One important component of building a solid business is crafting a cohesive and strong company culture. Culture is the DNA of an organization, and it defines the lived experience of working at a particular company, whether it’s a small startup or large corporation.
Company culture is not something that employees necessarily create themselves. Ideally, it’s the experience crafted for them — explicitly and implicitly. Knowing your values and purpose from the beginning will help you vet potential talent so you can bring in the right people who can thrive in the culture you’ve built.
Company culture should not be left to chance, as it is a lot harder to change once it’s been established. But if you’re just getting started, then you have the opportunity to forge a strong company culture from the outset. It will ensure you maintain the vision of your company and the overall success of that vision.
Here are some strategies to consider when developing your company’s culture.
Getting Your Company Culture Right From the Start(up)
Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.
– Brian Chesky, Co-Founder & CEO of Airbnb
Determine what your story is
The first step to establishing your company culture is understanding your purpose. This is the “story” of your company that helps map out how to get where you want to go. It’s important to keep it simple — if you can’t describe what your company’s purpose is in a 30-second pitch, then you might be doing it wrong.
Choose two primary goals and two secondary goals in order to have something to rally around. How will you sell yourself not only to your ideal customers but also to potential employees? What will you do to get that solid 5-star review on Glassdoor?
Articulate your vision, mission and values
The next step is to take your purpose, your goals, and the long-term narrative of your company, and to write them out in solid mission and vision statements.
Your mission is essentially what you’re doing, what you’re providing, and what you want people to get from the moment they discover your company.
Your vision is where you want the company to go, what you hope it will eventually provide, and the change you want your startup to make. You wouldn’t have started it if you didn’t think it would make a change, right?
Then, you need your values. Usually, it’s a good idea to have three to five. This will be important in selecting people who share those values. Is it trust? Is it transparency? Teamwork?
Plan the environment and working experience
The third step, now that you have your story and your articulated mission, vision, and value statements, is to determine how you’re going to embed those into the lived experience of your company.
The spaces that your employees inhabit will have a profound effect on their experience and on your culture. How something is constructed says a lot about that company itself.
If your values include teamwork, then determine if an open office environment is the most important for you. If your values include individuality, then perhaps consider creating incentives for over-performing, means of special recognition, and more closed off spaces.
If you want your company to feel like it’s a small business with a homey environment no matter the size, then consider having lounge spaces and promoting worker breaks.
Consider the strong company cultures of companies like Google or Etsy, that supply a “small office” culture to a large corporation to make their employees feel more at home and feel more like they’re a part of a small family.
Etsy, for instance, builds sustainable work environments to promote some of their company values. Everything from the materials they used to the level of detail in selecting and arranging furniture furthers their goals of creating a sustainable business model.
Vet talent from the beginning
Now that you’ve figured out your values, it’s important to make sure you pick the right people from the very beginning. People who share your values will be happier, more productive, and more loyal to your company.
There are several strategies for vetting potential employees and learning about their values. You don’t have to take the traditional route to finding people to work with you. Use creativity to figure out new and innovative ways to have people apply. Vet them with questions about their values. Maybe even change the application process to include something creative or fun!
Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to be original in the structure of your interviews. You aren’t beholden to asking the same old questions, like what their biggest weakness is or how they handle stress (though you can obviously still ask these).
Instead, focus on questions that will reveal who they are, what their values are, how they will fit in, and how they will contribute to your story. Get to the core of the person, and figure out how they’ll work with your team. You don’t need a particular personality type or specific kind of person; you need somebody who will contribute new perspectives, challenges, and a strong work ethic — while sharing your values.
Encourage your employees’ growth and engagement
You don’t want to stop at simply recruiting the right kinds of people. Instead, you need a long-term plan for how you’ll retain them. How will you measure your employee’s happiness in your workplace? What are your metrics for gauging positivity and for assessing if the work environment you’re providing is hostile, boring, or enjoyable?
Also, you need to provide employees with an opportunity to grow both as people and as workers. If they’re contributing to the growth and sustainability of your company, then you absolutely owe it to them to provide them that same growth and sustainability.
Give them challenging projects. Recognize their special skills and the work they’ve done. Train them on skills they don’t have and let them grow and develop as people. If there’s no room for growth for your workers, then what reason is there for them to stay?
And, most importantly: care about them. Care about if they’re happy, and if they’re satisfied with the work they’re doing. Care about whether the work is boring, and how you can improve the fun factor.
Recognize that company culture can make or break you
If you want to be successful, then you need to remember that starting strong ensures you stay strong. Starting with a poor company culture is not going to help keep employees around, nor will it make you an attractive choice to customers who are asked to choose between your brand or your competitors.
The workplace should not be a place where people feel the compulsion to share banal information over the proverbial water cooler simply because they’re going through the motions. You don’t want your employees to dread coming into work every day. You want enthusiastic, hardworking, and productive people who can grow alongside your company.
Company culture matters. What story will you create?