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EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE AND THE STARTUP SOUL

by | Jul 30, 2019

Are voice and choice part of your employee experience?

Ranjay Gulati’s recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The Soul of a Startup” explores his work with fast-growth companies that have managed to retain that special startup energy as they scaled to become much larger organizations. The third of the three elements he identified was the employee experience. Specifically, an experience that provides both voice and choice.

Employees want to be able to share their ideas, insights and concerns, and to know that leadership is listening. In many companies we work with, opportunities for employees to share their voice seem to become more limited the further people are from the C-suite. Ironically, these employees who are on the front lines of the company — interacting with customers, delivering the services and building the products — can often offer incredibly valuable business intelligence. It improves the employee experience to have a voice that’s valued, but it also can benefit company management.

In addition to voice, employees thrive on choice. In a podcast interview, Gulati said, “What set apart successful firms was the creativity and autonomy employees showed.” Imagine the opposite of a manufacturing assembly line, where every step in the process is done the same way every time, regardless of which employee is doing it. In these companies that had retained their startup soul even as they scaled, the employee experience provides what he calls “freedom within a framework.” This includes enjoying a degree of independence in their own work, but also being able to influence company decisions, “such as which strategies to pursue or products to develop.”

Scaling up can put the startup soul at risk

Both voice and choice can grow more scarce once VC or private equity firms get involved. With the usual emphasis on adding more professional management and standardized business processes, autonomy is likely to become a more limited aspect of the employee experience.

But is that a necessary growing pain? Particularly in an industry in which innovation is a priority, a case can be made for preserving some of that autonomy of thought. The value employees bring is not just plugging in that widget but in having new ideas about a more efficient way to handle that widget or a completely new widget altogether.

Keeping employees energized and excited about their work is important no matter how large the company grows. Perhaps creating an employee experience with that “freedom within a framework” is possible even in the midst of an increasingly structured framework.

How communications can help

Theoretically, enabling employees to share their voice is easy. The internal communications plan can provide two-way channels via the intranet, surveys, email or town halls. But sharing their voice and knowing it was heard are two different things. You’ll need top leadership’s commitment to respond to employee voice, or else employees will quickly realize their talking into a black hole. (For more on that, see Two Steps to Two-Way Communication.)

Providing choice in the employee experience is more difficult than voice. It’s not just a communications issue but is intricately tied to the business processes and strategic decisions of the company. But communications can tell the stories of employee choice, through internal publications, videos and other channels. If we want to retain creative thinkers, we need to celebrate their abilities to apply creativity.

Interested in improving your employee experience? Tribe can help.

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