What Can Startups Teach Corporate America?

Share Goals & Focus on Product

I had a client ask me the other day about the differences between working with startups vs larger corporate clients, specifically some of the organizational differences I’ve seen. Startups operate at a fundamentally different level and mentality than a traditional corporate organization. There’s good and bad things about both, but one thing that startups get right more of the time is a focus on shared goals and KPIs.

The Spartans knew what’s up.

From the CEO down to interns, everyone is focused on a single shared company KPI, and a handful of specific KPIs shared between different subgroups. This keeps integrated teams organized around a single goal and flexible to solve performance issues to attain that goal together. There’s no KPI friction between ENG, Marketing, Sales or Customer Service. The integrated team might focus on a single goal like higher NPS where they’ll define tests and solutions from each perspective to achieve that shared goal. Sure, it’s not always perfect, but startups do this way more effectively than F500s and other large matrixed organizations I’ve experienced.

The key difference is a culture of shared goals. I’ve seen corporate clients miss marketing and sales goals because they couldn’t navigate their own structures and get buy-in from IT, sales or customer service to execute a strategy. Why? The other teams didn’t have the same goals.

A common example, and one I experienced again earlier this year with a large finance client, was the battle between IT and marketing. IT held the tech keys and had full control of all frontend and backend website changes. Marketing had to submit requests for changes months in advance for UX and SEO changes, copy and image changes, even typos. The standard timeline from request to implementation was 3 months! You can’t expect to be successful in today’s digital world if you operate like this.

This is supposed to be more efficient? WTF?

The teams lacked a focus on shared goals and KPIs. In the website context the IT team KPIs were ticket times, utilization hours and balancing resources across the full tech infrastructure. Marketing KPIs were UX, conversions and sales.

So how do you solve this? You could do yet another re-org, but changing structures last time didn’t solve the core issue of assigning each team different goals. In the end, the KPIs for a website are traffic, leads and sales. Take the friction away and give them these shared KPIs. Making both teams accountable for these core KPIs will refocus their priorities and get them aligned to for faster change times, better collaboration and a more fluid view of the world to meet these shared goals. As a side note, this aligns very well to a holacracy structure.

Another key learning in this example, and and a natural byproduct of the shared goals culture, is the focus on product instead of your specific expertise performance. Aligning the multi-disciplinary teams on a shared performance goal strips titles and expertise silos away making them focus on delivering a great product as a team for the users. You see this naturally occurring in startups, but it’s something valuable that larger corporations need to learn to evolve and keep competitive.

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