After recently being interviewed and included in an article for Entrepreneur’s magazine titled 3 Ways to Create the Company Culture You Want, I wanted to follow-up it up with a bit more depth.
Company culture starts out organically and can morph quickly – for the better or worse — if not guarded. There are two approaches to culture: organic and structured. Organic cultures mirror founder or leader temperament. Structured cultures reflect founder or leader ideals, but often protect against known leadership flaws or blind spots.
I believe strongly that company culture is about establishing a social contract of sorts with your team. A company is not a family. We’re not always going to be together. We’re at-will. Loyalty is limited to one’s job fulfillment, happy team dynamics and success. As any one of those pillars starts to erode your team will be become less functional.
To that end, there are 5 things that I believe are important for establishing a great team culture and dynamic:
There are important steps for shaping / re-shaping a startup’s culture. Company cultures are fragile and can easily be derailed. At company’s I’ve started or reshaped, I think that beliefs are paramount to values. We must ensure that there are certain principles that everyone we bring on to the team holds true. Without them, problems occur.
There are 5 important actions that I’ve employed to establish, engender and promote a winning culture:
Founding teams and executives must agree on a set of beliefs that will guide the personality of the organization. We wrote them down. We put up them on signs. Every remote worker has one posted in their home office. And, at every all hands meeting, we reiterate them and ensure they’re included in examples in key parts of the organization.
Your Brand is Your People
Companies don’t interact with companies; people interact with people. Every person on your team understands that they must protect, promote and live these cultural beliefs to create our brand. Our marketing department has created the tools to promote our culture – but our team is what makes our company’s brand come alive every day.
Hire for Your Culture
Since people are the cornerstone of our culture and ultimately our brand, we are incredibly diligent about hiring the right people to foster our culture through different growth stages. In general, at this stage, we hire people who are more alike – from a values and beliefs standpoint — than diverse. Significant diversity in a team at an early stage of a startup can cause the team to move much slower than is necessary to win.
Emotionally Intelligent Guard Rails
Founding beliefs guide the emotional intelligence of an organization. Universal beliefs like trust, ownership, forgiveness, and simplicity have helped established a set of soft-skills that create a social contract for how everyone in the company is expected to behave. The collective EQ of our organization helps teams succeed through the inevitable ups and downs of building a company or achieving product-market fit.
Linking Beliefs to Results
We believe that tightly linking our “beliefs” to our “objective and key results” and recognition process help us achieve measurable results. By doing so, everyone at every level of the organization is pulling to same direction to achieve incredible results. Without set of strong foundational beliefs, teams often create their own value system, create orthogonal fiefdoms, or worse, ultimately, cause a company to fail.
At the end of the day, talking about culture is largely bull shit. You need to own it. You need to believe it. You need to live it. You need to exemplify it. You need to have your leadership team act it out daily. One dissenting eye-roll or dismissal will kill the effort.
The absolute worst is when leaders say one thing and do the exact opposite. If you’re going to do that, don’t waste your time on culture building.