Big Company vs Start-up… Building a balanced culture

Whether you’re entirely aware of it or not, your company’s culture transcends almost everything you do. But what exactly is a workplace culture? Put simply, it’s ‘the way things are done around here’ or what the company ‘is’. A culture impacts day-to-day practices, impacts employee interactions and relationships and creates behavioural norms. Differences in company culture can explain why some firms perform better than others; and why working at a start-up might be more appealing than a large corporate. So let’s explore some common stereotypes, some pros and cons, and how the best of both cultural worlds can be implemented at any business.


Why you might like working in a big company culture?

What’s often forgotten about big company corporate cultures, is that they are more often than not the extension of the personality of the founder, an entrepreneur! Whilst lots of big corporate cultures are often misunderstood as being serious, intense workplaces where people quickly become inflexible cogs in a system, the reality is that a lot of corporates embody entrepreneurial spirit in their creative and flexible approach to business challenges. Although some big corporates may well be process heavy, bureaucratic environments, the benefits of a strong corporate culture are clear. From an employee perspective, working at a large corporate often provides a more structured role specific approach, where there’s a clear hierarchy. Big company culture often means that work is approached in a more structured and consistent manner; usually resulting in less risk too.

The historical aspects of a strong big company culture are often vital to company success too. In a survey on strategy conducted by PWC, 84% believed that culture is critical to business success and 64% said that culture is more important than strategy. So as well as stability and perks, there’s evidently value in big company culture.



Understanding a start-up work environment

You hear start-up culture and instantly conjure up some typical images in your mind; big colorful open offices, glass walls, t-shirts and office slides. But why is this the case and what does it mean for culture? Although stereo-typically laid back, your Silicon Valley tech start-ups need greater levels of speed and agility from employees to meet targets and be able to get to market in time. Whereas in a big corporate a large team will be assigned to a project months in advance and work to a specific time frame, a start-up would have less resources so working hours would be less structured to meet deadlines and the pressure would be on!
Despite this, the obvious benefit to being part of a start-up culture, is that you create the culture, and are able to have greater influence over defining day-to-day behaviors because the culture is a part of you too. In this manner, working at a start-up or small business can be more progressive in that the business will require you to wear many hats. To some, the autonomy and flexibility is the most appealing aspect, where everything the culture embodies is about growing the business. An informal approach to leadership is another factor that people find appealing within a start-up culture.

Getting the best of both worlds
If you were to ask someone who works at a big corporate what the benefit of their culture is, they’d probably mention a well-managed feedback system, job stability and role clarity. Employees at start-ups and small businesses would likely note the positive cultural aspects like team spirit, entrepreneurial approach and less reliance on long arduous processes to get things done. Just because a company is big, this doesn’t necessarily mean it cannot share cultural norms of start-ups, and similarly, there are aspects of big company culture that would benefit smaller businesses.

1. Job Design – ensuring that people understand the value and impact of their work in critical no matter what the size of the business. Designing job evaluations and performance around specific goals that are directly related to business success, will always mean people are more motivated day-to-day. A well designed job role is also important for establishing accountability. In a start-up culture, there’s no hiding behind a project team and everyone fully understands what each other are delivering. Having this attitude in your company culture, regardless of company size will be beneficial to performance and to managing expectations of yourself and of others.

2. Managing business processes – in a start-up culture, getting things done quickly is critical. The perception, and often truth, in big company cultures is that getting any task complete requires an endless list of processes and levels of management authorization. Whilst taking the time to properly evaluate a decision is obviously important, minimizing bureaucracy and speeding up decisions is important to make a part of a company culture.

3. Open communication – because teams are smaller and usually in one location, managing communication is a smaller business is usually faster, and easier. But more importantly than speed, is the prospect of open communication, where employees and managers alike feel free to constructively criticize and evaluate business decisions. Having an informal open communication policy as part of a company culture is important both for making decisions, and ensuring that employees understand why things are done in a certain way. Additionally, having a structured feedback system like in a big company culture is also important for ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.

When searching for a new job, really understanding what it will be like at a new company is as important as the job itself. Having an appreciation for how people communicate, what the office atmosphere is like and how decisions are made is important to understand before going for a new role. When we take on a vacancy from a client, we take the time to really understand what the culture is like at the company and how it’s relevant to the job. We understand the value in sharing with people what the culture is all about so that they fully understand and we can effectively match people to interesting, exciting jobs.

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