People often equate the word “scrappy” with a startup or a lean organization. Larger organizations, on the other hand, are labeled as bureaucratic, slow and process-oriented. There’s rarely an association with scrappy. But a scrappy mindset has its advantages, and for larger companies, that means achieving the agility of a startup.
Startups are viewed as scrappy because they often don’t have the luxury of name recognition, power and money that larger institutions enjoy. Stripped of an ability to rely on capital and traditional infrastructure, startup employees are creative, resourceful, and can quickly learn new skills and adapt. In the absence of opulence, they often move forward with pure grit, passion and determination. It allows them to solve problems in ways that others can’t.
The scrappiness factor can make or break a company. In my role as an advisor, interim and/or on-demand chief people officer, I always interview for this.
So how can a larger organization benefit from this mindset? It’s actually easier than you might expect.
1. The freedom to make mistakes is worth more than formal training.
Irish author James Joyce famously wrote, “His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” The most significant accelerated learning path a person can take is by making mistakes. Most companies often invest thousands of dollars in training, mentorship and other tools to help employees grow in their roles, yet they create an environment where mistakes are not celebrated.
The freedom to make mistakes, course correct, and continue is one of the primary benefits of working in a startup. Faced with limited financial resources, startup employees are forced to wear many hats, regardless of whether or not they have experience or comfort with a role. This sink-or-swim mentality is scrappy. It creates grit, confidence and resourcefulness, but also encourages an environment where mistakes are not only inevitable but expected and sometimes even celebrated for the learning they bring.
An organization I served as CPO has a values statement that was written by our employees. It states, “We are a group of highly talented people who love the challenge of our work and strive to solve problems others consider impossible. We approach this work fearlessly, knowing that if we fail, we’ll learn and do better next time.” For larger organizations, this means taking a fresh look at the definition of “training and development.”
2. Trading latent assets is invaluable.
New economies are built upon resource constraints. The sharing economy, whose poster children are companies like Airbnb and Lyft, speaks to a solution that stems from a need to do something, like take a vacation or get somewhere fast. The solutions, innovative and new, tap into latent assets with the help of technology.
The bonds that come from networking with people and trading expertise is invaluable. You learn to rely on each other and use every skill that each of you has to work as a team. I have seen instances where one offers legal advice in exchange for helping to recruit for a growing business. Most will happily share their expertise in the form of brain power and connections in exchange for even a glass of wine or some lunch.
Larger organizations could benefit from going back to this more resourceful, community-minded method of doing business, whether it’s across departments or across borders.
3. To be scrappy means to skip the formality.
Ideally, an organization’s philosophy emphasizes personal responsibility over policy, freedoms, and learning through risk taking.
In order to be able to do that, opt for regular feedback loops rather than a formal review process. Feedback loops provide weekly, immediate feedback to help employees take risks and course correct in a fast and efficient way. Business moves too quickly to wait for annual reviews; with instant feedback, the opportunity to learn is still fresh. Too much policy and process impede scrappiness.
Additionally, if companies over-prescribe a formula for success ahead of time, employees will not trust in their ability to experiment and achieve. They won’t reach their highest potential for themselves or for the business. Large organizations should consider completely throwing out their time-intensive performance review process and opt for a scrappy, fast-paced feedback method where speed and authenticity reigns.
You don’t have to be a startup to be scrappy. Interviewing for scrappiness and creating an environment that values it could make any company – large or small – more creative, nimble and ultimately profitable.