organizations, especially since Frederic Laloux published his book “Reinventing Organizations” where he refers to SpiralDynamics and some fantastic purpose-driven organizations and also since several EY, HBR and other articles about purpose-driven organizations confirm that such companies show increasing productivity.

2. Never lose your authenticity!

Stop even thinking about a purpose if you don’t truly mean it!
Being authentic will distinguish leaders of a successful purpose-driven organization from opportunistic profit-oriented managers.

This has also been beautifully addressed in the recent article from HRB about creating purpose-driven organizations.

Let’s take EcoG for some additional startup inspiration. They are a software company creating a sustainable solution for e-mobility and with that want to develop an entire new market. They believed so much in their idea that they left their save and comfortable job at Siemens to start this business.
Their joint values: trust, sustain and connect.

Okay, about half of today’s businesses have at least one of these or highly similar values. So what’s it worth?
The differences of a company with authentic acting people is that their personal values match with the company’s values and that they simply work and live according to them, like it’s happening at EcoG. And this is something people realize — it that matters!

3. It all comes down to Trust

I’m a huge fan of Ricardo Semler and his approach and truly believe it eventually all comes down to one thing: is there enough trust in your organization?
If not, you’re having a serious problem that can lead to e.g. compliance trouble, low innovation rate and productivity, low engagement or high turnover rate.
And you cannot develop your organization further e.g. based on the five pillars of the Semcostyle method.

Early stage startups actually have an advantage: They have little options but to trust their people. With limited resources and means, every person on board has to deal with lots of freedom, limited guidance and fast pace. They quickly have to take over responsibilities and make decisions based on their individual as well as team competence and knowledge. Founders cannot design processes for each task, plan every action in detail, micromanage their team and make all decisions — they would run out of time, hence run out of money.

But at some point in their growth, startups are facing the same traps than traditional organizations are facing for many years — how to make decisions, delegate authority and trust people when you are more than 50 people. Watch out!

4. Invest in excellent recruiting

I observed a destroying fact in many companies: Many people only hire people that are less competent then themselves; afraid they could constitute a danger and overtake them. You can imagine where this leads to: average people hire even less competent people who eventually hire again less competent people…

This, by the way, stands opposite to Steve Jobs famously and widely spread quote I just saw again on LinkedIn today: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they tell us what to do!”

In theory, it seems everyone agreed on what’s required. So what hinders?

There is an obvious control mechanism in startups to recruit effectively: They just cannot afford to drag along non-performing or not fully aligned people. Instead, they are intensively recruiting for people who can help them in setting up and expanding their business. Anything else would slow them down too much and reduce their chance for the next investment that secures their survival. Hire slow and fire fast is core of their survival kit and I think many companies just don’t take this serious enough. Recruiting is something, a team, an organization must not outsource!

Google is doing a very good job with their recruiting process. Also the approach to recruit for talent versus the “post and pray” approach that the right person will hopefully find and read a job spec at the right time is essential!

The goal is to have the kind of people in your company who understand that the better and more diverse but still compatible competencies you can get on board the more successful you get. These people have good self reflection of their strengths, an inner motivation to learn and to develop themselves and others and the desire to rise together as a group to the next level instead of alone.

To me, this is also a prerequisite for creating a powerful ecosystem that goes beyond your company.

So invest in a good recruiting where applicants very quickly understand the DNA of your company and culture and where you, in an absolute honest interaction, identify together if both parties really match and want to connect to work towards the company’s purpose.

5. Treat everyone on equal basis

In Germany, there is a beautiful initiative and network called Augenhöhe and also the movie “Die stille Revolution” is a must watch!

This is in the believe of Steve Jobs, Ricardo Semler and so many other successful leaders who understood it.

Hiring people based on your company’s purpose and with the intention to get their help to make your business greater has a total different energy from hiring someone to execute tasks exactly the way you want them to be done. 
And more and more people, across generations, are looking for a company where they can make a dent. And this desire is what people often connect with the startup culture.

At EcoG for instance, teammates say: “hey, it’s not a working for you. It’s a working with you! And I have the freedom and support to develop myself, experiment with things I am interested in that and can eventually push the company to the next level. “

Working together as equal partners and treating each other the way you want to be treated which, I believe, is with appreciation, curiosity, empathy and respect — that’s for so many of us the intrinsic motivation to choose a company.

And everyone can feel, if this is a faked or an authentic behavior. 
Maybe some are afraid to feel and recognize this distinction but everyone can!

It is safe enough to try!!

You’ll see.