Technology has touched nearly every facet of life. Areas such as communication, architecture, and medicine have seen significant advancements due to tech solutions once thought impossible. But the real innovation behind this industry is the lessons it can offer other industries surrounding how to meet consumer needs through simplicity, productivity, and convenience.
Not that apps and software haven’t ushered in more efficient ways of doing things, but if you look beyond the tools, you’ll begin to see the model for the ideal workplace—one that values free-thinking, welcomes creativity, and places employee satisfaction on the same level as profits and revenue.
The processes, procedures, and strategies developed by even the smallest tech company to tackle everyday challenges can offer valuable lessons for companies in any industry. Be it heavy workloads or multiple project streams, the tech industry has myriad practices and qualities that entrepreneurs can adopt in order to improve their business model.
What can entrepreneurs learn from technologists?
No matter what industry you’re in, tech’s trailblazers can provide some helpful cues and tricks that could boost the way you do business. Here are three lessons to take from the tech industry on how to do next-level work:
1. How to truly live your company culture
Traditionally, building a company culture is a top-down effort. Leadership hands the responsibility to HR, which then designs an initiative around the mission, vision, and values of an organization. Free snacks, notes of gratitude, and a couple of happy hours ensue, and then, attention turns to other priorities once the cascades of change have theoretically taken hold.
Although this approach has been a challenge all along, it’s become more problematic as of late. The pandemic hasn’t done culture any favors, and connecting with or guiding a team virtually doesn’t come easy. And with culture now serving as a beacon for both retention and recruitment, it’s quickly emerged as a priority—one that impacts the bottom line and provides a competitive advantage.
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In fact, one survey found that 65% of people would take lower pay over working in a bad or toxic environment. What they’re really looking for is a company that allows people to be themselves (47%) and contributes to society in some way (46%). Get culture right, and employees feel valued and become more engaged.
With culture being an important differentiator, many tech companies have already made the move to a new culture-building approach that doesn’t fully abandon top-down directives, but rather incorporates a bottom-up mentality. People throughout the organization share responsibility for shaping and nurturing culture, with some more accountable than others in reinforcing the path paved by the team.
Buffer has long taken this approach through a culture of transparency and autonomy. Although it originally gained attention surrounding its culture by publishing its salaries—a move that brought in 4,000 new applicants within a month—what’s more impressive is the freedom Buffer offers its employees. Even years before the pandemic, it encouraged team members to work wherever they felt most fulfilled. If you’re open and honest with people and establish strong lines of communication, gaps will rarely develop between outcomes and expectations—even at a fully remote company.
Twitter also takes a people-first approach to its culture. For the last two years, the social media network has been testing different virtual meeting processes, creating sign language systems, and fine-tuning other rules for remote work—all in preparation for when much of its workforce will move off campus permanently. The pandemic only accelerated the change: Last May, the company announced its official decision on its work-from-home policy, which included allowing employees to work remotely permanently. All in all, remote work options are quickly becoming the norm among tech companies. However, this level of flexibility could be key for attracting and retaining employees at any organization.
2. How to drive innovation through mission
“Innovation” might be one of the first buzzwords to spring to mind when you think about the tech industry, but why are technologists so great at this in particular? The answer might lie in a company’s mission.
“Improving innovation skills—like improving any skill—requires dedication to the mission,” explains Rebekah Dorworth, president of Kyra Solutions, a government technology service provider. “Caring about the outcome produces perseverance when it comes to pushing through the mundane skills and education enhancement necessary to get you thinking differently.”
So how can a company craft a mission employees are passionate about? You can’t simply institute a bare-bones statement that asks for innovation without any encouragement to follow through. Chances are, it’ll become merely words on a wall. For such an initiative to be successful, you’ll need to clearly communicate your organization’s values within your mission (think the people who benefit from your work, the overarching goal of the work your organization carries out, and the ways in which employees complete that work).
Then, bake it into operations by laying out exactly how you plan to support and promote your mission throughout the organization. This can then serve as a reference point for company leaders as they work with team members, pair projects with people, and so on. By creating a meaningful, values-based mission—complete with a clear plan for how to carry it out—your employees are sure to have more lightbulb moments.
3. How to be flexible (and embrace failure as part of the path toward success)
“Fail fast, learn faster.” Cliché as this might sound, these four words define big tech. As companies in this space push the boundaries of what’s possible, they have limited time to get something right—meaning they won’t cling to ideas that just won’t take flight.
Take YouTube as an example. The site launched as a dating service, and that didn’t go particularly well. The company even took out an ad on Craigslist, offering single women $20 to post videos on the site. Upon co-founder Jawed Karim uploading the platform’s very first video, “Me at the zoo,” users took notice. But instead of using the site to catch the eye of a potential significant other, people began sharing their home videos. The rest, as they say, is history—and the co-founders decided to allow users to define the platform.
Instagram shares a similar origin story. Conceived as a Foursquare-like app for users to check in, make plans, and so on, the platform just wasn’t gaining traction. However, its photo-sharing capabilities were the exception. The co-founders kept what was working, ditched what wasn’t, and relaunched the platform. It took just two years for Facebook to buy Instagram for $1 billion. The lesson here? Even in the early stages of a project, any team should understand that it’s better to change course when something isn’t working and use that experience to inform the next steps to accelerate success.
The tech industry can do more than simply provide tools to make life and business easier. It can also teach entrepreneurs how to craft a clear path forward and build a strong foundation that enables innovation, nurtures accountability, and embraces change. You just need to be willing to learn from its example.