All large companies were once, at some point, a startup. While it may be premature to think about how you will maintain success before you're successful, it's good to plan for success. If your startup does well, you don't want to be thinking on the fly how to create the right corporate culture. That happens a lot. 

But I've also worked with innovative and successful brands like T-Mobile, Amazon and Adobe and found that they are very intentional in how they create opportunities for their employees to grow.

A couple years ago, Deb Escher, the head of T-Mobile's Creative Studio gave me a tour of Bellevue's headquarters and what I saw was a fast-paced work environment with ideas and creativity flying everywhere. Which creates lots of opportunity for collaboration. But more importantly I saw an ability for people to access senior leadership like Escher or Nick Drake, EVP of Marketing & Experience in the office even though they have busy schedules. 

Even in a digital age that face time matters. And how you keep employees motivated and engaged has a lot to do with how much access you give them to senior leadership. If employees stay on an island by themselves eventually they will look to get rescued by another company.

In Adobe's case they make this process more public. Every year they hold an event in front of 13,000 people called the Sneaks. Kate McKinnon hosted last year, this year it's Leslie Jones. The premise is simple. Adobe employees are constantly working on product innovations that span from implementing AI to creative and visualization. 

But instead of doing that internally they open it up to the public at their annual conference, Adobe Summit. Employes come on stage, have five minutes to present their idea and 60 percent of those ideas become Adobe products.

"The real value goes beyond the technology though, and helps to motivate and transform the engineers who participate in the program as well," Steve Hammond, Adobe, Creator of Sneaks. "Nearly all participants in the program go back to their regular work with newfound vision on how to take ideas and prototypes and get them into product roadmap. So not only is Sneaks an innovation engine for Adobe, it really helps drive career growth and employee development."

Doing small--or in this case--large things to drive the career growth of your employees may be the single most important thing you do as a company. Even if you don't have a program in place here are a few things to consider when staring one. 

1. Leadership Needs New Skills

In today's world as a business leader, the ability to show humility and be vulnerable have become important skills to lead teams. Employees crave deeper connections at work, and it has shifted what it takes to inspire them to follow a leader. 

​"I realized in a business setting, my humor resonates more than I'd previously thought. After given the chance to look inward as a means to drive success, Sneaks made me realize how critical this is for leaders in today's world," said Archana Thiagarajan​, Director of Experience Design at Adobe. "The ability to be authentic--showing both humility and vulnerability--created deeper connections among team members and inspired people to both lead and follow."

If you have a personality, use it. If you don't have a big personality, you can play off of that too and be self-deprecating. 

2. Companies Will Miss Great Ideas

Most companies will agree with the notion that good ideas can come from anywhere in the company. However, without a formalized program or process to deliver this, ideas simply won't surface. Just like in American Idol, talent would have never been discovered without the show as a platform.

You have to create a platform for innovation and recognition. This is especially true for retaining Millennial talent in an organization. They don't want a corner office, they want a path to success. 

3. Bring Play To Work 

Emerging technologies such as voice and the connected car are becoming a bigger part of everyday life. As different brands rush to carve out their presence in these areas, many can neglect the value of allowing employees to experiment with the technology. With something like voice devices, you can get a much better sense of what technologies create value if you play around with it every day--and in different contexts. It helps avoid tunnel vision, as well as lessens the risk of delivering products and services that are not intuitive.

4. Storytelling Builds Brands

The technology industry is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to understand for everyday consumers. With so many companies competing vigorously in the same areas, merely having technology or product is no longer enough (many companies now for example, have developed AI capabilities). What is critical now is the ability to tell a story that stands out from the crowd. If you can't tell a great story, it doesn't matter how good your technology or product is.

Published on: Mar 28, 2018