Steve Jobs wanted people to think different. Mark Zuckerberg wants to bring the world closer together. Companies thrive when leadership stays true to the founder's purpose.

Unfortunately, many organizations lose sight of this mindset as they grow and time passes. What impact does this have? Management consulting firm Bain and Company's 2017 Founder's Mentality Survey set out to answer that question.

A founder's mentality is the set of motivating attitudes and behaviors embodied by an ambitious founder. The survey defines four ways companies relate to the founder's mentality.

An 'insurgent' is a company that achieves sustainable growth by staying true to this mentality, and they strive to grow to become 'scale insurgents.'

On the other hand, employers that lose this mentality and become complex with growth are 'incumbents.' When markets change, they inevitably become 'struggling bureaucracies.'

The survey found that scale insurgents are six times more likely to excel in attracting and retaining talent than struggling bureaucracies. It also found that nearly all employees in scale insurgent companies would recommend the company to a friend.

Keeping the founder's mentality is difficult, but this is how real organizations are doing it:

Create founder experiences.

Chris Zook, a partner at Bain and the co-author of The Founder's Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth, suggests creating 'mini-founder experiences' to give young talent opportunities to learn leadership and responsibility, while also developing the mindset of a founder.

"Use the idea of pilot projects to create microcosms of what you would like the company to be in the future," Zook said. In other words, employees should test and adapt new business model iterations, then roll them out.

To encourage ongoing engagement with pilot programs, create a 'Pilot Pool,' a digital space where employees submit pilot program ideas, and schedule everyone time to brainstorm.

Reinforce the 'tribe' vibe.

When companies grow, employees might feel like a cog in the machine.

John Vincent, the co-founder and CEO of UK-based fast food chain Leon, hosts well-being festivals and events at his house to create and maintain a tribe-like culture that rallies around purpose.

"Our competitors think they are competing with a company," Vincent said. "They don't understand they are trying to compete with a tribe -- a group of committed friends."

Encourage a playful mentality, and help teams bond through fun company-wide gatherings that align with your culture and purpose.

Connect employees to the product.

As companies scale, employees lose sight of important aspects, including the product itself. This makes them feel less enthusiastic and engaged.  

Kavita Chaudhary, the design director at handmade rug manufacturer Jaipur Rugs, said they started a 'sensing journey' program, where office employees spend three days in weaving villages to better understand the model of the business.

"This program was put in place to bring back all three elements of the founder's mentality -- insurgent mission, frontline obsession and owner's mindset," she said.  

Employees need to be motivated by a long-term purpose that feels special, which is known as the insurgency. They should also focus on frontline details to deliver a positive customer experience and adopt an owner's mindset by viewing the company as their own.

Get new hires acquainted with the entire operation during onboarding. Show how the business model is effective, then plan bi-annual 'culture check-ins,' where employees visit other departments to better understand the bigger picture.

Relate to your customers.

If employees don't understand the company's customers, they can't deliver a positive experience. Marc Merrill, co-founder and co-CEO of video game production company Riot Games (Inc.'s 2016 Company of the Year), said they strictly hire gamers because they want talent who connects with their customer on two levels.

"The first is 'player empathy,' where we can emotionally relate to and connect with our audience," he said. "The second is 'player orientation,' which means we intellectually understand their perspective and frame of reference."

This dedication to stepping in their customers' shoes and sharing cultural conviction keeps them aligned as they grow and maintains the mentality of their founder.

Develop 'customer connection' exercises, like reaching out to customers via social media to ask for feedback and build customer empathy.

Seek out co-creators.

Healy Jones, the head of marketing for retirement plan advising company ForUsAll, said his culture keeps the founder's mentality through a meticulous hiring process.

"We are building a team of 'co-creators,'" he said, "people who instinctively act as if ForUsAll is the business that they founded."

They look for candidates who demonstrate three 'co-creator superpowers': brain, heart, and hustle.

Get all employees involved in establishing cultural aspects, like values and belief systems. Host open discussions so everyone has a voice.

When branding company values, use creative messaging, like 'cool points,' that align with the culture the founder wants to build.

Published on: Oct 25, 2017