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Startup culture has received a lot of attention lately. People are looking for ways to improve the overall experience at work and some are even champions of seamlessly integrating work into their life. People don’t have absolute power to demand a higher salary or more vacation days but they do have high expectations. They’re interested in opportunities to connect with others who will help achieve their goals and find greater satisfaction in the process. How do we begin to reach these goals? By defining our startup culture, we can commit to better supporting the work itself, improve operations, make a more valuable contribution, and gain greater personal satisfaction.
What is company culture?
Let’s kick off by understanding what company culture actually means.
Your company culture is a combination of your shared vision, and the way your internal team and the organisation acts. Typically, in a start-up situation, the culture is heavily influenced by the founders of the company.
In their small business encyclopaedia, entrepreneur.com state that company culture is “A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time .”
Rand Fishkin, CEO and founder of Moz, has written about why he resolved to define the company culture after learning the hard way how it influenced work. He highlights three important elements: core values, a mission, and talent strategy. Similarly, I like to define startup culture by examining the company:
- Growth Strategy, and
Related Read: How Important Is Company Culture ?
You already have a company culture, like it or not
Many start-ups are so busy building their product and looking for product market fit, that they don’t pay any attention to their culture. They believe it’s something they will focus on down the track, when they hit their 50 employees, 100 employees, etc.
Little do many realise, that the moment they take on an employee, they have a culture. In fact, if you have two or more founders, your culture has already kicked in. You may be unaware of it, however there’s already a culture attached, and it is up to you to help craft a strong, positive one.
Five steps to get started
Here are five ways that you can start to understand and nurture your company culture as an early-stage startup, through to a mature organisation.
1. Understand your purpose
It’s important to understand your organisations purpose. I’m not talking about ‘create great products’ or ‘make truckloads of money’, I’m thinking deeper than shallow short term statements.
A great way to do this is asking yourselves ‘So what?’ and get the centre of your direction. Say you are building a tech startup to that allows users to find nearby rental properties. You could ask ‘So what? How does that actually help people?’ After some time, you could find that your purpose is ‘to help people find their dream homes’.
Purpose in your organisation really matters; however only if you explain and share it with your team.
In a recent survey by consulting firm, Deloitte, they state “73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t”.
2. Define and document your values
We can create our values using a six step process, being;
- Leadership brainstorming
- Team brainstorming
- Collation and refinement
- Feedback cycle
3. Hire with value-fit
I’m not suggesting that technical or role specific skills aren’t important, however just as important to these skills is the ability for the new hire to fit within your culture.
In your interview with a candidate, be open and specific about your company values, and describe your values, as far as how they direct the culture you are creating. It is worth asking the candidate a few questions about how they understand these values, and what they believe these values mean. This all helps to better assess candidate suitability.
4. Work hard to create positive culture
Two things I have always worked on to keep a positive culture in what we do, are;
- Keep communication open
Not just between management, but between all levels of the business. Openness and transparency builds a sense of ownership across the entire organisation.
- Treat your team right
I don’t mean with perks, although they can be great. I’m talking treat everyone with respect and real personal care. Everyone wants to be respected, and cared for.
5. Constantly review your culture
Creating a great company culture isn’t something that you write a document about and then shelve it, ticking off that ‘create company culture’ checkbox. As Mike Murchison said earlier, cultures evolve over time, and you should be reviewing it regularly, and value how effective your culture and current team are.
Related Read: Importance Of Company Culture – How To Start A Startup !
One of the successful CEOs himself defines what a company’s culture should be,
“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur’s job is to build the foundation.”
– Brian Chesky, Airbnb
How to preserve your company culture as your business grows
As your company grows, and you move from start-up to established phase within your business, it is important to re-evaluate your company culture, and ensure that it is still headed on the right track.
Rather than set the task aside as complete, you should be turning your attention to perpetuating the positive corporate culture you have created.
We have an annual review of our values and culture, and ask everyone with our team to take part in it. It is important that we take time to reflect on what is working, and what isn’t, and how we can keep our positive company culture.
This also sometimes means not only hiring, but firing for values.
Paul Mandell, Co-Founder and CEO of Consero Group.in an article on Entrepreneur.com states “CEOs often resist excising toxic but otherwise high-performing employees for fear of disrupting the critical work of the business. But rarely do such situations work themselves out on their own, and they often worsen as time goes by, causing long-term harm that far outweighs the short-term benefit of keeping culture-destroying teammates.”
If recently hired employees are degrading the company culture that you have spent much effort building, you must should quickly to address the issue. It’s typically either a lack of direction when it comes to your cultures and the behaviours you expect, or they are negative people and in this case, the behaviour is likely not to improve.
Nathan Hubbard of twitter has this to say regarding communication, “The job of a CEO is to do 3 things: build the best team, get resources, and communicate the mission.”
Ensure even with a remote team, that you spend time on explaining what your company culture is, and what values you hold as a team.
Protect your values
Like virtually any other asset, a strong corporate culture requires care and protection.
After having successfully shaped a positive culture at the company, you should turn your attention to perpetuating what you have built. This effort begins with your hiring process. This does not mean that you should hire only people who closely resemble one another; rather, you should weave your corporate values into the evaluation of candidates, and strive to hire those whose values appear to be consistent with those of the company.
Related Read: The Core Pieces Of Culture To Look For While Hiring?
Moreover, to the extent that existing employees degrade the culture that you have built, you must act quickly to address the issue. CEOs often resist excising toxic but otherwise high-performing employees for fear of disrupting the critical work of the business. But rarely do such situations work themselves out on their own, and they often worsen as time goes by, causing long-term harm that far outweighs the short-term benefit of keeping culture-destroying teammates.
Protect your culture like you would a valuable gem, acting quickly to mitigate risks as they arise and investing in long-term asset preservation, and you will increase the odds that you maintain your great culture long into the future.
Building and maintaining a strong culture is much of what separates average startups from those with staying power. Focus on developing the right culture early, act quickly to preserve it, and you will certainly improve the odds that your startup achieves what you set out to accomplish.
Live long and prosper !!