At the founding stage, your startup was probably made up of a few of your close friends, who were willing to work with you to make your vision a reality. Company culture was not even a blip on your radar, as you focused on building your product to make it viable for the market and your investors. A growing startup, however, means more customers, more sales, and more employees – and you will eventually run out of friends to hire and need to look outside of your inner circle to meet your business needs.
Gone are the days where employees separated their personalities from their jobs – come into work, finish given tasks and receive a paycheck. Today’s millennial workforce looks for meaning and purpose in their jobs at value-driven companies, regardless of the pay.
The best way to set your company apart from the rest is through your company culture. Having a good company culture has been known to increase performance for businesses as happy employees are productive employees. As they work better and faster, the company is better equipped to compete in the market and succeed.
As a growing startup, where should you begin? We take a look at the first steps for you to take to build and maintain a good company culture for your startup.
1.Establish company values
When shaping your company culture, you must first understand what kind of company you want to be. It will be the most important thing as it will set the precedent for how work is done and how employees are rewarded.
What do you believe in? Why does your company do what it does? Where do you want to go with your company?
Answering these questions will allow you and your founding team to consider what kind of qualities and efforts are needed to effectively advance you towards your goals.
Once you have established your company values and mission, it is important to communicate it to your employees, to give them something to work towards.
Studies have shown that purpose-driven employees are 5.3 times more likely to stay and perform better at their jobs. When employees share the same values as the company, and are aligned with its vision and purpose, they will be more engaged and can contribute more effectively to the company’s growth.
As a startup, many things are uncertain. No amount of freebies and fun perks are going to be enough when employees do not know or fully understand what they are working towards. Documenting and sharing your vision, values and expectations with your employees can go a long way in setting the foundation for your company’s culture – far more than free massages and music lessons.
2. Ensure culture fit
As your startup grows, you often find that your needs are growing faster than you can hire. While qualifications are important, you should also consider candidates’ personalities, and whether they would be a right fit, culturally, for your company.
A bad hire can undo months of hard work, and have a great impact on the rest of your team, weakening the very foundation of your company. If they are client-facing or has regular communications with players in your industry, it can also cause irreparable damage to your company’s reputation.
Spending a little more time in assessing candidates for both their qualifications and the values that they hold dear works out better in the long run. Having accountability, prioritising efficiency, being a team player etc. are keywords that have become commonplace during interviews, as candidate learn to “game” the process to showcase values and personalities that they think is “right”, instead of being their authentic selves. Impatient hirers have known to be swayed by these displays and regretted dearly, when they discover the horrors of their hires’ actual behaviour at work.
Presenting hypothetical scenarios to them during the interviews, while cliche, can still be effective in bringing out the true personalities and values of your candidates, especially when there is no “right” answer for them to aim towards. Hence, establishing what values your company deems important to have is critical, as it acts as a measuring tool for your future hires. Employees who share the same values and have compatible personalities work well together, which makes for a more positive work environment.
That said, an employee that has a good culture fit with the company does not necessarily mean that they look, think and act exactly like the existing team. Diversity in a team has shown to be one of the driving forces behind innovation, as different people bring along their unique opinions and experiences to the table, forming a more accepting culture.
3.Communicate honestly and effectively
When you were a team of five, it was easy for you to update your team members, with just a text or a shout across the table. As your startup grows and new people join your team, communicating to them becomes as important as it is difficult.
Filling them in on the company history and its ups and downs helps the new members of your team understand its dynamic in the past, and also giving them a chance to chart their own path in the company. Knowing the background of your company is also vital to understand why certain decisions were made, and helps when presenting new ideas.
Transparent communication builds trust and loyalty among the employees, as it sets clear expectations and keeps the company culture positive and consistent. When this is practiced from the top down, your employees will also start being communicators with each other.
As your company grows in size, it can be easy to lose touch with your employees. Opening up feedback channels and encouraging your employees to provide honest and constructive feedback is a good way to stay grounded and work out any issues immediately before it’s too late.
Leading by example and integrating the core values in your daily operations will help guide you as a leader, and get the right employees to invest their talent and future with your company. Understand that cultural shifts are part and parcel of the growth journey of a startup, and it is important to be deliberate about the culture that you want to build and take concrete steps to improve it. At the end of they day, you will have a company culture that will be instrumental in helping to achieve your business goals and a team that is dedicated and motivated to grow along with your company.