“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur’s job is to build the foundation”
– Brian Chesky, Airbnb.
For MNCs and other big players, having a great culture is just an additional feature, but for startups, having a great work culture – strong and growth-oriented, is a necessary element of success, be it for employee retention or for innovation.
Nurturing a growth-oriented culture is mainly dependant on the core values of the startup and the work force.
It is crucial to work on building your startup DNA early on. Here are some tips to build a strong work culture:
1. Pen down your values
If you want to build a growth oriented startup culture, you must first be able to unify your work force under common united goals and values. They must be in sync with the startup’s principles and ideology. You can achieve this by familiarizing your employees about your core values.
Tell your employees what the startup stands for. Is it unparallelled customer service? Or is it impeccable delivery? Or is it close-knit teamship? Or is it all of the above and more?
(Here’s an interesting article on startup values).
The best way to send a message to your employees is by putting the message into words.
Here is the bottom line – Document your values. Yes, create a manifesto – there is no better way to define what your startup stands for.
Here are some steps you can take:
- If an employee does something out of sync with the core values, make sure to have a discussion with them.
- Appreciate the employees and publicly so, when they adhere to a value, no matter what.
- Put your values on display, for example in the form of quirky posters.
- Ask your existing employees to teach these values to the new ones.
2. Pick the right people to join forces with you
It’s better to go through a rigorous time-consuming selection process, than selecting the wrong people – choosing wrong people will definitely corrupt the DNA of your startup.
List down the most important criteria for a person to work well in your startup; criteria like sense of urgency, strong work ethic, loyalty to the team and the team lead etc.
Companies like Stella & Dot, Linkedin conduct a very rigorous selection process, to filter out the people who are not only talented but also fit perfectly into their culture. Remember, skill can be nurtured, but not attitude.
For example, if innovation is one of your core values, then select someone who is comfortable asking ‘Why’ and questioning stereotypes.
Selecting the wrong kind of people can cause others to fall under their influence and hence, disrupting your growth-oriented startup culture.
3. Cut complications with employees by being shockingly honest
Did you know that some startups divulge salaries of all the employees to everyone? And some startups conduct board meetings in front of the whole company. That is the kind of ‘shocking’ honesty and transparency I am talking about.
At Buffer, a startup, the founder not only keeps the salary information open, but he also divulged the salary decision formula open for everyone to see. This way the employees can trust the founders to have their best interests at heart and shift their focus to getting things done.
The only way you can inculcate a growth-oriented culture is by getting the employees feel like they belong at the startup and by inculcating a feeling of ‘we’ rather ‘I’.
Here are some ideas:
- Divulging salary information is indeed a great idea, if not that at least try divulging salary formula.
- Conduct board meetings in front of your employees.
- Organise polls on employee opinions about management decisions and take those into consideration.
- Share the game plan of the startup with them.
Without complete transparency between the employees and the management, it is not possible to truly achieve and foster growth, at least not if you want extraordinary results.
4. Encourage growth and change in every aspect
When you are running a startup, from time to time you need revisit or even entirely change a lot of aspects like your strategy, sales pitch, even your workplace. Be ready to recognise when change is needed and don’t show any resistance to change.
For example, the how-to of managing a startup culture is not going to be the same for a 90-employee team, as it is for a 10-employee team. So, as your team grows quickly adapt to the changing dynamics. When you show no resistance to such changes, the people around you will learn to do the same.
Welcoming change will be embedded into your startup’s DNA and this will encourage your employees to be change and growth oriented as well.
5. Make the workplace inspiring and happy
Help your employees get to work with a little bit of excitement, rather than dragging their feet to work. For example, if you are a creative works startup, make the work environment creativity-rich, artistic and stylish.
Take it upon you to de-stress your employees and give them a boost of energy, from time to time, by organising some goofy fun activities, a dinner party, outings etc. The crux is – build a happy workplace.
Also, the one big advantage startup culture has over corporate culture is that every employee has the opportunity to form a personal bond with every other employee – take advantage of this. How? By giving your employees opportunities to build a team spirit; one sure way is to organise extracurricular activities at workplace.
Most people assume that a growth oriented work culture implies a driven no-fun type of working; not really the case – a stress-free work environment is indeed a key factor in nurturing a strong startup culture.
6. Let your employees taste victory first hand
A lot of people are leaving their jobs at MNCs and moving to startups – one out of the many reasons is the need to feel like they are making a difference, something that is hard to come by in overpopulated MNCs.
So, a great way to encourage your employees and keep them working harder, is by giving them the opportunity to play the big game and giving them a first hand taste of victory.
Here are some examples:
- Involve employees in client meetings.
- Take the time to explain company strategies.
- Instead of expecting them to blindly follow your rules, give them a reason to.
- Encourage an employee who wants to take up more challenging work.
By giving opportunities for your employees to learn and grow in their career, you are automatically fostering a growth-oriented work culture.
At Hiver, here is what we do to encourage our employees – if an employee comes up with an great idea, we make him/her the CEO of the idea and give the person all the rights to planning, executing and monitoring the project. All of us report to the person in charge, including the founders.
“No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
– Jack Welch