Good, productive behavior supports good business and bad, destructive behavior in the long run … [+]
What is culture
Culture is an implicit hierarchy of values that informs team members and employees about their behavior.
Good, productive behavior supports great business in the long run, and bad, destructive behavior can easily ruin a company.
It may seem like a luxury to think about culture in the early stages, but this is the best time to start building it.
Building a corporate culture is very similar to raising a child. The later you try to instill the right values, the harder it is because your influence is weaker.
If you teach your child the right values early in life, you can expect them to make the right decisions later in life without your direct involvement.
When you make sure that your founding team and first-time employees have adopted a productive corporate culture, they will no doubt transfer those values directly to your future employees to ensure that a productive corporate culture is maintained as the company grows.
Your early team is the cultural DNA of your company, and because they are heavily involved in recruitment and training, good or bad behavior spreads and once the domino effect sets in, it is extremely difficult to stop.
What You Can Do to Build a Good Culture
- Be aware of the value you add to society. Let your teammates understand the importance of the problem you are solving. This gives your team meaning and, most importantly, a long-term vision. Meaning and importance will help you a lot to get through the difficult times.
- Explicitly state the values you want to adhere to – make a list. Don’t hire people who don’t seem to fit these values. If you want a playful, creative atmosphere, hire open and creative people instead of decent bureaucrats. Create a hiring and onboarding process to ensure that the people on your team fit in with your culture.
- Most importantly – lead by example and don’t reveal your values. If you say that all team members are family and that there is a need to support one another, do not cut back on staff as the first means of cutting costs when times get tough. If you want to inspire hard work, make sure it doesn’t let up. If you are not adhering to your values, why should your employees do so?
Leading by example is the most important step as your list of values is unlikely to be complete and informative in all sorts of situations your employees find themselves in, especially as your startup grows and you delegate important tasks to your team.
Every living person is a living embodiment of a hierarchy of values, and leaders have a direct influence on the people who follow them. Even if the values are not explicitly stated, most people would intuitively understand what the right behavior is by watching the executives (and the people around them) at work.
Because of this, make sure you embody the culture that you want to instill in the company.
What values should you strive for?
This is the hardest question for two reasons.
First, this is very case-specific and what works for one team in one market may not work for another.
Second, some values are incompatible. For example, how do you deal with risks? You cannot be innovative and risk averse at the same time.
You can’t expect your employees to come up with creative solutions to new problems if you simultaneously punish them for the risk and inefficiencies involved in getting off the beaten path.
Which one is more valuable to you as a person and as a company? Both values have a cost and a benefit, and your environment would best inform you which choice is the right one.
If you need to benefit from both approaches (and as your business grows) make sure you create an environment where they can coexist. This usually means that you instill different values across your different teams and departments.
In summary, the most important things to build a productive startup culture are:
- Start early.
- Choose the right values.
- Lead by example and become a living embodiment of these values.