Building a solid culture in early-stage startups
Startups are often praised for their high energy and open culture. A company’s ‘culture’ can generally be interpreted as the shared set of values, goals and practices that make it unique. It also includes other facets such as how well different teams function together and the employee experience. Building a strong company culture and set of values for an early-stage startup is essential to ensuring its success in the long term. Here are a few tips from my experience that startup leaders can adopt to identify and form their culture:
- Define the company’s mission and vision: For startups, by defining the company’s mission and vision, all the organization’s employees can be kept on the same page and aligned to a single binding vision. As the startup grows and new employees are hired, it would also help them understand the company’s ethos and work independently and make decisions that align with the mission and vision.
- Check culture fit before hiring: Hire employees for their resume and who they are, and their values. For early-stage startups, the first few hires are the most important as they set the tone for the company’s budding culture and the founders. For this, keep cultural fit as an essential pillar while evaluating potential hires and also ask employees to recommend future employees.
However, make sure you do not hire the same type of employees time and again as having diverse people from different backgrounds with complementary strengths are an added asset for any organization.
- Provide a pleasing work environment: Working in a positive work environment enhances employees’ productivity and motivation. Invest in decor for your office, choose a theme and colours that reflect your company’s values and industry but don’t be shy of adding some fun elements to it in the form of quirky posters, murals etc. Furthermore, include a break-out area in your workplace, it shows employees that taking a break is encouraged and also allows them to engage more freely with other employees.
- Focus on team bonding exercises: The culture of a company is much more than its values and mission; it is also defined by how well different teams work interact with each other. To ensure this, it is essential to invest time in company retreats and offsites as they act as a great way to boost inter team spirit and synergy. The idea here is to bring employees from different teams together who usually don’t get to work with each other.
- Allow room for failure: By giving employees the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes, you will let them take ownership of their work and enhance their accountability. In a startup environment, some projects might eventually not work out as planned since that is part and parcel of working in a space that changes rapidly as it grows. Allow innovation in product and ways of working, and in case something doesn’t work out, help your team fix it and encourage your team members to record learnings from this experience and try again.
- Recognize that culture flows from the top: While the leadership must take time to identify its core values, it is also essential for them to embody those values. Building a solid company culture takes time and continuous effort, and employees often look at their leaders to take cues as to how to behave in challenging situations. Engage with your employees regularly, be authentic and transparent in your interactions and your employees would likely behave in the same way.
- Build a high-performance culture: While building your startup culture, you should also focus on making it a high-performance culture. Each employee should understand what is expected of them from the day they join the company and how to achieve those goals. For this, set up SMART (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based) goals for each team member. Allow team members to take ownership of their work and abstain from micromanaging; employees don’t feel trusted when you micromanage them. Ensure a healthy competition between teams but at the end of the day, everyone should realize how they are a part of one single team, i.e., the company at large.
When you’re starting a company, building its culture is one of the ways that you can stay ahead of the competition and also set your company’s identity. Get serious about building the culture of your startup from the outset and take regular feedback from your team members to evaluate the success of your efforts.