Anyone who has spent time as part of the startup community anywhere in the world has likely heard the word culture numerous times. It’s something founders, investors and employees talk about. Building a strong and positive culture is an important task for startup founders. Today I want to share a few tips with you guys about building that culture that I have picked up over the years from my various startups.
Culture can be tricky, generally it’s not something that is defined, at least not at most startups. I know I worked at large companies in the past that have tried to define culture, and even sent out an email to let everyone know about the culture change (this actually made me laugh out loud). But at the end of the day culture comes from the top and as an entrepreneur you have to put some work in to make it the culture you want.
- Write Down Your Core Values
Start by listing the core values you want to represent your business. Your values as the founder help to shape the overall mission of the company and that will help you to align the right aspects of your values into the culture you hope to build. Share these openly with your team and let them know how they informed the mission of the company and let that plant the first seed for the culture you hope to build.
Keep in mind that your companies mission and culture will change and evolve over time, but your core values will likely remain largely the same. If the change in culture is organic and for the better then don’t fight it, let it grow.
As the founder you should set the tone for the culture based off those core values you identified and keep an eye on how your team responds to it. Ensuring that your team feels part ownership of the culture and that it came from an organic place is a key factor in building a successful culture that will grow with your company and scale as you do.
- Hire Accordingly
A team is a key part of any business and hiring the right people makes a all the difference. Not just from a technical or skill perspective but also, if not more so early on a cultural perspective. Finding the right employees is always going to be difficult.
Early on with your first few hires it’s important to pick employees who not only have the skill to fulfill your vision for the company but that also resonate well with the core values you have identified as the cornerstones of your desired culture. They will be the ones who first take ownership of that culture and help to develop it for future hires, so choosing wisely is imperative if you want the culture to catch on. One toxic hire can send the culture house of cards toppling down.
As you move into later stage hirings, once your company culture is well on it’s way to being established and is being embarrassed and nurtured naturally it’s important to make sure that all new hires fit comfortably into that culture. Judging cultural fit can be challenging. I’ve gotten this wrong in the past, I thought someone would be an amazing fit for a company I was building and it turned out to be not at all the case. So take your time to give yourself the best chance of getting it right.
- Help Your People Grow
Culture is about the people, as the founder you might have planted the seed and started things in that direction, but it’s your people that embrace it, grow it and foster it. Put all of your employees in a position to constantly learn and grow in their positions. Give them the opportunities to advance and add more value to your company. This not only gives them a feeling of empowerment it also gives them the a stake in their future with you and the culture that is allowing them to grow.
Treat your people right, that should always be part of your culture. Help them grow and they will help grow your idea into a business and your business into an empire.
- Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability is big, if you are going to hold your team accountable then you have to hold yourself accountable as well. This comes down to transparency and fairness. If your employees see that you give yourself or senior members of your team a pass it will spur feelings of resentment and start to poison the culture you are trying to build.
It’s tempting to give yourself a pass, you’re the boss after all, but that is more reason why you need to hold yourself accountable and be transparent about it with your team. If they feel there are different sets of rules for different groups of people in the company then it’s difficult to get everyone to buy into the culture because they might feel like an outsider.
At the end of the day culture is key to building a big business. There might not be a playbook for it in the same way sound business practices have been developed over years because culture is different from company to company. But if you follow these best practices and use a bit of trial and error along the way you should be off to good start.