Agile & Digital

Think like a start-up (even if you’re not)

Start-ups like Dollar Shave Club are upending the FMCG industry by cutting out the middle men such as Unilever, P&G and retailers like Boots – and instead using the internet to sell direct to consumers. It is technology, an entrepreneurial mindset and their lazer-like focus on consumer needs that is enabling them to succeed – so much so that Unilever has now acquired Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion so that they can launch their own subscription sales arm.  Not all of us can throw money at the problem: we can also make significant gains by starting to think more like a start-up within our teams.

Working out how to give your team (and yourself) direct access to your internal and external customers and end consumers to test and refine new approaches is crucial.  In this ‘start-up’ mode it’s also worth remembering ‘Gall’s Law’: complex systems are full of interdependencies and variations that are almost impossible to anticipate but actually play a significant role. As Gall explains, “a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system”[1].  Build a simple system first and let it grow.

Develop a culture of risk-taking and cross-silo working

Thinking like a digital start-up will require a cultural change for most traditional organizations. A recent McKinsey survey identified three digital culture deficiencies with a significant negative correlation to economic performance:

Those that were digital winners (achieving top-quartile rankings in revenue growth, EBIT growth, and return on digital investment) only showed siloed mindsets and behaviour 9% of the time, versus 38% of the time for the digital ‘losers’.

What can you do to think like a start-up today? How can you get in front of your internal/ external customers or observe how they use your product/ service? Where can you allow and encourage your team to take risks? Where can you collaborate with other functions to simplify and join up your customers’ experience? See our previous blogs on making people feel safe to take risks, constant experimentation and effective virtual team working for further tips.

It might feel easier to ignore this and get on with your job the way you always have – but watch out, your own version of the ‘Dollar shave club’ may soon come knocking at your door.

To find out more about how to rewire your culture and skills to thrive in a digital world, download our new digital white paper here.

[1] Gall, J. (1977) Systemantics: How Systems Work & Especially How They Fail, Times Books


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