Expert shares insight on startup-inspired workplace practices

July 5th, 2018, Published in Articles: PositionIT

At an event at Rise Cape Town – Absa’s Cape Town-based innovation hub – Steve McClelland shared his insights and pragmatic tips with startups and those innovating from within their corporate worlds. Steve McClelland came from a successful exit of his start-up in Silicon Valley, to product managing in global megatechs like Yahoo and Twitter. Today, he spends his time devoted to understanding how entrepreneurs tick, in his role in academia at Duke University, as “Executive in Residence”.

McClelland explained how he and his Duke University research team are exploring ways in which entrepreneurs can make their employees’ work life a little better and increase their companies’ productivity a lot. Apart from understanding the trajectory that entrepreneurs go through, following a process and theories like the lean startup are quite common practice now.

The researchers at Duke are looking beyond the steps of the “what” and focus more on the “who” and the “how” by getting to grips with mindset. “When we refer to mindset, we mean the culture and mission that the founder brings to the workplace. When you get these values and positive habits embedded in teams, they will follow you in your mission with an enthusiasm and drive,” said McClelland.

He referred to Silicon Valley to illustrate his point, where the roles pay well and the snacks are free – the talent are not just looking for the best paycheque, they are looking at the company culture they want to get behind. With this trend in mind, the theory and skills they teach their students at Duke include curiosity, empathy and servant leadership – a leadership philosophy that helps people perform as highly as possible. These values then translate into habits that they hope their students will lead with as founders in future: getting messy and involved, constantly teaching yourself and surrounding yourself with a team of people who are smarter than you.

According to him there is an iteration to this as many startups dream of exiting through an acquisition by a bigger corporate but worry about merging their people into a new environment due to the different type of cultures. He added that there is hope, however, as the industry is seeing the emergence on “intrapreneurship” as a way to harness some of the positive values and habits into a bigger corporate setting.

Other tricks that he shared with the audience were the importance of real-time feedback, inclusion of team members in decision making and merging the mission while being process-driven. His recommendation: give teams permission to solve problems, be the optimist as the leader, even when it feels delusional – drive the optimism with a sense of urgency where your role is catalytic and you get things started.

According to McClelland positivity is a business imperative, people are your competitive edge. As a tech entrepreneur, you have to have a mission – recognising this is what will attract the best tech talent.

Contact Camilla Swart, Rise Cape Town,

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