In the 1950s, the average age of a company on the S&P 500 index was 60. Today, that number is 20. This means that the most successful corporations are growing three times faster than they have in the past. To succeed at this rate of rapid change, employees and business leaders have had to adapt by adopting growth mindsets, learning new skills, and embracing flexibility. Where stability and long-term planning were once the mark of a sound strategy, adaptability is the new competitive advantage.

This need for adaptability is not new, though it doesn’t come easy to everyone. Over the past two decades, many large companies have failed to evolve and seen their business margins, market share, and profitability suffer — sometimes leading to devastating results.

So why are some companies able to evolve while others struggle? It comes down to who you hire. Fundamentally, leaders with a growth mindset believe intelligence and success can be learned, while those with a fixed mindset believe that these are static traits over which they have little control. In the context of a large company that is seeing increasingly volatile business results, leaders with a growth mindset are far more likely to adapt, push for change, and encourage others do the same — a skill that is needed to succeed in today’s workforce.

The good news is that your ability to adapt can be developed, and a unique pool of professionals may serve as exemplary guides to us all: successful early stage startup employees. In particular, the Harvard Business Review defined a group they refer to as first hires, or people who joined a startup in its early stages, stayed with the company through a successful exit event — either an acquisition or an IPO — and meaningfully contributed to that success. Understanding the practices that have allowed first hires to succeed in the fast-paced environments that are inherent to most startups can give the rest of us insight into how to do the same in our own organizations.

So what are the best practices we can learn from first hires?

Pitch before you apply

When a business’s environment changes — whether from entering a new market or competition — its structure must adapt to accommodate that change. This often means that new roles must be created to carry out new functions and initiatives. But these changes don’t happen in a vacuum. People drive them. Instead of fitting into a structure as it’s laid out, first hires often anticipate the need for new positions before an organization creates them.

How can you apply this practice?

Write a pitch deck for yourself. More than a simple résumé, a pitch deck positions you in a particular way, and forces you to ask important questions of your career: What is your ideal role? What problem can you help an organization solve? What is the best way to represent what you’ve accomplished already? Once you’ve identified your strengths, you’ll get a greater sense of what you can offer. The next time you see an opportunity for a role that requires these skills — whether it exists within your organization or not — you may be more likely to go for it.

Maintain an external perspective

In the early days of any new business, nothing is certain. The business model may bust, the customers may not come, the market may be a mirage. Competitive forces can make or break a company. To be successful, employees must retain an external perspective and constantly consider the risks, dangers, and surprises that might throw the company off course.

How can you apply this practice?

Set up Google Alerts for your top five competitors. This may seem simple, but how you use the information you learn is the real practice. Maybe it will inspire new ideas, present cautionary tales, or better position you to answer questions about your competitors during meetings.

Don’t forget about the mission

When a startup begins to grow in size, its employees can lose sight of the mission and purpose upon which it was founded. The routine of weekly meetings, quarterly updates, and annual reports take charge. But many first hires still remember the days spent debating the business model, introducing it time and again to new partners and hires, and sometimes even defending its reason for existing in the first place.

This context often pushes first hires to be gritty and creative. It keeps them grounded by providing them with a robust understanding of the company roadmap and infrastructure. As a result, they are able to more easily understand the purpose behind a change, adapt to it, take advantage of it, and find opportunities in unexpected places.

How can you apply this practice?

You probably have a corporate “mission statement” somewhere in your annual report. Revisiting this regularly could help, but a better approach is to get your hands on presentations, recordings, and writings from your company’s founding team. Take time to digest these. Then, distil your own one-line mission statement for your company. Place this somewhere you’ll see it often, and reflect on it before making any significant decisions.

Keep customers top of mind

Businesses that keep their customers at the center of their strategic planning and execution will always be more resilient in the face of change. Even as their business grows, they will be able to spot issues and trends on the consumer end more accurately and respond to them earlier. But in many sectors, this remains a challenge. The average employee rarely interacts with customers — instead they see presentations, focus group reports, and aggregated opinions from those on the front lines.

How can you apply this practice?

Find a way to get access to two customers — a happy one and an angry one. This could mean joining a sales meeting, listening in on a customer service call, or attending an annual business review. Hearing the pros and cons of your product directly from a customer will deepen your understanding of your business more than most research can.

Be a pilot, not a passenger

The flatter structure and smaller team size often seen in startups allows employees to give more attention to each of their projects. If someone succeeds, they are visible. But the same is true if they fail. More acutely, the smaller the company the more responsibility is invested in each employee, and therefore a greater sense of ownership is bestowed upon them.

As most companies grow, however, roles and responsibilities become more specific. Projects that were once a company-wide effort break out into tech teams, sales teams, marketing teams, and more, until a person’s entire job may be as specific as testing email subject lines to market certain products. For some, this rapid growth may lead to a demotion and less responsibility. But for others, particularly those who take ownership over more challenging projects, it is an opportunity.

How can you apply this practice?

Play CEO for a day. Force yourself to consider each meeting, project, and email you interact with from your CEO’s perspective. How would he or she respond or react in the same situation? With this perspective, what might you change about your own response or reaction? CEOs often have to balance conflicting needs and roles to make a decision. This mental exercise will help you step into those shoes and provide you with a more holistic view of your work and the company, thereby increasing your sense of ownership. (If you are the CEO, try wearing a first hires’s hat for a day.)

Reworked from an article originally posted on Harvard Business Review.