6 tips from tech start-ups for your non-tech business

Let’s suppose you’re reading this on your phone. You’re wearing clothes that you bought online, and you’re on your way to wherever you are going in an Uber.

Technology made all this — the phone, ecommerce shopping, the on demand ride — and much more possible. Today the digital economy accounts for nearly seven percent of the country’s annual GDP.1 A huge part of this growth is because small technology startups were able to grow ideas into transformative products.

How did these companies experience such remarkable growth? What is it about tech culture that keeps people innovating? And how can you apply some of that start-up magic to your own company?

Start by bringing these tech-inspired values into your office culture.

1. Everyone has ownership

While everyone may not have literal ownership in your company, it’s important that employees feel ownership over their work. Innovation happens when everyone acts like an entrepreneur. Trust that people know what needs to get done and will be accountable for their part. Avoid micromanagement at all costs.

2. Promote transparency

Tech companies value an atmosphere of transparency. For example, the popular “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) events, question and answer forums with company CEOs, came out of this sector.2 AMA events established that the CEO’s office is open to everyone. The days of a secretive hierarchy — all-knowing, but never telling — are past.

3. Keep communication open

Along with transparency comes open communication. In tech culture, this is across the board. Successful employees understand that sharing information facilitates collaboration. Keep everyone in the loop about company goals, including regular updates on current progress.

4. Learn from mistakes

When people fear the consequences of their mistakes, they become afraid to take risks. In turn, innovation and creativity are stifled. Of course, some mistakes will be more painful for your company than others. But to the best of your ability, when an error happens, find the value in it. Then use it as a learning example for your whole team.

Remember this story: An employee once made a mistake that cost a company $600,000. He thought for sure he was going to be fired. To his surprise, his boss said, “Fire you? I just spent $600,000 training you” and kept him on.3

5. Be flexible

For starters, put structure in place to get the information and updates you need. Then, once that’s determined, whether it’s a daily briefing via email or an all-hands on deck weekly meeting or something else, let people do their jobs as they need. If someone has to pick up their kids after school, give them the flexibility. If an employee needs to work from home to stay with an ailing parent, give them the communication tools to stay in touch with their team. Part of creating a culture of ownership is trusting that people will get their work done in their own way.

6. Lead by example

This one is simple: in the end, it’s up to you. If you don’t live these values by example, your employees won’t either.

Steve Jobs famously said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”4 In this idea, he hinted at the success behind start-up culture. When you hire smart people who feel ownership of their work, learn from their mistakes and thrive in an atmosphere of transparency and flexibility, you create a business culture ready to innovate. Especially when everyone sees these values exemplified by your leadership.

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1 Digital Economy Accounted for 6.9 Percent of GDP in 2017, U.S. Department of Commerce, April 2019

2 AMA: How a Weird Internet Thing Became a Mainstream Delight, The Atlantic, January 2014

3 What Would You Do if an Employee Made a $600,000 Mistake? People HR, November 2016

4 Steve Jobs Once Gave Some Brilliant Management Advice on Hiring Top People, Inc. Magazine