Fostering a Startup Mentality Within Your Organization

Understanding, leveraging and optimizing organizational culture November 14, 2016

ARLINGTON, VA.Continuing rapid technology advancements, changing content consumption behavior and increased connectivity are driving broadcasters to rethink their organizational foundations in order to align with these changes and to maximize the opportunities that they offer. One way to do that is to look at successful technology companies from the last decade and to model characteristics that they have successfully developed, curated and exploited.


Traditional media companies, including broadcasters, are now directly competing with players borne out of Silicon Valley and the tech industry boom. These competitors are particularly well skilled at dealing with change and disruption, and most have built their businesses using the characteristics they developed as startups. This is not just a fad; companies that are unable or unwilling to change will be left behind, replaced by those who are.


Each startup is different, and there is no set standard for a startup mentality.  However, there are many characteristics that most successful startups exhibit. These companies are:

         ·         Innovative on a daily basis

         ·         Intense and purpose-driven

         ·         Agile and adaptive

         ·         Failure tolerant           

         ·         Passionate about the product or mission

Successful startups leverage these characteristics to deal with the inherent changing landscapes that they face. As the media industry faces its own changing landscape, broadcasters can benefit from many of these same characteristics, regardless of company size or age.


Embracing a startup mentality is particularly challenging for many broadcasters. For decades, such companies have focused on risk aversion and “failure is not an option” performance.  However, startups actively embrace both risk and failures, as long as the failures are fast and educational. We need to change the attitudes of employees to embrace the concepts of “managed risk” and “fail fast”—shifts that are attainable, but which take time and effort to achieve through implementation of the following leadership practices:

         ·         Move toward a flat structure – Hierarchies get in the way and slow things down.

         ·         Eliminate the corner office – Shared workspaces are the norm today, for good reason,  they encourage and increase collaboration and communication, while tearing down silos and hierarchies.

         ·         Introduce change and structure carefully and slowly – Ensure significant changes include team involvement, collaborative decision-making and buy-in.

         ·         Be transparent – People want to be treated like adults.  Things don’t always go as planned, so be honest when they don’t.

         ·         Set aside time for fun and socializing, including “loud” celebration of individual and collective successes.

Two specific leadership practices, focused on employees, are particularly important to building a startup mentality:

         ·         Begin with people – Hire new people that embrace the characteristics you are trying to build, focus on retaining top performers, and actively address low performance issues.

         ·         Establish a constructive feedback culture.


Two recent Eagle Hill Consulting nationwide surveys of more than 1,700 professionals across a range of industries and career levels highlight the impacts of employee turnover and the significance of workplace feedback on organizations. 

It’s well-known that employee turnover can be highly disruptive to an organization. HR estimates show that the collective cost (i.e., lost revenue and productivity, sunk hiring and training costs) of losing and replacing a mid-level employee is upwards of 150 percent of their annual salary. Traditional wisdom suggests that inadequate compensation and benefits as well as limited career opportunities are top drivers of turnover. However, we wondered whether there was more to the turnover story. Are there other, more intangible factors that have an equally important impact on turnover? For example, what if a company’s people and workplace culture were driving good employees away?

Eagle Hill’s survey revealed that most organizations don’t do a good job of hiring, recruiting, and retaining high performers.

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Traditional hiring approaches clearly lead to far too many ineffective hires (75 percent).

In addition, respondents reported that low performers have a negative impact on their organizations’ morale, innovation, and overall workplace culture:

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So, how should an organization move forward on hiring, retention and attrition?  Our experience indicates four key steps to reducing hiring mistakes and retaining the best people.

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Once an organization has addressed its hiring and retention issues, it is then important to establish a constructive feedback culture to keep employees engaged and productive.  Our research found that about 85 percent of respondents reported that they feel valued when offered feedback and that they believe it is important to their professional development. However, despite the positive perceptions employees hold towards the potential value of feedback, only 44 percent of respondents said that they actually receive feedback on their work on a regular basis. Furthermore, only 60 percent of respondents agreed that their work environment fostered an environment that supported constructive feedback.

Given the gap between employee’s perceptions of the potential value of feedback and the actual practice of offering feedback and fostering a healthy work culture for feedback, our experience indicates five practical steps organizations can take to close the divide and yield the benefits of a happier, more productive workforce:

         1.      Provide feedback on a frequent basis

         2.      Deliver feedback in person

         3.      Recognize when your employees do good work and when they make changes as a result of constructive feedback

         4.      Encourage feedback beyond supervisors

         5.      Offer feedback training for both supervisors and employees

Great leaders recognize that employees need regular, substantive feedback to develop their skills, optimize performance, and achieve both individual and organizational goals. Our workforce survey confirms that employees place just as much value on receiving feedback.

To foster a supportive company culture in which all employees are recognized for their good work and are offered advice for how to develop professionally, organizational leadership must understand the benefits of feedback; communicate those benefits to both employees and supervisors; and create an environment that supports continuous staff engagement in giving, soliciting, and receiving feedback as an important aspect of establishing a startup mentality.

John McCoskey is Industry Lead Executive - Communications, Media & Technology at Eagle Hill Consulting in Arlington, Va. He can be reached at

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